Tis the season… for developing transition documents.

We all know that Washington DC is the nation’s capital. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the capital city for non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), or civil society. Over 3000 non-profit associations are headquartered here; many other national associations operate DC offices. Close to one in ten private-sector employees in the area work for an association.

Associations swarm to DC for a simple reason. As diverse as they are, ranging from Africare (sustainable community development in Africa) to ZerotoThree (ensuring that all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life[1]), they all want to make a better world. They all recognize that the United States government is a pivotal actor. To influence the leaders of that government – the Senators and Representatives in the Congress, and their staffers; the president and the political- and career- policy leadership of the federal agencies – is to magnify the NGO impact in like measure. (There’s also a flip side to this – to take the pulse of that government leadership, to sense trends and shifts in government direction and priorities early – allows NGO’s to inform and equip their members to be more effective in their daily work[2].)

This activity – both the gathering of information, and the advocacy and education – is of course year-round. The pace is relentless, and for the government leaders in question – the targets of all this advice, education, and pleading – the noise can be deafening. But the constant roar reaches a crescendo every four years, starting about now, with the approach of presidential elections.

That’s because the NGO’s, sensing a short-lived window for heightened influence, prepare transition documents. The motivations include a desire to highlight national opportunities or challenges, and to educate political parties on the needs facing the NGO’s interest community[3]. An aside: one of the decisions that must be faced early-on is whether to focus on a single political party, or make an appeal that’s targeted equally at both, and emphasizing tasks and responsibilities facing whomever wins election.

The American Meteorological Society participates in this quadrennial exercise. For each of us, this is the season to consider afresh: (1) our community-wide and institutional objectives; (2) how they tie to national and/or global interests; (3) and what actions need to be sustained and what new initiatives are needed. We also need to worry about (4) how to weigh-in effectively; that is, be noticed, and change minds. This latter is by no means trivial: how to craft a message that stands out amidst the horde of competing claims on policymaker attention? For those of us in Earth observations, science and services, or environmental intelligence, or the Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise – however we self-identify – it’s not as simple as yelling-the-loudest, that is, relying on the sheer numbers of our constituency and its power as a voting bloc. That option is reserved for the bigger players: AARP, the NRA, United Way, et al. They can swagger into the political conversation saying we have millions of members whose swing votes make a difference. Our message has to be substantively compelling and appealing in articulation; we have to say here’s a good idea and if you make it your own you can bring voters of a broad range of other persuasions your way.

For most Americans, perhaps even most members of the American Meteorological Society, crafting transition documents might be viewed as at best a spectator sport – and an unappealing one at that. But for those interested, here are links to some transition material from 2016 and 2008 (so far as I can tell from my office records, neither AMS nor UCAR published a transition document in 2012; if you know otherwise, please let me know).  Front matter has been expunged but the full text of the recommendations for both documents are provided. This makes for a lengthy post but makes it easier to see the similarities and differences from the two documents. Please have a look. And if you have ideas, whether for a topic that should be included in a 2020 AMS transition document or policy statement, or a particular framing, or some principles to be followed, please make your views known. Send a comment, write an e-mail – find a way to get involved. Thanks.

Weather, Water, and Climate Priorities, an AMS policy statement from 2016

Recommendations.  Economic and social prosperity belong to a society that understands and effectively responds to Earth’s changing WWC conditions. To meet this challenge the following actions are required:

  1. Develop the Next Generation of WWC Experts.  To ensure we have a diverse workforce equipped to communicate uncertainties and inform WWC decisions, investments must continue to: (i) educate and train students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and (ii) develop the next generation of WWC researchers that can advance the science and its applications to meet society’s evolving information needs.
  2. Invest in Research Critical to Innovation and Advanced Services.  To ensure continued leadership in understanding our complex and changing planet and application of this understanding for the benefit of society, increased investments are needed to support new discoveries, innovation, applications, and model development in the geosciences, engineering, and relevant social sciences.   
  3. Invest in Critical Observations and Computing Infrastructure.  To ensure advances in scientific knowledge and more accurate and timely delivery of WWC products and support services at scales useful to decision-makers, and to preserve national security, targeted investments are required for: (i) atmosphere–ocean–land–ice observational infrastructure, (ii) techniques to translate the resulting large data sets into forms suitable for information services and prediction models, and (iii) leading-edge high-performance computers and software.
  4. Create Services that Harness Scientific Advances for Societal Benefit. To ensure society’s most pressing needs are met and its capabilities are optimally utilized, mechanisms for engaging users and moving research into practical applications in a timely and effective fashion must be encouraged, developed, and implemented.
  5. Prepare Informed WWC Information Users. To ensure we have informed users who can take full advantage of advanced WWC information and tools, education and communication programs must continue to focus on enhancing WWC skills and understanding by both decision-makers and society at large.
  6. Build Strong Partnerships Among WWC Public, Private, and Academic Sectors. These sectors have always worked together to meet America’s WWC challenges.  As the job grows more consequential, urgent, and complex, a coordinated Federal effort is needed to support, strengthen, and encourage strategic inter-sector partnerships, including efforts to increase the global suite of Earth observations, advance long-term stewardship of environmental data, and improve national and international community-level resilience to climate change and variability.
  7. Implement Effective Leadership and Management.  To ensure that WWC investments are made in the best interests of the nation, effective leadership and management approaches will be needed, including: (i) appointing strong, qualified, and diverse leaders to top WWC policy positions in the White House and Federal agencies, and (ii) implementing management structures that support integrated WWC research and services planning and budgeting across Federal agencies and the Congress. These structures should proactively engage the academic and private sectors.

Expected Outcomes and Conclusion.  Implementing these recommendations will better enable individuals, communities, businesses, and governments to manage risks and explore opportunities associated with changing WWC conditions. Economic and social prosperity will be enhanced, and further progress will be made toward saving lives, enhancing commerce, protecting property, and adapting to a changing world.  In so doing, our nation will advance its leadership in promoting technological innovations that are critical to the success and well-being of a global society.

Enabling National Weather and Climate Priorities, an AMS policy statement from 2008

1. Develop Leadership and Coordination. 

  1. Goal: Appoint key leaders and improve federal coordination.
  2. Action: The executive branch can and should make appointing strong, qualified leaders, especially to top policy positions, a continuing priority. Top NOAA and Commerce officials should be selected who can make strategic decisions relative to weather and climate issues. However, leaders in many other federal agencies, including but not limited to USDA, DHS, DoE, DoI, DoT, EPA, NASA, NSF, and the White House itself (OMB and OSTP) also play a critical part. An experienced and knowledgeable leader coordinating overall federal efforts should report directly to the President. The President’s Science Advisor would be an appropriate position for such a leader; the position would require an individual with a broad background in environmental science. Congress can call for such appointments, and exercise its powerful advise-and-consent and oversight role. For its part, the AMS community will recommend slates of qualified candidates for these positions and provide such lists to the new Administration.

2. Build Partnerships to Harness Scientific Advance for Societal Benefit.

  1. Goal:  Create public, private, and academic partnerships that can develop better approaches and tools to plan, prepare for, and cope with local and regional weather and climate impacts.
  2. Action: A decade ago, the United States undertook a national assessment of climate change impacts for various regions and societal sectors.  Congress can mandate the timely updates needed to track this rapidly evolving issue.The executive branch can make ongoing assessment a priority in accordance with this Congressional mandate, and augment and develop the tools and resources needed to (a) deal effectively with local and regional weather and climate impacts, and (b) evaluate the effectiveness of mitigation and adaptation plans and practice.  This process should begin with a national summit of key stakeholders (i.e., governors, emergency managers, and information users and providers from the public, private, and academic sectors) to define goals. The AMS community, itself a partnership comprising the public sector, private enterprise and academia,includes the application of science for societal benefit in its mission statement, and can bring to bear an extensive and growing network of companies and universities throughout the country — many of which already have relationships and projects with local and regional decision makers.

3. Improve Infrastructure and the Utility of Environmental Products and Services, Especially Forecasts. 

  1. Goal: Advance the quality, timeliness, geographical specificity, and socio-economic impact content of products and services.
  2. Action: Congress should continue support for ocean–atmospheric–terrestrial measurements and modeling of the Earth system, associated computing infrastructure, building the weather and climate workforce, understanding the socioeconomic impacts of weather and climate, and educating the public. Some very specific actions include federal investments and addressing the recommendations made in the recent National Research Council Earth Observation Decadal Survey. The executive branch should tighten interagency accountability and coordination with respect to development and use of the new capabilities. Congress and the executive branch should also work together to identify and develop the funding needed to support the coming new generation of operational polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites, surface radar networks, and other key observing systems. The AMS community must harness these resources to improve products and services with the utmost urgency.

4. Ensure That New Understanding and Knowledge Will Be There When Needed.

  1. Goal: Ensure that the scientific understanding needed for tomorrow’s decisions is indeed available
  2. Action:  Congress should meaningfully augment funding for weather-and-climate basic research, and related social sciences, over decades. The executive branch should mount an immediate, high-level review of current agency work in these areas to prioritize allocations. Members of the AMS community will be largely responsible for implementing the new research and should identify and take concrete steps to accelerate, and report on, progress.

5.    Evaluate Progress and Make Needed Mid-Course Changes.

  1. Goal.  Create and/or exercise existing mechanisms to monitor progress on goals 1–4.
  2. ActionCongress should request that the executive branch report progress in addressing these priorities, and on their impacts with respect to national policy, on a regular and frequent basis. The AMS community should also help by developing and providing information for these reports.

To accomplish these actions will require increased levels of federal investment, sustained over decades. However, the return on such investments will far exceed the costs. By taking these actions, and by working together, Congress, the executive branch, and the AMS community can position the United States, and indeed other world nations, to cope effectively with weather and climate challenges well into the 21st century. By the same token, failure to take these actions will subject the United States to unnecessary and unacceptable risk in the face of hazards, business loss in weather-sensitive sectors of the economy, continuing deterioration of the environment and ecosystems, and increased political instability, both at home and abroad.

[1] Full disclosure: my daughter works there.

[2] Close to home, the American Institute of Physics (which numbers the American Meteorological Society among its members), puts out science policy news through FYI. E&ENews is another important source.

[3] As well as simple FOMO.

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