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Washington Update: August 4, 2020

Appropriations, COVID relief package, space weather legislation, climate plan, and more

Aug 4, 2020 - by Staff

FY21 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bills update: The House FY21 CJS appropriations bill was finally unveiled in July. It includes a number of modest proposed increases to important programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and NASA. The bill was approved by the full House last week. The Senate Appropriations Committee is not expected to introduce and mark up their CJS bill until September.

The House bill would restore numerous proposed cuts to various NSF and NOAA programs and provide targeted increases to others. While the House committee rejected a requested 12% budget increase for NASA to fund larger lunar exploration programs, it restored funding for numerous NASA Earth science research programs, including two Pathfinder missions that have been repeatedly targeted for termination in recent years: PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) and CLARREO (Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory).

The legislation includes $8.55 billion for NSF, which is $270 million above NSF’s FY20 funding level. Most of this increase is for the main “Research and Related Activities” account and the bill also provides NSF the requested $70 million for the Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure program. For NOAA’s budget, the bill proposes a small increase of $102 million and rejects almost $800 million in proposed cuts, resulting in a proposed level of $5.45 billion for FY21. Important budget restorations and proposed increases include $146 million for the Weather and Air Chemistry Research programs ($12 million increase), $190 million for Climate Research programs (restored to FY20 level), and a $6 million increase for Climate Competitive Research.

NOAA program and policy provisions in House CJS bill: In addition to the funding levels for the agency provided in the FY21 House CJS bill there are several important new proposed programs or policies involving federal Earth science and climate research at NOAA. The House bill would provide $1.5 million to NOAA for a new effort to contract with the National Academies to undertake an inaugural weather decadal study, with the participation of all relevant federal agencies, to evaluate current capabilities and needs and to guide future federal investments. The committee also provided $28.75 million for the new Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC) within NOAA’s Weather Research Program, rejecting a proposed cut and increasing funding by $3.5 million over FY20. UCAR is one of several entities that submitted a proposal in July to run EPIC.

Senate Republicans release COVID relief package: Senate Republicans released their proposed COVID relief package last week, which is made up of multiple bills that collectively are called the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools, or HEALS, Act. Congress is still negotiating the package, with talks ongoing with the White House as well. The proposed legislation would provide $1.5 billion in funding for NASA and $20 million for NOAA to support the continuity of weather modeling and forecasting. Other components of the package include liability protections, extended unemployment insurance, tax credits, health care provisions, a new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans, rescue committees for Social Security, Medicare, and the Highway Trust Fund, school and childcare legislation, supply chain protection, and a temporary expansion of tax deductions for business meals.

Space weather bill passes in Senate, heads to House: Last week the Senate passed the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act, also titled the PROSWIFT Act, by unanimous consent. The bill now heads to the House for consideration. The legislation provides statutory authority for the National Space Weather Program’s efforts to work with multiple agencies in their research, operations, and mitigation of space weather. The agencies include NOAA, NSF, and NASA, among a few others.

New Democratic climate plan unveiled in the House: The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a congressional action plan in mid-July that conveys legislative steps the panel’s Democrats believe are needed for the U.S. to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Produced by committee staff, the 547-page document is an ambitious effort that took over a year to produce. To meet United Nations recommended targets on future warming, the plan recommends Congress take broad actions across 12 “pillars” that encompass different economic sectors and decarbonization policy issues. In the areas of science and technology, these actions would include substantially increasing investment in clean energy R&D and strengthening support for climate science research across federal agencies.

Commerce Department Inspector General's report on White House Hurricane Dorian statement: In a report released last month, Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy Gustafson found that there was a flawed process leading up to the White House statement that Alabama would likely be hit by Hurricane Dorian and that the Department of Commerce and NOAA did not act in an apolitical manner. The report finds that this incident damaged NOAA’s credibility and impacted the morale of NOAA’s employees, but that there is a sense that employees want to move on from the situation. The release of the report has further complicated the effort to confirm Neil Jacobs to be the leader of NOAA, which requires a vote in the full Senate. The release of the IG report caused several key Democratic Senators who were awaiting its release to now declare their opposition to his nomination.

DOE trying to Improve research collaboration with NSF: The director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, Chris Fall, recently said that there should be a streamlined process agreed upon by DOE and NSF to improve their project collaboration. Director Fall also shared that the DOE’s Office of Science has successfully implemented a similar approach with international partners.

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