Case Study: A Stormy Prediction For NOAA ???

Michael Williamson (
Mon, 29 May 1995 09:16:49

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From: Michael Williamson <WHE_WILLIAM@FLO.ORG>
Subject: Case Study: A Stormy  Prediction For NOAA ???
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Subj:	A Stormy  Prediction For NOAA
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Subject:      A Stormy  Prediction For NOAA
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----------------------------Original message----------------------------
The Federal Page
The Washington Post
A Stormy  Prediction For NOAA; Budget Plans Imperil Public Safety, Aide Says
By Curt Suplee
Washington Post Staff Writer
     The short-term forecast for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration is grim: heavy to severe budget cuts followed by drastic
erosion in public safety.
    That's what it looks like to Douglas K. Hall, assistant commerce
secretary for oceans and atmosphere. At a time when many federal managers
are being coy about how much money their agencies could actually afford to
lose, Hall is refreshingly blunt.
      "We do not have programs that are optional," he said. So if the 15
percent budget reductions that the House has planned for NOAA are enacted,
Hall said, the agency will be unable to provide some "basic services that
the American people have come to expect," including early hurricane,
tornado and flood warnings, highly accurate weather data for airlines and
agriculture, and protection of imperiled ocean fish and marine mammal
     The House budget resolution calls for cutting NOAA's budget from $2
billion in fiscal 1995 to $1.7 billion in fiscal 1996. By fiscal 2000
funding would shrink to $1.55 billion for the agency that runs the
National Weather Service, a system of Earth-monitoring satellites and the
National Marine Fisheries Service, among other programs.
     According to NOAA analysts, reductions of that magnitude would entail:
   Eliminating one-half of NOAA's satellite capability. At present, the
agency maintains four satellites (two in polar orbit and one in
"geostationary" position over each coast) that are used for gathering
ocean and weather data, as well as tracking hurricanes and El Nino events.
The life expectancy of the satellites is about five years. Budget cuts
would permit NOAA to operate only two satellites -- a situation that would
lead to a six-month blackout of information between the failure of one of
the existing units and the time a replacement could be launched. Such a
blackout would threaten "potentially catastrophic life and property
consequences," according to an agency analysis.
     Canceling one of the geostationary satellites would mean that the
remaining one would be repositioned to the center of the United States.
NOAA would thereby lose the ability to monitor severe weather approaching
Hawaii as well as developments in the mid-Atlantic, where hurricanes form.
Because accuracy of landfall predictions would be decreased, officials
might have to evacuate larger areas in the event of an imminent disaster.
And "every mile of coastline that you don't have to evacuate saves $1
million," Hall said. Conversely, canceling a polar satellite would cut
coverage of Alaska by half and degrade the quality of aviation forecasts,
he said.
     Private enterprise also would feel the effects. The National Institute
of Standards and Technology estimated recently that accurate wind data
save U.S. airlines about $150 million a year by allowing them to avoid
carrying excess fuel; NOAA calculates that warning farmers months in
advance of likely El Nino effects saves those in southeastern states alone
about $100 million a year by letting them tailor crop plans to anticipated
 Discontinuing modernization of the National Weather Service. In the late
1980s, Congress mandated that the agency convert its old system of 300
weather stations to a consolidated network of 118 forecast offices equipped
with advanced radar and other updated technology. Ninety-eight are
currently operational. Planned budget cuts, Hall said, would mean that 42
of the new radar facilities would be shut down by fiscal 1997, reducing
the expected nationwide coverage by about one-third and violating a law
that forbids the NWS to allow "degradation of service" during modernization.
       Operating with 76 offices instead of 118 would mean, in many cases,
giving up the increasingly accurate weather warnings that "the American
public deserves" for its $4-per-year per capita contribution, Hall said,
as well as the full benefit of billions of dollars already spent on "one
of the most successful investments in civilian technology in this century."
 Reducing enforcement of federal laws against overfishing and harming
endangered species. The National Marine Fisheries Service is charged with
promoting sustainable use of the seas and preventing the kind of
catastrophic depletion of ocean resources that has recently occurred off
New England -- where populations of many fish species have collapsed.
According to the House budget proposal, the fisheries service would lose
about 30 percent of its personnel, Hall estimated, as well as numerous
offices and laboratories. All funds for modernizing and replacing its
fleet of ships would be cut off.
     Those changes would make it even harder to set catch quotas for
various fish species -- a process that entails gathering data and making
scientific predictions about fish populations. That's a worrisome prospect
for the nation's $3.5 billion-per-year fishing industry. "Make the wrong
decision," Hall said, "and you can destroy a billion-dollar resource in
just a couple of days."
 Scaling back oceanic and atmospheric research. Funding cuts for this part
of NOAA, Hall said, would diminish research into broad-scale problems such
as ozone depletion (an area NOAA pioneered), El Nino effects and long-term
climate change, as well as eliminating or reducing partnerships with many
universities and institutes.
     In addition to budget cuts, congressional Republicans have recommended
dismantling the Commerce Department (NOAA's parent agency), dispersing NOAA
programs among several other agencies and privatizing many functions,
including some weather forecasting programs.
     "There is a misperception that there is an alternative" source of the
federal government's satellite, radar and surface observations, Hall said.
"We can't buy these data from anyone else."
     "The word `privatization' " he added, "is often used to camouflage the
idea of a major retrenchment . . . in a scientific infrastructure we have
built up over decades."