The 2014 federal budget is going through the usual steps prior to approval and hopefully enactment. The Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies - the committee that funds NASA and NOAA -- finally finished up what is called the "mark-up" of the legislation that ultimately would fund the two science and technology agencies beginning on October 1, 2013. Here's the problem, the House dollars are pretty far apart from what the Senate came up with for NOAA and NASA. Under the House Bll, NASA would be cut $1.1 billion compared to what President Obama was seeking and $928 million below the fiscal year 2013. NOAA is in a similar situation as the House proposal would cut the climate and weather agency significantly. The approved bill provides $4.9 billion for NOAA in 2014. That figure is roughly equivalent to its 2012 budget, but some $500 million below President Barack Obama's $5.4 billion request. And it is $300 million less than the $5.2 billion that the agency ended up with in 2013, after Congress gave NOAA some extra funding in a special Hurricane Sandy recovery bill. The additional cash helped buffer NOAA from the effects of the automatic 5% budget cuts known as the sequester.
The Senate however, was much more generous. For example, NASA is promised an estimated $18 billion for the coming year under the Senate bill — $1.4 billion more than has been proposed by the House. The story is much the same for NOAA from the Senate. Key weather and climate satellites would get a boost under a new Senate spending proposal. The bill would increase NOAA's budget for satellite procurement to $1.814 billion, $117 million more than the agency received last year. NOAA’s overall budget would rise to $5.1 billion, up from $4.9 billion last year.
Typically, after the mark-up is complete both the House and Senate create working committees to try and find a middle ground between both bills or spending plans. That's the rub. Because both bills are so far apart it might be very difficult for both groups to come together and compromise a solution. Without question, NOAA and NASA need consistent funding year to year so both agencies can continue its mission. But without adequate funding NOAA and NASA programs could be cut -- critical programs like the archiving of vital climate and weather data; or the visualization of Earth Science data in order to better understand our planet. Let's hope, and yes, let's pray our political leaders can do the right thing and fund our science and technology programs so that the US can continue to be a world leader in climate and weather AND space.