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Sen. Rockefeller “Appalled” at Obama Proposal to Move NOAA to Interior

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 09-Mar-2012 (Updated: 09-Mar-2012 05:04 PM)

Wednesday’s Senate hearing on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was intended to focus on its FY2013 budget request, but Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) used it to voice his opposition to President Obama’s recent proposal to move NOAA to the Department of the Interior.

During his opening remarks, Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, said that he is “appalled” by the Obama Administration’s proposal to move NOAA from the Department of Commerce into the Department of the Interior.  He explained that his criticism had little to do with jurisdictional concerns, but stemmed from the fact that the proposal “simply does not make any sense.” “I can’t live with the thought of NOAA moved to the Department of Interior,” he emphasized.

The reorganization – part of a larger proposal announced by the White House in January to eliminate the Department of Commerce and create a new department focused on U.S. business and trade that would consolidate parts of Commerce with other federal agencies – was not mentioned again during the hearing.

The Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard hearing was convened to review the FY2013 budget requests for the Coast Guard and NOAA, and most of the Senators’ attention was focused on proposed cuts to the Coast Guard budget and on non-space-related NOAA programs.

During a brief discussion about satellites, several Senators expressed concern that increases to NOAA’s satellite programs – although critical – would have undue impact on smaller programs. Subcommittee Chairman Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) said, for example, that the launch and start of operations of the Suomi NPP satellite “could not come at a better time with a record number [of] billion dollar weather disasters last year.”  Suomi NPP was built and launched by NASA, but eventually will become part of NOAA’s operational polar-orbit weather satellite constellation.  

Nevertheless, with funding for satellites taking up more than 40 percent of the total NOAA budget, Begich said that he remains concerned about the growth in NOAA satellite requirements impacting key ocean science missions. As satellites continue to “crowd out other elements” in the budget, Begich asked NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco what long-term strategy NOAA is taking to control their costs. In her response, she used the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) as an example and reiterated the agency’s commitment to adhere to the program’s $12.9 billion life-cycle cost cap: “that is a reflection of our intent to…put a lid on the total amount” of the program, she said.



HASC -- Don't Cut Space Test Program or ORS

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Mar-2012 (Updated: 08-Mar-2012 06:47 PM)

The hearing was short and sweet, but members of the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) got their points across: do not cut two Air Force programs that focus on small satellites -- the Space Test Program (STP) and the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program.  They also disagreed with each other over the wisdom of negotiating an international Code of Conduct for outer space activities.

Subcommittee chairman Michael Turner (R-OH) began the hearing by noting that the budget request for unclassified national security space programs is down 22 percent from FY2012.  He expressed concern that many of the cuts are from research and development (R&D) programs and termination of STP and ORS.  General William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command (AFSC), explained that the reduction is due to several factors, including --

  • completion and "ramp down" of some programs,
  • two Wideband Global SATCOM satellites were funded in FY2012 so another is not needed this year,
  • no funding is requested for the Defense Weather Satellite System that Congress terminated last year and the Air Force is not seeking to revive, and
  • difficult choices were made because AFSC had to contribute its "fair share" of cuts to achieve the overall reduction to DOD's budget required by the Budget Control Act.  

Turner, ranking member Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), and Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) pressed the case for restoring funds for STP and ORS.  All heralded the achievements of STP over the past almost five decades, including its role in development of the Global Positioning System (GPS).  They similarly extolled the virtues of the ORS program, whose purpose is to demonstrate that satellites can be built and launched on relatively short schedules to respond to urgent warfighter needs.   One satellite, ORS-1, was launched and according to comments at the hearing was a great success.

Shelton stressed that the ORS concept was not going away, just the program office for it.   He insisted that the idea of building small satellites on short notice was being embraced throughout Air Force space programs, this was only a matter of eliminating the program office. 

As for STP, Shelton and Gil Klinger, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space and Intelligence, argued that there are other places in DOD where such R&D takes place and in making difficult budget choices, the decision was made to eliminate STP.  Shelton cited the Air Force Research Lab, the Naval Research Lab, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and "the Army" as alternative places for research.   Heinrich honed in on that comment, asking Shelton if those labs had been consulted to see if they could take up any of the STP work.   Shelton conceded that they were not because of the press of time when final decisions were being made, but coordination is underway now.

Clear divisions between Republicans and Democrats on the wisdom of negotiating an international Code of Conduct (CoC) for outer space activities were evident at the hearing.  The European Union (EU) drafted a CoC that sets out what good behavior is for spacefaring countries -- such as not creating space debris -- with the idea that it therefore implicitly defines bad behavior.  The United States calls it a good start on an international CoC and has committed to working with the EU and other countries on it.

Turner, however, called it an effort to circumvent the Senate's role in approving arms control agreements.  Greg Schulte, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, insisted that it would be a non-binding agreement.  Turner was not assuaged and said that language would be included in this year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to deal with the situation, but was not more specific.  Sanchez defended the plan to negotiate a CoC saying she was encouraged that the United States will enter into a conversation about it with other countries.

Export control reform was another hot topic, but despite diligent attempts, Sanchez was unable to get Schulte to tell the subcommittee when the final "section 1248" report will be submitted.   It is two years late, she said.  The requirement for a report on the national security implications of moving commercial communications satellites from the State Department's Munitions List to the Commerce Department's Control List is in section 1248 of the 2010 NDAA.  DOD submitted an interim report last year, but the final report has not appeared.   Schulte would only say that he "hoped" it would be submitted "very soon."  He noted that the interim report recommended that commercial communications satellites be transferred to the Commerce Control List and he expected the final report to include other items that similarly could be moved.




Rep. Harris Disappointed In NOAA Budget Priorities, Irritated at Lack of Documentation

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 08-Mar-2012 (Updated: 08-Mar-2012 05:17 AM)

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee that oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),  expressed “extreme disappointment” that NOAA’s FY2013 budget request puts a priority on satellites and climate research.

At  Tuesday’s hearing of his Energy and Environment Subcommittee, he also chastised NOAA for failing to deliver the detailed budget justification documents that help explain the rationale behind such decisions in a timely manner.  “We’re simply unable to provide a complete assessment of the request,” he asserted, adding that a House Appropriations subcommittee had to cancel its hearing on NOAA last week for that reason.

The agency’s failure to provide the documents fuels a perception on Capitol Hill that “the Administration is not being a good steward of taxpayer money,” he continued.  Apologizing for the delay, NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco explained that it was the result of lateness in finalizing the FY2012 spending plan, which affected the baseline of many programs. She promised to deliver the documents to the committee by March 14.

Harris chided the overall increase for NOAA, which would receive $5.1 billion under the President’s request, a 3.1 percent increase from FY2012, as inconsistent with budget reality. He further criticized the Administration for prioritizing its “political environmental agenda” ahead of core science needs, with climate research being a “big winner,” in addition to satellites, which account for over 40% of the total request. This emphasis, according to Harris, suggests that the Administration has prioritized understanding climate conditions “decades from now” over predicting weather conditions tomorrow, a misplaced proposal that “should be rejected by Congress.”

To correct the assumption that climate research would be useful only decades from now, Lubchenco explained in her testimony that understanding how the climate system works directly connects with helping people prepare for “what will happen in the months ahead, years ahead and decades ahead; all of those.”

Several Members of the subcommittee expressed concern over cuts to NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS), which issues critical weather warnings and forecasts. Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC) worried that “we are eating our seed corn” through cuts that may sacrifice services the public relies upon, such as weather forecasting.

Lubchenco explained that NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation initiative – which covers data collection, modeling and forecasting, as well as the ability of communities to act in response to these messages – demonstrates that continuing and improving these capabilities remains critical to the agency’s mission. Furthermore, she said that the increase in satellite funding and the decrease in NWS, mostly in administrative efficiencies, is not a contradiction. The requested increase for satellites is due precisely to their importance because they provide 90 percent of the data that feeds into numerical models used by the NWS, she explained.

She emphasized the need to fully fund the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) not just this year but on a sustained basis to minimize the duration of the expected gap between operations of the recently launched Suomi NPP satellite and the launch of JPSS-1 in 2017. The Administration’s “aggressive” calls for sustained funding of the program stem from the fact that there are no “viable alternative options” to obtain equivalent data during the projected gap. “These satellites are too important to not be on the path to success,” she emphasized.


Congress Still Concerned about SLS Versus Commercial Crew

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Mar-2012 (Updated: 07-Mar-2012 10:35 PM)

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden faced off against two congressional committees today, one in the Senate and one in the House.  A common theme was the Obama Administration's FY2013 budget request for the future of the human spaceflight program and what many see as a competition between commercial crew services to the International Space Station (ISS) and a NASA-developed system to take astronauts further into the solar system.

Both the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearings raised questions about other priorities in the NASA budget request -- especially funding for robotic Mars exploration -- but the focus was firmly on commercial crew versus the Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) space capsule (called Orion) Congress directed NASA to build in the 2010 NASA authorization act.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) accused the Obama Administration of blatantly taking money from SLS/Orion for the commercial crew program.  In an unusually testy public exchange, Bolden insisted to Senator Hutchison that no one in the room was more passionate about SLS/Orion than himself.  His confidence that SLS/Orion is on the right track may account for his seeming lack of passion for it, he suggested.

NASA's decision to use Space Act Agreements (SAAs) instead of traditional procurement methods under the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs) also was debated.   Bolden assured both committees that it had sufficient insight under the SAAs to know if companies planning to compete for commercial crew opportunities would meet NASA's requirements.

The Administration's decision to cut funding for NASA's planetary science program, especially the decision to not participate in what was planned as NASA-European Space Agency joint missions to Mars in 2016 and 2018 -- was also mentioned.   While clearly a concern of these two authorization committees, the future of the human spaceflight program obviously was center stage.

Today's House NASA Hearing Delayed to Between 2:45-3:00 pm

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Mar-2012 (Updated: 07-Mar-2012 11:41 AM)

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee has announced that the time for its hearing this afternoon on NASA's FY2013 budget request has slipped from 2:00 pm to about 2:45 pm. 

The exact time for the hearing to start will be determined by votes on the House floor.   The hearing will begin 5 minutes after the first vote series of the day.  The committee expects that to be between 2:45 and 3:00.

NASA IG: Lessons Learned System Rarely Used, "Marginalized"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Mar-2012 (Updated: 06-Mar-2012 10:53 PM)

NASA's Lessons Learned Information System (LLIS) is rarely used by NASA managers and is of "diminishing and questionable value."   Those are the findings of a new report from NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG). 

After surveying 28 of NASA's 32 science and space flight projects initiated between January 2005 and May 2011, the OIG found that only 57 percent of the project managers used the LLIS at all and only 43 percent contributed to it.  They told the OIG their spotty utilization and input to the system was based on their belief that the LLIS is outdated, not user friendly, and lacking information relevant to their projects.  "Taken together, the lack of consistent input and usage has led to the marginalization of LLIS as a useful tool for project managers," the report says.  Instead, it continues, other NASA knowledge management tools such Ask Magazine and an annual Project Management Challenge seminar are used.

Consequently, OIG questions whether the "three quarters of a million dollars" spent on LLIS annually is a "prudent investment."  The LLIS is overseen by NASA's Chief Engineer, who acknowledged to the OIG that the system has not received sufficient attention.  The OIG recommends that he "develop and implement a cohesive, strategic plan for knowledge management and sharing" and determine "if or how LLIS fits into this plan...." 

Rep. Wolf Tells Bolden No To China on ISS

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Mar-2012 (Updated: 06-Mar-2012 07:37 PM)

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) wrote NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden yesterday telling him that cooperation with China on the International Space Station (ISS) is not permissible.

The letter is in response to a media report that bringing China into the ISS partnership was discussed at a recent meeting in Canada of the heads of the agencies already participating in the multinational ISS partnership.   Wolf is a staunch opponent of U.S.-China space cooperation because of China's human rights violations.  He chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA.

Calling any effort to involve China in the ISS program "misguided, and not in our national interest," Wolf asked for a detailed briefing on what was said about China at the Canadian "Heads of Agencies" meeting.  The Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Roscosmos (the Russian space agency), and NASA are partners in the ISS program.

Wolf sponsored language in the FY2011 and FY2012 appropriations bills that fund NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) sharply limiting U.S.-China cooperation on science and technology, especially the space program.



AIA To Release Study on Role of Aerospace and Defense in U.S. Economy

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Mar-2012 (Updated: 06-Mar-2012 06:09 PM)

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers will release a report tomorrow morning at the National Press Club on the role of aerospace and defense in the U.S. economy.

Speakers are:

  • Marion C. Blakey, AIA President and CEO
  • Thomas Buffenbarger, IAMAW International President
  • Tom Captain, Deloitte Vice Chairman and U.S. Aerospace and Defense Leader
  • General Charles F. Wald, (USAF, Ret.) Director, Deloitte Services LP

The briefing starts at 9:30 am in the Conference Room of the National Press Club, 539 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC.

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, No -- It's NASA's East Coast Launch Madness

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Mar-2012 (Updated: 05-Mar-2012 12:59 PM)

NASA will launch five sounding rockets in five minutes from its Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia to study the high altitude jet stream.    It should make quite a show for people along the mid-Atlantic coast and inland.

NASA will provide a briefing on its "launch madness" campaign on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm ET.    The launches will take place sometime within the window of March 14 to April 4.

This NASA map shows where the rockets may be visible.

Events of Interest: Week of March 5-9, 2012

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Mar-2012 (Updated: 04-Mar-2012 04:06 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the week ahead.  The House and Senate both are in session.

During the Week

This week is chock full of congressional hearings on space activities at NASA, DOD, NOAA, and USGS (which operates the Landsat satellites), not to mention a number of NASA Advisory Council (NAC) committee meetings leading up to the full NAC meeting on Thursday and Friday.   Not sure how much the hearings on NOAA and USGS will focus on space activities since their responsibilities are quite varied, but something of interest may be said.   Separately, NASA is sponsoring a day-long seminar on Thursday at George Washington University in connection with Women's History Month on "Woman, Innovation and Aerospace."  

Rather than listing these events day-by-day as we usually do, this week they are grouped into categories for those of you interested primarily in the NAC meetings, the congressional hearings, or the other events.  A day-by-day listing is available on our "Events of Interest" list and on the calendar on our website as always.  

NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meetings, all at NASA Headquarters, Washington DC

Congressional Hearings (all times EST)  Many congressional hearings are webcast and can be viewed on the relevant committee's website, although most hearings held in rooms in the U.S. Capitol are not.


  • NASA event on Women, Innovation and Aerospace, Thursday, 9:00 am -3:00 pm Jack Morton Auditorium at George Washington University, 805 21st St., NW, Washington DC (speakers include: NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, NOAA Deputy Administrator Kathy Sullivan, National Academy of Engineering Fellow Catherine Didion, Office of Personnel Management official Veronica Villalobos, and editor Marcia Smith)
  • Secure World Foundation (SWF) Round Table on International Code of Conduct-International Perspectives, Thursday,  Brussels, Belgium (speakers include representatives to the European Union from the United States, Japan, and Australia; Gerard Brachet from the International Astronautical Federation; Pierre-Louis Lempereur from the European External Action Service; and Agnieszka Lukaszczyk from SWF)

Events of Interest


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