Federal Science Partners Periodic Update

Acting OMB Director Announces 5% Reduction in Non-defense Spending in FY 2020 Administration’s Budget – In an op-ed published in RealClear Politics. Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget said that when the President’s FY 2020 Budget is released in March, it will propose a 5% reduction in spending on non-defense discretionary programs.  Mr. Vought cited the increase in the national debt to a total of over $22 billion and recent Congressional increases in discretionary spending as two of the reasons for the forthcoming proposed reductions.  While the President’s budget will seek reductions in non-defense discretionary spending, Mr. Vought promised the President’s budget “will reflect the Administration’s continued commitment to defending our nation and addressing threats to our national security, such as terrorists abroad and criminal illegal aliens running through our southern border. Making America safe and secure is the administration’s top priority and the president’s budget will reflect that.”

Raising FY 2020 Discretionary Spending Limitations – Left as is, the current statutory spending caps in the Budget Control Act for defense and non-defense discretionary spending for FY 2020 decline by as much as 10% from the FY 2019 levels.  Congress has begun discussions about raising these spending caps, much like they have done on three prior occasions over the past six years.  Some Members of Congress are looking at the need to address the statutory debt ceiling by early March as an opportunity to enact a deal to raise the FY 2020 caps and provide the possibility of an orderly FY 2020 appropriations process.  Other Congressional observers are much less optimistic that Congress will address the caps anytime soon.  It is important to keep in mind that if the FY 2020 appropriations process bogs down later on this year and Congress were to enact a conventional continuing resolution to keep spending at current levels for the start of FY 2020, the Budget Control Act would mandate automatic across the board spending reductions, known as a sequester, 15 days after the end of this year’s Congressional session.  The House Budget Committee has released a report outlining the impact of such reductions in discretionary spending should the spending caps not be adjusted.  Read the Committee’s report here.  On February 27, the Senate Budget Committee held its own hearing on the issues associated with adjusting the discretionary spending caps.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) testified at that hearing.  CBO’s testimony can be found here.

Hearing on U.S. Leadership in Science and Technology – On March 6, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Maintaining U.S. Leadership in Science and Technology.  Scheduled to testify are:  Dr. Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences; Dr. Patrick Gallagher, Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh; and Dr. Mehmood Khan, Vice Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer at PepsiCo.  More information on this hearing will be available here.

Dr. Neil Jacobs Replaces Adm Tim Gallaudet as Acting NOAA Administrator – According to an internal memo circulated within NOAA this week, Dr. Neil Jacobs, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, in a sudden move, will replace RDML Tim Gallaudet as the Acting NOAA Administrator.  RDML Gallaudet will remain as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.  Dr. Jacobs came to NOAA from Panasonic Avionics Corporation where he was the chief atmospheric scientist where he worked on weather observations and forecasting.

House Appropriations Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Climate Change Research – On February 26 the House Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA held an oversight hearing on understanding the changing climate system and the role of climate research.  Testifying at the hearing was Dr. Michael Frelich, Director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, and Dr. Neil Jacobs, Acting NOAA Administrator.  View an archived video of the hearing and read the witnesses’ testimony here.

Dr. Frelich said in his prepared remarks, “…The changing climate is having profound impacts and presenting profound opportunities – to us and to our adversaries.  Global average sea level is rising, impacting our nation’s extensive civil and national security coastal infrastructure, and the more than 100 million people worldwide who live within 1 meter of present-day sea level. Global average temperatures are rising…Changing temperatures are impacting agriculture, transportation, plants and human disease vectors. Rising ocean temperatures are contributing to widespread bleaching and death of corals in many regions and shifts in the distributions of economically important fish populations. The oceans are becoming more acidic, causing significant changes in ocean ecosystems. Diminishing sea ice cover is causing the Earth to absorb more heat from the Sun, perhaps leading to a positive-feedback cycle. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and more intense….

…Finally, the fact that we know with certainty (emphasis in NASA testimony) that the climate is changing is a profound testament to our nation’s – and to NASA’s – technological and scientific abilities. NASA’s comprehensive, global, sustained set of Earth observations and cutting-edge analyses allow us to monitor processes on and between the land, ocean, and the atmosphere. Thanks to NASA’s satellite measurements and scientific analyses, we are increasingly able to detect climate trends and separate them from the much larger, shorter-scale, environmental variability we call “weather.”

Dr. Jacobs outlined NOAA’s many assets and activities with respect to the scientific understanding of the Earth’s climate system through sustained observations and monitoring, integrated environmental modeling, data management, and interdisciplinary research.  Dr. Jacobs called out the recent creation of the Earth Prediction Innovation Center, or EPIC, which will improve the United States weather and climate models through focused attention and investment throughout the entire atmospheric modeling community, including short term weather, sub- seasonal and seasonal oscillations, and long-term climate patterns. Implementation of EPIC is among the Department’s and NOAA’s highest priorities. EPIC is expected to directly benefit taxpayers as well as the U.S. climate science enterprise with advances in modeling, accelerating research to operations, and making the data and modeling software accessible to the academic research community. Improvements in weather and climate models will feed advancements in operational forecast products, impacting many sectors of the United States economy, ranging from agriculture and fisheries management to energy markets and inland water management.

Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Frelich both testified identified gaps in knowledge and suggested where additional research should be conducted and supported to address major questions related to better understanding the Earth’s climate system.  Members asked a number of questions designed to emphasize the science behind and the findings and recommendations of the November 2018 Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II, which focused on climate impacts, risks, and adaptation in the United States.

House Environment Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Climate and Oceans – On February 27, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing to examine the impacts on climate change on oceans and coasts.  Witnesses included: Dr. Sarah Cooley, Director, Ocean Acidification Program, Ocean Conservancy: Dr. Radley Horton, Lamont Associate Research Professor, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University Earth Institute; Dr. Thomas K. Frazer, Professor and Director, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Florida; and Ms. Margaret A. Pilaro, Executive Director, Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.  The hearing focused on changing ocean conditions and the impacts such changes are having on lives and livelihoods.  Topics such as sea level rise, changing shellfish and fishery populations, and severe weather were discussed along with adaptation and mitigation strategies and the need for more research on adaptation and mitigation strategies.  More information on this hearing, including the witnesses’ testimony and video of the hearing can be found here.

NOAA Advisory Committee to Meet on Sea Level Rise and Geospatial and Positioning Data  -- NOAA's Hydrographic Services Review Panel, a federal advisory committee that advises the NOAA administrator on products and services related to navigation services, water levels and currents, and global positioning, will hold a public meeting March 5-7, in Washington, DC. The panel will receive input and updates on national and regional navigation services activities and resource needs, sea level rise and coastal inundation, geospatial and positioning data, technology, the NOAA fleet, priorities for the Arctic, integrated coastal and ocean mapping, as well as recommendations from stakeholders and partners. The panel will consider information from this meeting as it makes recommendations to the NOAA administrator.  The meeting will take place in the Hall of States, 444 N. Capitol Street NW, Room 285, Washington, D.C.  More information on this meeting can be found here.