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Washington Update: January 8, 2020

Appropriations, NOAA Administrator update, AMS meeting, space weather

Jan 8, 2020 - by Staff

FY20 Appropriations Process Concludes: Just prior to Christmas, Congress passed and the president signed two appropriations packages to fund all federal agencies for the current fiscal year, negating the need to pass an additional “continuing resolution” and marking the earliest conclusion to the annual funding process since 2015. The deal includes modest increases above the FY19 funded level for the National Science Foundation ($203 million, or 2.5%) and NASA ($1.13 billion, or 5.3%). While the overall budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is slightly down from FY19 (due to a planned ramp down in large weather satellite acquisition programs), NOAA's Oceanic and Atmospheric Research budget will increase 4% to $590 million, with most of that increase directed toward climate and oceans research programs. The office’s budget for weather and air chemistry research will decrease marginally; however the bill strongly supports EPIC, the proposed Earth Prediction Innovation Center, directing NOAA to allocate at least $8 million for the effort. 

NOAA Administrator Update: During December – and less than a month after Barry Myers, the administration’s pick to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, withdrew from consideration – President Trump nominated Acting Administrator Neil Jacobs to lead the agency. One of Jacobs’s key priorities is improving the accuracy of weather modeling within NOAA. Jacobs, a meteorologist who has served as acting administrator since 2018, sailed through his earlier Senate confirmation to serve as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce. He likely faces tougher scrutiny this time, however, due to the president’s statements regarding the scope of threats from Hurricane Dorian and the response of several Weather Service forecasters contradicting those statements. This led to an unsigned statement pushing back on the forecasters, which was apparently driven by other officials at the Department of Commerce and the White House. The Hurricane Dorian controversy has prompted investigations from the Department of Commerce inspector general, the acting chief scientist of NOAA and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, all of which are ongoing and which may affect the consideration of his nomination. 

AMS Annual Meeting in Boston: The American Meteorological Society is celebrating its 100th anniversary at its annual meeting, which begins Sunday, January 12, in Boston, where the society was founded. Among the three presidential town hall sessions will be a discussion of topics the society plans to focus on in the coming 100 years. AMS states that member feedback showed a strong interest in three themes: advance science, applications, capabilities, and ourselves; amplify our impact on society; and respond to society's growing needs and opportunities. There will also be a two-part session on “policy leadership in weather, water, and climate” featuring the leaders of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and NOAA.

House Committee to Revisit Space Weather Bill: The House Science Committee will meet Thursday, January 9, to consider bipartisan legislation that would delineate the roles of different federal agencies in space weather research, forecasting, and preparedness. Reintroduced by Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Mo Brooks (R-AL), the bill resembles a Senate counterpart and is substantially different from the version the committee advanced in 2018. Among provisions the bill no longer includes are ones directing the government to launch a pilot program for collecting space weather data from private companies and to more generally obtain commercial space weather data where practicable and cost effective.

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