New NOAA Leadership Reveals Priorities Focused on Weather Prediction, Ocean Economy
At the fall meeting of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Science Advisory Board, Deputy Administrator Tim Gallaudet presented the administration’s priorities for NOAA over the 2017 to 2022 period. They are: (1) leading the world in Earth system observation and weather prediction, (2) minimizing impacts from severe weather, and (3) increasing sustainable economic contributions of U.S. fisheries and oceans.
The priorities adopt a weather-centric approach and emphasize the economic value of oceans. They do not reference climate change, a focus of the previous administration’s priorities for NOAA. When asked about this absence, Gallaudet said the administration will continue to support NOAA’s climate mission.
Priorities focus on weather research and forecasting, ocean economy
The first and second priorities are tailored to the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act , a major law enacted in April. Gallaudet said NOAA has a “specific eye in implementing everything in the [law],” including a number of provisions dealing with observations, modeling, and optimizing data collection. He welcomed the law as “a great path forward to realize the first priority to have the best [weather prediction] model in the world.”
Gallaudet said that NOAA will continue to support U.S. leadership in Earth observation through innovation and technological improvements to the agency’s suite of aircraft, ships, satellites, and other infrastructure. He also acknowledged the importance of data collected by NOAA’s other ocean, land, and ice observing networks that the agency will continue to incorporate into its global prediction modeling. Gallaudet said that the U.S. has a “clear lead” on observations, and the priority is to maintain it.
The first priority also addresses a widely-held concern that U.S. weather prediction models have fallen behind their European counterparts. Gallaudet said it is “unacceptable” that the U.S. “has a second-rate model,” and that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees NOAA, has directed the agency to turn this around.
Gallaudet said NOAA will continue collaborative modeling efforts with the interagency community “to have the best weather model.” He also mentioned that NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory FV3 experimental model showed promising results forecasting Hurricane Harvey earlier this year and has the agency’s full support.
The third priority reflects previous NOAA priorities relating to using ecosystem-based approaches for species management and developing resilient coastal communities and economies. Gallaudet said that priority activities, such as developing a National Aquaculture Initiative and continuing support of NOAA’s “wet side” activities like fisheries and coastal zone management, will be directed towards making “sustainable contributions” to the national economy.
If Accuweather CEO Barry Myers is confirmed as NOAA administrator, Gallaudet said he will assume the role of NOAA’s “wet-side” assistant secretary and will take the lead on many of the activities supporting this priority. Likewise, if Panasonic Avionics’ Chief Atmospheric Scientist Neil Jacobs is confirmed as assistant secretary, he will become Gallaudet’s counterpart on the “dry-side” programs that support the other two priorities.
In a departure from NOAA’s goals and objectives under the Obama administration, none of the new priorities reference climate change or the linkages between weather, climate, and oceans. When SAB board member Susan Avery, president emeritus of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, asked Gallaudet about this absence, he responded that climate “is absolutely part of [the observations and modeling] priority.” Gallaudet highlighted the importance of NOAA’s implementation of the new sub-seasonal to seasonal prediction program, authorized by the new law. He said NOAA’s climate mission is supported by the Department of Commerce:
They absolutely want us to keep doing our climate mission, advance our understanding and predictive capability and monitoring capability, because so much of the national economy depends on it and protection of life and property.
Gallaudet: New priorities focus on what NOAA does best
Gallaudet explained the new priorities are influenced by national trends, including an increased need to maintain America’s competitive advantage and shifting federal funding pressures and priorities. He noted that while Congress has already rejected some of the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the Department of Commerce budget in fiscal year 2018, the administration is “growing their defense capability, and other departments are having to pay for it.”
Gallaudet said the new priorities do not change NOAA’s mission, but rather focus efforts on “things that NOAA does so well.” Contrary to reports of the administration rejecting science, he said, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is “very keen on data and facts and science,” and recognizes NOAA as the “gold standard” agency for generating “data that helps decisions that benefit the country.”
In support of the priorities, NOAA will focus on establishing new partnerships, particularly with the private sector, for scientific research. “With the private sector outpacing the federal government in innovation and technology, we’re just going to have to ride it,” Gallaudet said. “We’re going to have to accept it as reality and that we are not going to be able to do it all.” NOAA will also examine private sector innovation processes that could be replicated in order to improve agency efficiency and efficacy.
Gallaudet also said NOAA will seek to improve its ability to recruit and retain employees. “Competition with the private sector is tough … compensation alone is something we can’t compete with,” he said. However, he is hopeful “the nature of our work, which is so interesting, and the nature of public service [is something] that we can use to keep them in.”
Indicating that the three priorities will guide NOAA’s budget formulation, Gallaudet said that further guidance on sub-goals and objectives will likely arrive with NOAA’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, slated for release early next year.