Maps track early arrival of spring (USA National Phenology Network)

Lawmakers consider options for better climate data sharing

To better share federal climate data with industry and state and local government partners, lawmakers are considering a new federal infrastructure.

Federal information sharing on climate risk currently is fragmented across agencies, according to a 2015 report from the Government Accountability Office. "Coordination is evident, but these efforts are fragmented and do not fully meet the needs of federal, state, local and private sector decision makers," the report said.

It recommended the creation of a "national climate information system" with federal leadership, federal data and quality assurance guidelines and nonfederal tech assistance to share climate information with decision makers.

A similar recommendation for a "Climate Risk Information Service," featuring  a central portal of climate risk information was also included in a report released last summer by the Democrats on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

While a range of federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, academic centers and private-sector institutions provide climate-related information, that variety can also create confusion about which data is appropriate in any given situation, witnesses at an April 21 hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on the Environment.

"It's very confusing for people from the ground up to look into that patchwork and then identify what is the pathway to service," Beth Gibbons, the executive director of the American Society of Adaptation Professionals, said. "It's important that we have coordination across federal agencies so that we're all receiving the same information."

Richard Moss, a senior scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Join Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland, echoed this point, telling lawmakers that he thinks they'll need to establish a new authority to work across agencies.

"A more unified federal effort that doesn't replace or try to set up a single source for all information, but that serves as a point of contact and helps direct people to the appropriate information, would be an excellent choice," he said. "There is a clear opportunity for federal leadership."

According to subcommittee chairwoman Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), the hearing was “about making sure our nation's state-of-art climate observations, modeling and research makes it into the hands of workers upgrading our highways and bridges, growing our food, and retrofitting our buildings."

A few Republican lawmakers, however, voiced concerns over creating new federal infrastructure.

"I'm hopeful today's discussion will focus on what information and data localities need, not just increasing bureaucracy with another federal government agency or service," said the subcommittee's ranking member, Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.).

This article was first posted on FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.

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