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Press Releases :: May 15, 2006

Democrats Call For NOAA Leadership's Removal

Cites Gross Mismanagement and Billions of Wasted Taxpayer Dollars

House Science Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) and ETS Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. David Wu (D-OR) are calling for the removal of NOAA Administrator Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr. (Ret.) and General John J. Kelly Jr., Deputy Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere.

"If this isn’t ‘the fleecing of America,’ I don’t know what is," stated Rep. Gordon.  "If we’re to have any hope of stopping this train wreck, NOAA must have new leadership – the sooner, the better."

A tri-agency program (NOAA-DOD-NASA) initiated in 1994 to save taxpayer dollars, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, or NPOESS, is the next generation of civilian/military weather forecasting satellites and it is in a financial abyss.  The fledgling National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) satellite program is tasked with short and long term weather forecasting.

In March of 2005, the baseline budget for NPOESS was $6.8 billion.  Today, costs to complete the program have risen to an estimated $13.8 billion.  NOAA’s entire annual budget is just $4 billion dollars, yet this program is at a 100% or $7 billion cost overrun.  The project is also at least three years behind its projected use date of 2009.

"The consequences of NOAA's failed leadership will affect every sector of our nation's economy and the daily lives of all Americans. This is not the way we spend taxpayer dollars, nor how we achieve our goals," said Rep. Wu.

Why should America’s care what happens to NPOESS?  NPOESS is meant to provide accurate three-seven day weather forecasts; the forecasts Americans have come to rely on in making decisions involving public safety, commerce and everyday planning capacities.  Without its completion, there will likely be a gap in accurate U.S. weather forecasting.

"This program may sound arcane and technical, but it isn’t just about the inconvenience of getting a little wet because you didn’t take your raincoat," added Rep. Gordon.  "This satellite will improve hurricane prediction; help farmers better gauge planting/harvesting schedules; aid energy companies in accurately estimating consumer’s rates and much more."

Problems with the NPOESS program have been mounting for years, yet NOAA refused to acknowledge their severity or act expeditiously to address them.  The Department of Commerce Inspector General’s report - issued late last week - documents these failures of management by leadership at NOAA.

The cost overruns and schedule delays are one consequence of that failing.  Another result is that the program is now subject to a Nunn-McCurdy review at the Department of Defense (DOD).  Because this is a joint program with costs split equally between NOAA and DOD, NPOESS has been entangled in a mandatory review for any DOD program whose cost growth exceeds 25% of the original baseline estimate.  One possibility of this Nunn-McCurdy review is that DOD would choose to cancel its participation in the program, leaving NOAA to solely bear the costs of going forward.  A decision is due June 6, 2006.

"Who is accountable for the billions of dollars cost due to gross mismanagement of this essential program?  The buck stops at the feet of the Admiral and his deputy, the General," added Rep. Gordon. "If the President fails to take action to refresh NOAA leadership and salvage this program, then the blame should rightly shift from the agency to the Oval Office."

In a letter to the President urging the Administration to replace NOAA leadership’s, Rep. Gordon and Rep. Wu stated, "We passionately believe that public service should require competence and personal accountability.  At NOAA, the evidence is in that a monumental failure of leadership and management has occurred.  We urge you to immediately intervene and replace Admiral Lautenbacher and General Kelly, holding them accountable for the dismal failure at NOAA."

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