Charlene AndersonDec 16, 2011

NASA and NOAA Hit Again by Across-the-Board Budget Cuts

This year, the United States suffered 12 billion-dollar disasters caused by "extreme weather events" -- tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, heat waves, droughts. More than 1,000 people died in these disasters.

To help the victims recover, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed appropriations bills that will provide $8.1 billion disaster aid. The Senate will vote on the measures today. If they are passed, they will go to the President for signature. There is great pressure to get this process completed because, at day's end, the previous stopgap bill to fund the U.S. government will expire. If no appropriations bill is produced and signed, a government shutdown is possible.

The political posturing and brinkmanship go on. And among the hundreds of government programs getting squeezed are those that would help us understand, predict, avoid, mitigate, and maybe even prevent future weather disasters.

To provide the $8.1 billion in relief, the appropriations bill will order a "1.83% across-the-board cut to all FY 2012 base discretionary spending, except the Department of Defense, Military Construction, and Veterans Affairs."

Among those to be cut are two government agencies that monitor Earth from space. NASA and NOAA will see their budgets drop again. NASA's will fall from $17.8 billion to $17.4 billion; NOAA's will drop from $4.9 billion to $4.8 billion.

So agencies that try to understand and address the causes of weather disasters are being cut to provide money to deal with the aftermaths of weather disasters. Yes, we must pay for the damage already done. Across-the-board cuts are an easy way to do it and do it quickly. But Congress is taking money from work that could ease future disasters. There's something twisted in this logic. But that's how governments operate.

Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator, said last week, "Understanding, predicting, and managing extreme events requires an extraordinary amount of information about the physical state of the earth system, and how it's changing from moment to moment and decade to decade."

We need that information to understand the planet we live on. NASA and NOAA, and the USGS that operates the Landsat program, help provide what we need.

The arm-wrestling over the federal budget for fiscal year 2012 is almost over. The Administration will release its proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 next February 6. We have only a few weeks to gather our strength before the struggle begins again. And considering this economic and political climate, you can be sure that the battle over next year's budget will be even more difficult and divisive.

Still, we've got to get ready.

Just my rant for the day. If you want to enjoy more rants, follow me on Twitter @PlanetCharlene.

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