Why seek a commission now, given the record of success and ongoing improvement in weather prediction in the U.S.?
Even with the improvements of the last two decades, the threat of high-impact weather events remains real and growing, making the establishment of a blue ribbon commission on the future of the weather enterprise timely. Such a commission would be used to develop a strategic roadmap of priorities and/or roles and responsibilities that would help decision and policy makers ensure our nation has and maintains a weather enterprise second to none.
Has the community to date been unable to set priorities absent a commission like the one you propose?
The community has done a good job, yet nothing focuses the mind like the fiscal challenges confronting the nation. Recognizing that our country faces some difficult decisions in the months and years ahead, the commission approach provides a natural and transparent venue to establish where we go next by identifying what is most important to the nation and the weather community.
Where did this idea come from?
The idea for a first-of-its-kind U.S. weather commission flows from the recent National Academy of Sciences report by its Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Weather Services for the Nation: Becoming Second to None. The call for the establishment of a U.S. weather commission came at a 27 September 2012 Hill briefing featuring: Dr. John Armstrong, Chair, Committee on the Assessment of the National Weather Service Modernization Program; Dr. William B. Gail, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Global Weather Corporation; Dr. Pamela G. Emch, Senior Staff Engineer/Scientist, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems; and Dr. Thomas Bogdan, President, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
What is the intended timespan of such a commission?
The commission would not be a permanent institution. It would be chartered for the time needed to conduct fact gathering, data assimilation, and generation of its report. Other commissions have required two to three years for that process.
If this is approved, how will commissioners be chosen?
Previously chartered commissions have used a well-seasoned selection process that designates the appointments to be made by the executive and legislative branches, which is seen as a good model here as well. The commission would be made up of distinguished, thought-leading individuals with broad perspectives and an appreciation for the impact that weather in all its forms has on the nation’s economy and public safety, as well as a view to meeting our future needs and challenges.
Why are UCAR and the Weather Coalition taking the lead on this instead of NOAA or another government entity?
The Weather Enterprise is larger than NOAA and includes the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, as well as a host of other civilian agencies that rely on weather data. There is also a robust private sector as well as academia that need to be at the table to address the future of the entire enterprise and help establish community-wide priorities. UCAR and the coalition sit at the nexus of all these important sectors.
Where are the groups that we’d expect to see, like NOAA, NWS, AMS, on this call for a weather commission?
All of these organizations and many others critical to our nation’s weather enterprise have been contacted and consulted about the commission concept. We have found them to be supportive of these first steps, recognizing that we are at the beginning of an important process to establish a weather commission. However, each of these organizations speaks for themselves on such issues.
Are there examples of a commission approach to priority setting in other communities?
The U.S. Ocean Commission is a model we think has created real value for the nation.
What was the track record of that ocean commission?
The recent commission was very successful on a number of counts: It led to improved governance around the country’s approach to ocean management, focused the nation’s investment in ocean research, expanded ocean education through formal and informal efforts, and implemented mechanisms for future investment across a range of key issue areas.
What about climate change, space weather, and other areas? Are they in the scope of this commission?
The focus of this proposed effort is weather: maximizing the country’s capabilities for understanding, forecasting, operationalizing, and distributing the best information about weather on a variety of time scales.
Isn't much of the nation’s weather work being done by the private sector? Why should the government invest in capabilities and then just give it all away for free?
The reality is that much of the basic research behind weather prediction and understanding is not lucrative. That effort is a public good in the purest sense. Much of the focus of the commission will be on improving this aspect of the enterprise, from which the private sector can scale and deliver applications—an arena where they have demonstrated real success.
Why call this question now when Congress is about to adjourn?
Given the importance of the issue, we recognize that this is the first step in a process that will undoubtedly span a number of congresses,. It is evergreen and affects all members and constituents no matter where they live.
Who will sponsor this bill and support it?
We have been in conversation with staff and members of Congress who have expressed interest in this.
How much will this cost and how will it be paid for?
Using the ocean commission as a model, costs are estimated at $2 million per year in support of travel and staff support. We will work with both the executive branch and Congress on the level of funding and into which budget or budgets it would need to be placed.
Does the administration support this proposal?
While the administration has no formal position as of yet, we have engaged a number of people in the executive branch who feel there is merit to such a commission. We have talked to staff and members on the Hill who also feel there is merit, and our plan is to work over the next several months to move this forward in a bipartisan fashion.
What are your next steps to win congressional approval?
We will brief staff and members on the importance of the commission and the role it will play, seeking their guidance and support for establishing the commission in 2013. Key to this effort is the open forum for comments hosted by the Weather Coalition that will demonstrate the community’s overall views about the importance of such a commission.
Who will staff this effort?
This is a question for the commission, once constituted, to address.
Do you expect bipartisan support?
Absolutely. Initial conversations suggest solid support from both sides of the aisle. Given the broad and growing impacts of weather on our nation, this is an area of common agreement.