Gov Relations

Appropriations updates, science agency nominees

October 9, 2017 | The White House and congressional leadership agreed to a budget deal on September 6 that extended government funding and prevented a shutdown until December 9. The agreement included $15 billion for Hurricane Harvey relief aid and extended the debt ceiling at least until December 9 as well, though the Treasury Department can continue to use extraordinary measures to avoid the need for an extension of the debt ceiling on that date. We anticipate a high level of activity within both the Senate and House appropriations committees over the next several months, including potential additional supplemental spending bills in response to hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as a spending bill to keep the government open beyond December 9 and through the rest of fiscal year 2018.

On September 14, the House of Representatives passed an omnibus spending package for FY18. The bill cuts funding for many agencies, including NSF (-2%) and NOAA (-13%). The bill cuts funding for the EPA and U.S. Geological Survey as well. The package modestly increases overall funding for NASA, including funding for the Science Mission Directorate (+2%). This increase would benefit the Planetary Division (+15%) while decreasing funding for the Earth Science Division (-11%), with other divisions largely unchanged. The Senate has not yet introduced its FY18 omnibus spending bill.

White House appointments

The administration has announced several nominations to relevant science agencies, and the Senate recently confirmed two among them.

Department of Commerce

Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet (retired) was nominated to serve as the assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere. Gallaudet testified at a hearing on his nomination before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on September 27. On October 4, the committee met in executive session and approved his nomination. On October 5, the Senate used the "hotline" process, in which each party’s leadership assesses the wishes of its conference members, to quickly confirm Gallaudet by voice vote. He will begin his position as soon as he is sworn into office. Gallaudet served until retirement this year as the oceanographer of the Navy and commander of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Naval Academy and master's and doctoral degrees in oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. UCAR issued a statement on Gallaudet's nomination on September 5.

Walter Copan was nominated to serve as the undersecretary of commerce for standards and technology and director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Copan also testified at the nomination hearing on September 27, gained committee approval on October 4, and received quick confirmation by the Senate on October 5. Prior to his nomination, Copan was CEO of the Intellectual Property Engineering Group, after holding positions focused on technology transfer at the National Renewable Energy Lab and Brookhaven National Lab. Copan received bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in chemistry from Case Western Reserve University. UCAR issued a statement on Copan’s nomination on September 15.

Neil Jacobs is the nominee to become the assistant secretary of commerce, environmental observation and prediction. Jacobs is the chief atmospheric scientist at Panasonic Avionics Corporation. He has dual B.S. degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of South Carolina; at North Carolina State University he earned an M.S. in air-sea interaction and a Ph.D. in numerical modeling. He is chair of the American Meteorological Society’s Forecast Improvement Group. His nomination is pending consideration by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and the full Senate.

NASA

Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK1) has been nominated to be the administrator of NASA. Bridenstine was an active chair of the House Environmental Subcommittee of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in the 114th Congress, and a crucial participant in the crafting of the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act signed by the president earlier this year. His nomination is pending consideration by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and the full Senate. UCAR issued a statement on Bridenstine's nomination on September 6.

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