THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION
The committee’s assessment of NASA’s Earth science program could not be accomplished without also reviewing the state of NOAA’s missions and Earth science program. NOAA’s current and planned polar and geostationary programs were assumed by the 2007 survey’s committee to be an integral part of the baseline capabilities as it developed its integrated strategy. Two of the survey’s recommended 17 missions (the Operational GPS Radio Occultation Mission and the Extended Ocean Vector Winds Mission) and part of a third (CLARREO) were directed for implementation by NOAA, but none has been implemented. This committee offers the following finding on NOAA’s implementation of recommendations to the agency from the 2007 decadal survey:
Finding: NOAA’s capability to implement the assumed baseline and the recommended program of the 2007 decadal survey has been greatly diminished by budget shortfalls; cost overruns and delays, especially those associated with the NPOESS program prior to its restructuring in 2010 to become the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS); and by sensor descopes and sensor eliminations on both NPOESS and GOES-R.21
These descopes impacted numerous ESD science communities. The committee notes that in an era of budget austerity, NASA’s ESD has very limited capabilities to mitigate the effect of these shortfalls.
LOOKING AHEAD: BEYOND 2020
In preparation for the next decadal survey, the committee offers in Chapter 5 a summary of “lessons learned” that are derived from its evaluation of implementation of the current decadal survey programs. In particular, regardless of how future NASA Earth science programs evolve, the committee concluded that:
1. Maintaining a long-term vision with a fixed and predictable mission queue is essential to building a consensus in a diverse Earth science community that prior to the 2007 decadal survey had not come to a consensus on research priorities spanning conventional disciplinary boundaries. The strength of the decadal survey and its value to agencies and decision makers are, in fact, the consensus priorities established by the survey’s outreach and deliberative processes. Without community “buy-in” to the survey, a return to an ad hoc decision process that is less informed and less efficient in its allocation of resources is the default to be expected.
2. Finding the balance between prioritizing science objectives and creating a mission queue that is viable will be one of the great challenges for the Earth science community over the coming decades. Too much focus on either risks the long-term sustainability and value of NASA’s Earth science program.
21 Even before the latest round of budget-driven delays and descopes, NOAA polar and geostationary programs had experienced severe budget challenges with particular consequences for research and operations deemed outside required “core” capabilities. See National Research Council, Ensuring the Climate Record from the NPOESS and GOES-R Spacecraft: Elements of a Strategy to Recover Measurement Capabilities Lost in Program Restructuring, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2008. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published a number of reports detailing the origins of the cost overruns and assessing program management. See, for example, GAO, Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellites: Agencies Must Act Quickly to Address Risks That Jeopardize the Continuity of Weather and Climate Data, GAO-10-558 (Washington, D.C., May 10, 2010) and Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellites: With Costs Increasing and Data Continuity at Risk, Improvements Needed in Tri-agency Decision Making, GAO-09-564 (Washington, D.C., June 17, 2009).