Today, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing to discuss the benefits and challenges of purchasing and incorporating commercial weather data at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA currently procures and maintains the Nation’s geostationary and polar satellites which provide critical observational data for U.S. weather forecasting. These observations are supplemented with a variety of commercial weather data that are purchased to add value to existing forecasts. The hearing provided Members an opportunity to hear the perspective of the weather community on the expanded role commercial weather data may play in future NOAA observational programs.

Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) of the Environment Subcommittee said, “If we are moving toward a model where the government is solely a purchaser, and not a provider, of weather data then there are a number of unique challenges and important questions that must be addressed to ensure the stability, credibility, and reliability of the Nation’s weather forecasting capabilities. Specifically: Can NOAA freely share the data it purchases? If not, what would that mean for maintaining our international obligations? If NOAA maintains its policy of free and unrestricted use of data it purchases, will it be forced to purchase data at a premium that will outweigh the anticipated cost savings? These are the kinds of questions NOAA has been wrestling with while developing policies and practices for purchasing commercial data over the years.”

Members discussed the current NOAA policy of providing free and open access to weather data, how such a policy has benefited academic and private interests, and the challenges associated with maintaining such a policy while expanding the use of commercial weather data.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her statement for the record, “NOAA currently treats its data as a public good, sharing it freely with academia, the private sector, and our international partners. Any restrictions on the use and long-term availability of this critical data could have a number of unintended consequences such as stifling innovation not only in the development of our weather and climate models, but in the advancement of research and technology more broadly. This Committee has heard over and over again how data collected for one purpose has resulted in an unforeseen breakthrough in another area. Advancing the use of commercial weather data cannot come at the expense of advancing research.”

Testifying before the Committee were Dr. Scott Pace, Director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University; Mr. Scott Sternberg, President of Vaisala Inc.; Ms. Nicole Robinson, Chair of the Hosted Payload Alliance; Dr. Bill Gail, Chief Technology Officer of the Global Weather Corporation; and Dr. Thomas Bogdan, President, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

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