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Washington Update: September 1, 2020

Updates on budget and appropriations, NSF's approach to Earth system science, COVID-19 relief, and more

Sep 1, 2020 - by Staff

Budget and appropriations update: The Senate has not yet announced when they will mark up their versions of the FY21 appropriations bills, making it increasingly likely that the appropriations process will extend past the election and potentially into next year. This also means that the House and Senate will need to pass – and the president will need to sign – a continuing resolution to fund government agencies and programs past Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins. This continuing resolution may end up attached to the next COVID-19 relief package, should Senate Republicans and House Democrats settle on a final deal by that time.

NSF moves toward “systems approach” for Earth sciences: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine kicked off a new study last week that is aiming to develop a vision for a “systems approach” that could revise how the National Science Foundation (NSF) manages its Earth system science portfolio. The study committee will consider ways to integrate work across all major components of the Earth system, including the interactions between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, cryosphere, biosphere, and human activities over different timescales. It will also identify research infrastructure, computational capabilities, and workforce development needed to support the vision. Committee members are also probing NSF’s approach to funding the field, given the tension between the agency’s mandate to advance fundamental research and the increasing prevalence of practical applications in Earth system research, which are more heavily supported by the mission-driven federal agencies.

COVID relief package: Senate Republican leaders and the White House continue to discuss what the size and scope of a coronavirus relief package prior to the November elections might look like. They face the difficulty of finding a deal that can pass their own conservative caucus and muster enough support from House Democrats, who passed a much larger and more ambitious package of more than $3 trillion earlier this summer (the HEROES Act). The Senate Republicans may offer for negotiations a much smaller package (less than $2 trillion) limited to provisions and additional funding for the postal service, legal liability protections, $300 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits, and additional funds to support struggling hospitals/state and local governments/schools. It would also provide funding for COVID-19 vaccine and drug development and distribution, testing, and contact tracing. Such a package is unlikely to include any additional funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) or NSF.

New federal interagency meteorological services council convened: The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and NOAA created the Interagency Council for Advancing Meteorological Services last month, and the council’s inaugural meeting was held on Aug. 27. The council’s co-chairs are the heads of OSTP and NOAA. The council will assume the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology’s responsibilities and work to identify relevant needs for research, observational infrastructure, and operational services across more than a dozen agencies.

NOAA surveys market for commercial weather data sources: NOAA plans to issue a request for information in September to learn what types of data and observations companies plan to collect via satellite. Based on the responses, NOAA will decide whether to conduct a new Commercial Weather Data Pilot program like the one used to evaluate commercial radio occultation data

White House, NSF, DOE announce $1B for new research institutes: The White House OSTP, NSF, and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced over $1 billion in awards for the establishment of 12 new artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum information science (QIS) research institutes nationwide. The NSF AI Institute for Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography has its primary hub at the University of Oklahoma, and its principal organizations include NCAR/UCAR, SUNY Albany, Colorado State University, North Carolina State University, Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, University of Washington, and Del Mar College.

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