At the AMS Summer Community Meeting: Paul Higgins’ talk.

Paul Higgins, a long-time senior policy fellow with the AMS, was named director of the Policy Program this past May. Summer Community Meeting organizers provided him a half-hour time slot on Thursday morning, August 15, to share his vision for the Program going forward. His presentation was crisp and at the same time articulate. [It’s impossible to do justice to the actual talk. What follows below is intended merely to whet your appetite; any mistakes or misinterpretations are mine. If you have questions or comments please make them here and/or engage Dr. Higgins directly at ]

His talk covered three topical areas.

Where the AMS Policy Program is heading. Dr. Higgins sees the Policy Program as facing two grand challenges: (1) ensuring that major national policy choices touching on resources, hazards, and environmental protection take full advantage of knowledge produced by our (Earth observations, science, and services) community; and (2) ensuring that the nation/policymakers understand how much and in what ways they depend on us and our products and services. He posited that if we meet these challenges we’ll provide the information the nation and the world need; and we’ll continue to be able to meet their needs in a sustained way over time.

Comment: These are carefully crafted. Hopefully, most AMS members see that these goals are just what any policy effort housed within the AMS should be doing; for that matter, they could well express goals for every AMS individual and institutional member.

He listed three Policy Program activities that contribute toward these goals: (1) developing the capacity of science community to engage effectively and constructively in the policy process (primarily the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium, but also Congressional Visits Days; (2) informing the policy process directly, through an ongoing series of Hill briefings and through Congressional Science Fellows; and extending and building the knowledge base at the intersection of science and policy, through research, analysis, and studies. He stated that for 2014 the Policy Program plans one Summer Policy Colloquium, four studies, and eight Hill briefings.

Comment: Dr. Higgins emphasized the production goals are aspirational; but there’s little doubt that if we can achieve these we’ll make progress with respect to the two grand challenges in a balanced, comprehensive way. They’re also concrete; you will be able to see how well we’re doing. Again, they can be achieved only if all AMS members pitch in.

AMS engagement in policy process. Here Dr. Higgins was careful to state that the views expressed were his own, not necessarily those of the AMS as expressed in Council-approved statements. He began by noting that people have expressed two frustrations with the Policy Program: (1), that we’re too active on the Hill, and (2), that we’re not active enough. He asserted that the Policy Program focus is on expansion of knowledge and understanding. He stated that the Policy Program will surface options but not be prescriptive about what society should do. He noted that this is beneficial in that it helps others see us as an impartial source, and that we can be a big tent accommodating diverse views.

Comment: Amen!

Three strawman recommendations on advocating for benefit of our community. Dr. Higgins closed by suggesting, quite simply, that we

–           focus to the extent possible on the strongest positive case for our science and services . By contrast too often we attack other cases for being weaker.

–           focus on a strong positive outcome. Too often, he said, people frame discussions in a way suggesting we should be resigned to doing more more with less. He argued this was counterproductive, saying it is not our job to cut or prioritize federal spending. Our job is to make policymakers understand that cuts to investments in weather, water, and climate will hurt the nation, and deny country future benefits.

–           combine humility and confidence. We need humility, he said, in the face of the complexity of the policy process. But we bring extremely important benefits and resources to the table; we should make that point with vigor.

Comment: Sound advice and perspective! And quoted frequently by attendees throughout the remainder of the meeting.

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One Response to At the AMS Summer Community Meeting: Paul Higgins’ talk.

  1. Dave Jones says:

    Thanks for sharing this Bill. Dr. Higgins’ comments are right on the mark. All too often decisions are made by looking at the constrained budgets first then many innovative ideas are ignored. This approach stifles innovation and places some great ideas and potentially high impact capabilities on the sidelines. I have never seen a touchdown scored by a football player sitting on the sidelines.

    Just take a look at what is happening within NWS right now. An innovative approach to reorganizing NWS will lead to a (desperately needed) increase in the NWS budget. Suppose someone looked at the new ideas being implemented at NWS a year ago and said “We cant afford those innovative ideas…we have to do it with no additional funds.” then the spiral would have continued until no useful services were available from one of the best investments the Federal government has ever made…the NWS.

    The old English proverb that “Necessity is the mother of invention” is very true and applicable to the tough times like the ones the science-policy interface is going through but hopefully through efforts that Dr. Higgins and you are putting forth will allow innovation to be introduced, cultivated and further matured to deliver accurate policy overviews, operational implementations and most importantly awesome success stories of how people and property were protected.

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