Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker testified last week at separate hearings of the House and Senate Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittees. Among the topics discussed were the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, both of which are components of the wide-ranging portfolio of the Department of Commerce.
The appropriations process is moving quickly. The Senate Appropriations Committee is holding 60 hearings in just six weeks. The House CJS subcommittee may mark up its FY 2015 bill on May 8. House and Senate appropriators are working to loosely coordinate their schedules, a process made possible because of an agreement to increase FY 2015 overall discretionary funding by 0.2 percent.
Subsequent appropriations hearings may be held for each agency. Many issues were discussed at the hearings, including the 2020 census, programs to return overseas jobs to American soil, and fisheries. The following are some of the issues discussed regarding NOAA and NIST:
National Weather Bureau:
House Subcommittee Appropriations Committee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) asked Secretary Pritzker to explain the rationale for the requested decline in funding for the National Weather Service. Pritzker replied that the Service needed to evolve “to free up capacity . . . to focus on the last mile of our services, so that we are getting high-quality consistent information into the hands of decision-makers.” Planned changes will increase transparency, realign operations, and centralize IT services to provide consistent nation-wide service with strengthened cyber security.
Satellite Weather Systems:
Pritzker testified satellite programs “are currently on schedule and on budget, thanks to our rigorous monitoring and management efforts.” A potential satellite gap data problem is being addressed by increasing computing capacity and through timely procurement of space- and ground-based hardware and launch services. Pritzker said she was deeply involved in this program, acknowledging “the potential for a gap is still too high.” Senate Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) cited independent reports that a gap in polar satellite data is likely and criticized the FY 2015 request for failing “to present a viable gap mitigation plan . . . choosing instead . . . nice-to-have satellite projects.” “It certainly troubles a lot of us” he said. Wolf noted that it costs about $13 billion to develop, launch and operate a single new satellite system.
“We see NIST . . . [as] one of the greatest, and yet most undervalued agencies in the federal government” said Senate Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). There was much favorable discussion about the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, with House Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA) calling it an “extraordinarily important priority.” Pritzker spoke highly of the proposed National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a series of public-private regional hubs. There was no discussion about NIST’s laboratory programs or the laboratory construction request.
Note: selections are from a transcript prepared by and used with the permission of CQ Roll Call.