The author, Tom Fahy, is the principal of Washington-based Capitol Meteorologics, which represents private-sector weather companies and Earth observation satellite operators.
Weather has a trillion-dollar impact on the U.S. economy. President Trump and his advisers recognized this important economic driver in April 2017 when he signed the landmark Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act — the first legislation passed by Congress on weather issues that was separate from an agency authorization bill in over 25 years. It is one of the most outstanding economic gains of his administration and is already producing results to further advance the economy and protect our citizens.
Trump has another historic opportunity — signing into law, by Jan. 2, the reauthorization of this act, which cleared both houses of Congress before the holidays. The reauthorization will enable the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to continue “to reduce the vulnerability of communities and ecological systems in the short-term, while helping society avoid or adapt to potential long-term environmental, social, and economic changes.”
The legislation supports NOAA’s efforts to improve U.S. weather prediction by establishing the Earth Prediction Innovation Center, which will bring scientists and engineers together to build the finest computer-modeling system in the world.
One of the early winners of the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act is the Commercial Weather Data Pilot Program, which enables private-sector satellite operators to sell Radio Occultation (GPS-RO) data to NOAA that helps the National Weather Service use the data to calibrate the accuracy of its weather models. In the current phase of the Commercial Weather Data Pilot Program II, California-based GeoOptics is the first private-sector satellite company providing this indispensable and lifesaving data to NOAA.
Trump signed this program and many others into law, and soon more economic and scientific advances will follow from the NOAA Office of Space Commerce to enable more companies to provide new data and services that will benefit our economy and deliver increased societal gains.
Numerous advances in atmospheric sciences, geosciences and oceanic sciences are underway at NOAA and fully supported by the Trump administration. It is important to also note that the NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS) is working on its next-generation satellite architecture plan to continue to protect the country for years. NESDIS maintains these systems to provide the uninterrupted flow of environmental information that weather forecasters and emergency managers rely on.
In the United States, we enjoy the benefits of the weather enterprise, a collaboration among three scientific sectors: academic and research institutions, government agencies, and private-sector weather companies. Together, this brain trust works to better improve the scientific, technological and weather information advances for the American people and the world community.
The yearly weather-related achievements made possible by the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act and the weather enterprise are the focus of the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Each year, NOAA scientists, satellite and data technology experts, and engineers meet with their weather enterprise colleagues to discuss what has been achieved and what will be done next year and onward.
Given the administration’s complete support for the NOAA economic and scientific mission, it is equally important to support and nurture the intellectual endeavors of the dedicated NOAA employees driving the success of NOAA for the United States.
Attendance at conferences and symposia such as the AMS meeting are where many ideas are generated that help advance better technological solutions to deal with weather and its effects. But, because of the partial government shutdown, the ability of many federal employees to attend this meeting is in serious jeopardy.
The annual AMS meeting is so important that other countries send their atmospheric scientists and meteorologists to learn what they can and take that knowledge back home. NOAA scientists presenting at this meeting are essential to this dynamic.
Trump could advance the atmospheric sciences and our weather enterprise by enabling NOAA employees to attend next week’s AMS meeting.
Currently, those government agencies that are not funded by Congress cannot send their employees to attend a conference because the employees would be “spending government funding” that has not been properly appropriated according to the Anti-Deficiency Act. It is time that government budgetary rules recognize that federal employees attend conferences as part of their job functions and that attendance at conferences serves the interests of the government.
Federal employees who attend conferences must get approval from their supervisors and be deemed as “covered to attend.” Since the employees are approved to attend, the expense-funding mechanisms that support employee travel costs should be recognized as a general indebtedness [expenses] of the federal government according to accounting standards established by the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB).
Trump could issue a directive to the Office of Management and Budget to provide a waiver from the provisions of the Anti-Deficiency Act, and that would enable federal employees like those from NOAA to attend conferences that benefit their work and their efforts on behalf of the American people.