Washington Update: November 6, 2019



FY20 funding update, new weather modeling bill, continuing resolution watch, and more

NSF and NOAA FY20 funding update: On October 31, by a bipartisan vote of 84-9, the Senate passed a four-bill spending package (HR 3055). It included the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations acts for Agriculture (S 2522), Transportation-HUD (S 2520), Interior-Environment (S 2580), and the bill of greatest importance to the UCAR community, Commerce-Justice-Science (S 2584), which funds the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA. The vote clears the way for the Senate Appropriations Committee to begin what will be difficult negotiations with the House to reconcile the differences between their respective versions, after which a final vote in both chambers will be required to send the final proposal to the president. 

Weather modeling bill introduced in Senate: Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, recently introduced the Learning Excellence and Good Examples from New Developers (LEGEND) Act. This legislation would require NOAA to make certain operational models publicly available and to utilize any resulting innovations from public collaboration to improve the models. The senators believe that having the largest possible group of outside experts – including scientists and engineers in academia – working on these models collaboratively will provide new insights to improve existing forecasting models. The LEGEND Act would also specifically clarify and strengthen the efforts of the emerging Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC) to develop such collaborative models.

Continuing resolution watch: NSF and all other federal agencies will continue to be funded at FY19 levels until November 21 under the existing continuing resolution (CR) passed by Congress and signed by the president in September. However, with no FY20 appropriations bills signed into law yet, there is a good chance the Congress will need to pass another CR in the coming weeks. Some congressional leaders now have suggested that this next CR may fund federal government operations until February or even March. That timeline reflects how difficult the remaining negotiations are expected to be on a handful of key spending and policy disagreements, in addition to the potential of impeachment proceedings creating schedule complications.

NSF Earth, oceans, and atmospheric sciences report: The NSF Advisory Committee for Geosciences met in October to discuss a draft report recommending priorities for the agency’s programs in Earth, oceans, and atmospheric sciences. The report will be a successor to the committee’s Dynamic Earth study published in 2014, which has served two important roles: helping the Geosciences Directorate (GEO) determine how best to focus its resources and investments in the face of a challenging budget outlook, and helping GEO more effectively publicize the societal benefits of government support of the geosciences.

House science committee holds space weather hearing: On October 23, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing entitled “Space Weather: Advancing Research, Monitoring, and Forecasting Capabilities.” Witnesses included William Murtagh of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center; Nicola Fox, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division; and Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., VADM USN (Ret), CEO of GeoOptics, Inc, and former NOAA Administrator. There was significant discussion of impending gaps in space weather data due to current missions nearing the end of their operating lifetimes, as well as which technology priorities government and academia should focus on to develop the next generation systems for space weather observations.

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