Jim's Blog

American Astronautical Society and American Meteorological Society Speech

Posted by on December 01, 2016 | comments
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Thank you Dr. Hooke for that kind introduction, and thank you to the American Astronautical Society and the American Meteorological Society for having me tonight. It is an honor to be here.

I have the privilege of representing the First Congressional District of Oklahoma. Every year, I have constituents who die due to severe weather, specifically tornadoes. It is my responsibility to my constituents to promote policies that improve our forecasting abilities. I currently serve as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment of the Science Space and Technology Committee, which oversees NOAA. In that role, I have dedicated my work to move the United States to a day where we see zero deaths from tornadoes and minimize damage to property. My constituents, and the American people, deserve nothing less.

Two weeks ago, we saw a big step in that direction with the launch of GOES-R, the first in a series of four next-generation geostationary weather satellites. While this program has not been completely without issue, over which the Environment Subcommittee has conducted robust oversight, GOES-R will greatly improve our ability to detect weather early, among other things. This satellite represents a large upgrade in technology from our current fleet of geostationary satellites, akin to going from a flip phone to a smart phone. I’d like to congratulate the teams at NOAA and NASA as well as Lockheed Martin, Harris Corporation, Assurance Technology Corporation, and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

As an Oklahoman, I am looking forward to the improved forecasts this satellite will bring to bear. I also pledge to continue the subcommittee’s vigorous oversight of the remaining S, T, and U satellites in order to ensure they remain on budget and launch on time.

In May of 2015, the House passed H.R. 1561, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act, which I was proud to cosponsor along with my good friends from Oklahoma and Oregon, Frank Lucas and Suzanne Bonamici. If passed into law, this legislation will bring a newfound focus on weather research within NOAA, direct computing resources toward forecasting and next generation modeling, test innovative data methods, and emphasize technology transfers between research and operations.

This bipartisan legislation brings together the research side of NOAA, the operational side of the National Weather Service, as well as academia and private weather industry stakeholders to develop a forecasting improvement program, a Tornado Warning improvement program, and a Hurricane Warning improvement program.

It explicitly sets up a technology transfer initiative between the different silos within NOAA, as well as private sector and academic stakeholders, in order to prevent technological developments from getting stuck in the “valley of death” from research to operations.

H.R. 1561 also encouraged NOAA to do data simulation experiments to test the benefits of certain data types, such as GPS radio occultation and hyperspectral soundings.

Finally, the bill authorized a pilot program for NOAA to purchase and validate space based data from a nascent industry of commercial weather satellite companies. This provision presents an opportunity to bring about a paradigm shift to the weather prediction landscape.

We have been in constant negotiations with the Senate to pass this bill, and it is my understanding that H.R. 1561 is waiting to clear the “unanimous consent” process. I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to expedite this process so that we can send the bill to the President before the end of this Congress.

In the meantime, in lieu of authorizing legislation, the Environment subcommittee has continued to work with NOAA to lean forward on policies that allow for innovative solutions to the issues facing our nation.

First, let me be absolutely clear: I have never, nor would ever, advocate for the cancelling of the JPSS or GOES programs. The data these systems will provide are critical to the safety of my constituents. To protect lives and property of American citizens, there is a need for a government backbone providing critical data to inform our weather forecasts.

However, I believe that commercial weather data can and should be a piece of the solution available to NOAA. First and foremost, it is a mitigation strategy in the event of gaps in weather data. My subcommittee has held many hearings where we have examined the issues with NOAA’s satellite programs that could lead to data gaps. Second, the advancements of this nascent industry have real potential to improve our forecasting capabilities.

Our subcommittee partnered with the House Appropriations committee in order to fund the commercial weather data pilot while we await further action on authorizing legislation. I am very pleased with the progress that has been made on this program so far. In September, NOAA awarded two contracts under this program to acquire data from Spire and GeoOptics – the first contracts of their kind.

Coupled with NOAA’s release of a Commercial Space Policy and a draft of its Commercial Space Activities Assessment, efforts which the Environment Subcommittee has pushed for, and NOAA is signaling that the government is seriously interested in leveraging this new industry. These are great first steps, but we have the ability to do more, and I intend to keep working with NOAA to advance these policies.

We’ve also placed a similar provision in the 2017 NDAA for the Department of Defense to purchase commercial weather data. With this legislation expected to pass this week, we should see the DoD begin moving out on this effort early next year.

I’ve focused most of my remarks so far on the need to improve our ability to study, understand, and predict in order to save lives and property. But there are other earth science missions that are critically important as well.

In recent years, earth science has become unfortunately politicized. It has been used as a means to an end, with presupposed outcomes and responses to those outcomes. However, I think it is important we study the Earth and have a full breadth of knowledge of our planet. And we need to respond to this knowledge in ways that improve quality of life in our country.

Earth science has practical applications. We’ve already spoken about weather, which in addition to protecting people also has great effects on all aspects of our economy which we need to better appreciate and respond to. Agriculture can benefit from Earth science. For instance, the Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite which was launched in January of 2015 is returning data that farmers could utilize to better understand when and where they need to water their crops. When launched, observations from IceSat-2 could inform shipping companies of available routes. Remote sensing imagery, from a variety of sources, is integral to the success of military campaigns, and it can also be useful to study the aftermath of natural disasters and enhance the response.

These are but a few examples. As my subcommittee has jurisdiction over NASA’s Earth Science directorate, I also intend to remain vigilant in my oversight of these programs and missions.

Environmental intelligence – particularly data and information we derive from space-based assets – is critical to our national security, the safety of our citizens, and the growth of our economy. The work your community does is invaluable, and I look forward to continue partnering with you to advance policies that promote growth and enhance safety. Thank you for your time and I’d be happy to answer any questions.

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