2020 election update and transition news:
After weeks of waiting due to delayed results and several recounts, the General Services Administration (GSA) has now begun the formal transition process, which allows some of President-elect Joe Biden’s staff to start meeting with federal agencies to discuss transition issues. Biden’s Transition Team has already announced a handful of proposed cabinet nominations, including Tony Blinken for Secretary of State and John Kerry for Special Presidential Envoy for Climate – the two officials who will be tasked with overseeing the reentry of the United States into the Paris Climate Agreement.
Biden’s Department of Commerce transition team includes Kathryn Sullivan, who led NOAA during the last two years of the Obama administration, and Sandra Whitehouse, a marine scientist who has served as an ocean policy advisor to multiple organizations. The NSF transition team includes Kei Koizumi and Mahlet Mesfin, both of whom are also on the Office of Science, Technology, and Policy transition team. Waleed Abdalati, head of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and former NASA Chief Scientist, will serve on the NASA transition team. While Kerry will spearhead action on the international aspects of climate policy, Biden is expected to appoint a separate White House coordinator for domestic climate policy sometime in the weeks ahead.
FY21 budget and appropriations update:
The Senate Appropriations Committee finally released its draft FY21 spending bills in mid-November. However, the committee lacked time to take them through the amendment process in committee and report them out to the full Senate for consideration, having to instead move straight into negotiations with the House on a final FY21 spending deal. The draft Senate Commerce/Justice/Science Appropriations bill proposes $5.4 billion for NOAA (close to level with FY20). For the NSF, the Senate proposes $6.91 billion (a 3% increase), which is $60 million less than the House’s bill.
The 12 bills passed by the House also proposed significant FY21 additional spending above the budget caps to be designated as “emergency” spending. However, these funds are unlikely to be included in the final package. Having recently agreed to the allocations for all 12 annual appropriations bills, the Senate and House Committees are reporting good progress this week in negotiating an “omnibus” package that includes all 12 bills, but they are working against the clock. Congress has less than two weeks left before the current continuing resolution that is funding the federal government expires on Dec. 11. If a package cannot be passed by both chambers by that date, or the president signals he will veto the omnibus, the Congress will need to quickly pass another short-term continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown.
COVID-19 relief package status:
Negotiations on the next pandemic relief bill remain stalled, as Democrats and Republicans continue to disagree on the ultimate price tag and scale of the package. President-elect Joe Biden, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) met in Delaware recently and discussed the need to get a coronavirus relief package done during the lame-duck session. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), while stating again recently that he does also favor passing another package before the end of the year, continues to hold his ground offering a roughly $500 billion package, while the congressional Democratic leadership continues to press for a more comprehensive package in line with their most recently passed bill that checked in above $2 trillion.
A new group of House and Senate negotiators is now attempting to craft a package that could be more in the $1 trillion range that can pass both chambers and be signed by the president by year’s end that would primarily focus on providing additional unemployment aid until at least March and some targeted pandemic assistance. If such a deal can be struck, it is also likely that the House will propose another more comprehensive package next spring, to be negotiated with Senate Republicans and the incoming Biden administration.
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite launched:
On Nov. 21, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich from Vandenberg Air Force Base, the first of two satellites jointly developed by a group of agencies in the United States and Europe, including NASA, NOAA, the European Space Agency, Eumetsat, and the European Commission. The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft will now begin a five-and-a-half-year prime mission to collect the most accurate data yet on global sea level and how our oceans are rising in response to climate change. The mission will also collect precise data of atmospheric temperature and humidity that will help improve weather forecasts and climate models. The spacecraft is named after Michael Freilich, the former director of NASA's Earth Science Division, a former UCAR trustee, and a tireless advocate for advancing satellite measurements of the ocean.