House passes bipartisan bill to reorganize NOAA’s weather resources
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Originally published at FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News.
On Tuesday the House of Representatives passed the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act. Approved by voice vote, this bipartisan bill aligns the R&D activities of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) with the National Weather Service.
“Saving lives and protecting property should be the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s top priority. This bill codifies that priority,” said Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) as he explained the objectives of this legislation to his House colleagues. Bridenstine introduced this bill, H.R. 2413, in June 2013. The month before, Moore, Oklahoma, was hit by a massive tornado that killed 24 people and injured 377. Joining Bridenstine in cosponsoring this bill and reflecting its bipartisan nature were 20 other representatives, including the chairman and ranking minority member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
The Science Committee voted to send this legislation to the full House after a quick markup session in early December. Then, as was true during Tuesday’s floor action, the bipartisan nature of the bill was emphasized. The bill has now been sent to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Selections from the House floor debate, in the order of presentation, follow:
House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (T-TX):
“Severe weather routinely affects large portions of the United States. This past year has been no different. The United States needs a world-class weather prediction system that helps protect American lives and property.
“Our leadership has slipped in severe weather forecasting. European weather models routinely predict America’s weather better than we can. We need to make up for lost ground. H.R. 2413 improves weather observation systems and advances computing and next generation modeling capabilities. The enhanced prediction of major storms is of great importance to protecting the public from injury and loss of property, and advances computing and next generation modeling capabilities. The enhanced prediction of major storms is of great importance to protecting the public from injury and loss of property.”
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR):
“Members on both sides of the aisle can be assured that this bill represents a truly bipartisan effort and is built on extensive discussions with and advice from the weather community.”
“We drew on expert advice from the weather enterprise and from extensive reports from the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Public Administration. Experts told us that, to improve weather forecasting, the research at the Office of Oceans and Atmospheric Research, or OAR, and the forecasting at the National Weather Service had to be better coordinated. This legislation contains important provisions to improve that coordination. This bill encourages NOAA to integrate research and operations in a way that models the successful innovation structure used by the Department of Defense.
“The bill we are considering today also creates numerous opportunities for the broader weather community to provide input to NOAA, and their insights as well. At every opportunity, we charge the agency to consult with the American weather industry and researchers as they develop research plans and undertake new initiatives. We also press NOAA to get serious about exploring private sector solutions to their data needs.
“The bill makes clear that we expect the historical support for extramural research to continue. The engine of weather forecasting innovation has not always been found within NOAA, but is often found in the external research community and labs that work with NOAA. That collaboration must continue and will continue under this legislation.
“I can assure Members on both sides of the aisle that weather research is strengthened in this bill but not at the expense of other important work at NOAA. During the committee process, we heard from witness after witness who stressed that weather forecasting involves many different scientific disciplines. This integrated multidisciplinary approach reflects an understanding that we cannot choose to strengthen one area of research at OAR without endangering the progress in the other areas because they are all interconnected. Physical and chemical laws do not respect OAR’s budgetary boundaries of climate, weather, and oceans, and this bill only addresses organizational issues in weather at NOAA.”
“Mr. Speaker, on May 20 of last year, a massive tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, with very little warning. The Moore tornado killed 24 Oklahomans, injured 377, and resulted in an estimated $2 billion worth of damage. A warning was issued only 15 minutes before the tornado touched down, just 15 minutes. In fact, 15 minutes is the standard in America. Mr. Speaker, America can do better than 15 minutes.
“Mr. Speaker, this bill is about priorities. When America is over $17 trillion in debt, the answer is not more spending, but to prioritize necessary spending toward its best uses. Saving lives and protecting property should be the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s top priority. This bill codifies that priority. H.R. 2413 directs NOAA to prioritize weather-related activities and rebalances NOAA’s funding priorities to bring weather-related activities to a higher amount. The bill completes this reprioritization in a fiscally responsible manner. H.R. 2413 does not increase NOAA’s overall authorization. I would like to repeat that. H.R. 2413 does not increase NOAA’s overall authorization. It doesn’t spend one more dime.
“Mr. Speaker, this bill helps get weather research projects out of the lab and into the field, thereby speeding up the development and fielding of lifesaving weather forecasting technology. By requiring coordination and prioritization across the range of NOAA agencies, H.R. 2413 will help get weather prediction and forecasting technologies off the drawing board and into the field. This bill authorizes dedicated tornado and hurricane warning programs to coordinate research and development activities. It directs the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research to prioritize its research and development. And it codifies technology transfer between OAR—the researchers—and the National Weather Service—the operators—a vital link that ensures next-generation weather technologies are implemented.
“Mr. Speaker, perhaps most importantly, H.R. 2413 enhances NOAA’s collaboration with the private sector and with universities. Oklahoma is on the cutting edge of weather research, prediction, and forecasting with absolutely world-class institutions such as the National Weather Center and the National Severe Storms Laboratory at the University of Oklahoma.”
“Mr. Speaker, the imbalance of NOAA’s resources is leaving America further behind our international competitors. The Science Committee received compelling testimony showing that the European Union has better capabilities in some areas of numerical weather prediction, forecasting, and risk communication, and other countries, such as Britain and Japan, are closing in fast. Misallocating resources can have terrible consequences, as my constituents and the people of Oklahoma understand all too well every tornado season. The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act is a first step toward rebalancing NOAA’s priorities, moving new technologies from the lab bench to the field, and leveraging formidable capabilities developed in the private sector and at universities.”
Richard M. Jones works in the Government Relations Division at the American Institute of Physics.