Delays, poor satellite management to leave US with data holes

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Lawmakers on two House Science subcommittees worried about the repercussions of those outages and the inability of the government to efficiently manage what Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) called “a slow-moving national tragedy.”

Federal agencies are in the midst of an effort to replace current polar and geostationary satellites that are nearing the end of their operational lives. Those efforts have suffered repeated delays, however, and in February the GAO added the potential gap in weather satellite data to its list of high risk issues.

The GAO issued three reports on Thursday critical of various aspects of the agency’s satellite programs and its contingency planning.

The congressional investigation office found that “key challenges remain to ensure that potential gaps in satellite data are minimized or mitigated,” and worried about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ability to launch a polar satellite system on time by March 2017. 

Another report concluded that an environmental satellite program “has delayed interim milestones, is experiencing technical issues, and continues to demonstrate weaknesses in the development of component schedules.” 

Missing satellite data could force the United States to depend on other countries like China for accurate weather information.

“It should be alarming that we may be in a position to have to rely on international partners for weather data,” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), head of the Environment subcommittee, said.

Republicans on the panel worried that the outages were partly a result of the Obama administration prioritizing long-term studies of climate change over near-term weather tracking.

Bonamici responded, however, that that signaled a “common misconception in this committee, which is that climate research is the same thing as climate change research.”