Earlier this month the House of Representatives passed with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote a bill reauthorizing a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration drought warning and information services program.
The bill, H.R. 2431, the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act, resulted from 1998 legislation calling for “an advisory commission to provide advice and recommendations on the creation of an integrated, coordinated Federal policy designed to prepare for and respond to serious drought emergencies.” A report issued by this committee in 2000 lead to the passage of bipartisan legislation in 2006 establishing the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) played a lead role in the formulation and passage of this initial legislation, as well as H.R. 2431 which reauthorizes the program for another five years.
“NIDIS is an example of a program that is working effectively and that has broad support.Rather than creating a new government bureaucracy, NIDIS represents a collaborative framework between Federal, states, and academic partners,” explained Hall during a twenty minute discussion about the bill on the House floor. NIDIS has seventeen participating federal agencies, including NOAA, National Science Foundation, NASA, DOE Office of Science and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Impacts from droughts are severe. In the last three decades they have been responsible for hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses in agriculture, exacerbated wildlife conditions, tourism, and energy production. At present, 21 percent of the U.S. is affected by severe to exceptional drought conditions.
In describing his bill, which also had as an original sponsor Rep. Ben Lujan (D-NM), Hall stated “The NIDIS reauthorization will improve interagency coordination, early warnings, critical data sharing, and decision services related to drought. The bill encourages further research, monitoring, and forecasting, along with further development of regional early warning systems.. . . reauthorizing NIDIS will strengthen this important program and will . . . . help the Federal officials, farmers, and water managers better prepare for and respond to drought.”
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the Ranking Member on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee spoke in favor of the bill, while arguing that the authorization levels are too low. Said Johnson: “Every witness who has ever testified or spoken to our committee about this program has highlighted the need to improve the program’s early warning capability. This isn’t a goal that can be accomplished for free. It will take a sustained investment of additional funds to achieve results we desperately need.” During the Science Committee’s December 5 markup of the bill an amendment to increase by $1.0 million the FY 2014 - 2018 annual authorization levels of $13.5 million failed by a voice vote.
The Senate passed its version of this bill, S. 376, in early February. The next step in this process is a House/Senate conference to resolve differences between the two bills. Actual funding for this program is provided through the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill.