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Press Releases :: May 28, 2010

GAO Reports on Status of Earth Observation Strategy

(Washington, DC) – The Government Accountability Office (GAO),released a report, ENVIRONMENTAL SATELLITES: Strategy Needed to Sustain Critical Climate and Space Weather Measurements, related to the country's weather satellite systems. GAO reported a continuing lack of plans to provide the full set of weather and climate observations originally intended for our new satellite systems. This report was requested by the Science and Technology Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee and Energy and Environment Subcommittee.
 
“We’ve been engaged in an intense debate over climate change and how it affects the world we live in. If we have the most complete data to track environmental trends, we can better understand climate impacts. Unfortunately, GAO says the important aspects of the observation plans are caught up in red-tape, and we risk losing vital climate information until it’s cleared,” stated Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA).
 
Since 1994, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been struggling to develop a common set of weather satellites that could provide necessary data for civilian and military weather forecasting needs, such as tracking changes in climate and watching the Sun for flares that might disrupt electrical power grids or satellite communications. In 2006, this program was restructured to try to control enormous cost overruns. A number of instruments for observing aspects of the climate and solar activity were removed as part of the cost savings. The Committee asked GAO to evaluate the strategy and plans to fill the possible gaps in critical data that would interfere with our ability to determine how the climate might be changing.
 
GAO reports that, "Until an interagency strategy for earth observation is established, and a clear process for implementing it is in place, federal agencies will continue to procure their immediate priorities on an ad hoc basis, the economic benefits of a coordinated approach to investments in earth observation may be lost, and the continuity of key measurements may be lost. This will hinder our nation’s ability to understand long-term climate changes."
 
"We have invested a great deal of money to make certain that we can identify certain changes to our environment. GAO warns us that we don't have the blueprint we need to spend this money correctly or assure that we accomplish our goal of gathering the data we need," said Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC).
 
Without the strategic guidance described in its report, GAO argues that critical measurements remain at risk. Improvements in the interagency earth observation network will be left languishing. GAO therefore recommends that the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology sees the following steps are accomplished:
  • Complete and release reports from the United States Group on Earth Observations concerning "priorities and opportunities in earth observations, " and reports by the National Space Weather Program on restoring lost capabilities for monitoring solar conditions;
  • Develop long-term interagency strategies, so that appropriate costs and schedules can be incorporated into agency budgets, and;
  • Lay out timelines for executing the resulting strategy.
 
The Committee will continue to press for the development of the appropriate strategy as part of its oversight of America's earth observation capabilities.
 
For more information on the Committee’s work on NPOESS, please visit the Committee’s website.
 
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