In the latest edition of The Taxpayer’s Tab, NTU Foundation highlighted H.R. 2413 as the week’s Wildcard bill, which is the section where we highlight proposals we find particularly interesting but that do not fall into any of the other three bill highlight sections. The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act would dedicate new resources to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to research and predict “high impact weather events,” occurring both nationally and globally. More specifically, NOAA would receive funding to purchase new equipment and conduct research that improves its forecasting abilities ahead of extreme weather phenomena like Superstorm Sandy or last year’s Midwest tornadoes.
The text of the bill as introduced set an authorization of appropriations of $120 million for the years FY 2014-2017. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed the bill to determine the outlays, i.e., the actual amount of federal spending that would occur as a result of the authorizations. CBO reported that the programs covered by the bill received funding of $80 million in FY 2013 but it was not sure of actual outlays for FY 2014. Beginning in FY 2015 spending would begin to increase from $89 million reaching $119 million in FY 2017. CBO also determined that additional funding ($42 million through FY 2017) would be required for research and planning. Based on this data, NTUF estimated that the bill would increase spending by a net of $115 million over four years.
That is what we wrote in the Tab, which went out to our subscribers last Thursday. Since the release, NTUF analysts have been contacted by staffers on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology to help clarify their position and intentions regarding H.R. 2413. The Committee staffers told us that they disagreed with the conclusion of the CBO report:
The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act does not increase the overall authorization for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Instead, it prioritizes weather forecasting research from funds made available for research at NOAA. At present, NOAA spends more than twice as much on climate change research as it does on weather forecasting research. The bill, as amended and passed by the Committee in December, does not affect direct spending or revenues, contains no unfunded mandates, and does not does not increase the overall authorization for NOAA, NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, or the Operations, Research, and Facilities account at [the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR)].
In short, Committee staff say that H.R. 2413 transfers funds from NOAA climate change research to weather prediction research. However, there are a few things to consider in reading our article, reading the Committee’s response, and looking at the CBO cost estimate:
BillTally Methodology: The goal of NTUF’s signature project is to determine the original spending intention of legislators and cosponsors. Thus, we analyze the text of bills as originally drafted, not as amended in Committee or on the floor of either the House or Senate. In the original language of H.R. 2413, there is no section that formally details a funding transfer (or explicitly prevents new spending to occur) and so we scored the measure as new spending. However, we only look at spending relative to pre-existing authorizations (known as the baseline). In the case of H.R. 2413, CBO determined that $80 million had already been dedicated to similar activities in 2013. The $115 million total in the Tab represents our estimate of the additional spending it would take beyond that to implement the bill’s provisions.
CBO Cost Estimates: Occasionally, CBO estimates do not reflect the intentions of bill sponsors. Sometimes this occurs because the text of legislation does not fully outline those intentions, CBO does not interpret the change in law as is outlined in the bill, or both CBO and the sponsors do not account for all the factors (such as current spending or the full costs of implementing a measure).
Sponsor/Committee Response: It should be noted that the staffers’ explanation reflects a version of the bill “as amended and passed by the Committee in December” whereas NTUF scores legislation as introduced. Often times, bill text is amended to reflect the changes negotiated in committee or to correct errors in the introduced versions. These actions can change how a bill is interpreted and scored by CBO and so, in keeping with NTUF’s BillTally methodology, we score the initial version of every bill introduced in Congress.
What this means for H.R. 2413: The Committee amended the bill and ordered it to be reported, which means staffers will prepare a written report about the bill including its intentions, section-by-section analysis, and cost information. After that, it would need to be placed on the House’s legislative calendar for floor consideration. In the event the language has been clarified as the Science Committee staff says, the bill would result in a transfer of existing funds and would not increase federal spending.
What this means for taxpayers: For Americans concerned with the accuracy of federally-funded meteorology, especially with regards to large destructive weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes, NOAA will have more resources to improve their predictions and models. This assumes that the redirected-funding for weather research yields better results.
What this means for NTUF’s article and BillTally score: Because the transfer changes were made in the amended version of H.R. 2413 and not the introduced version, we will still record the financial impact of the bill as we reported it in The Taxpayer’s Tab: $29 million ($115 million over four years). This score will be reflected in the agendas of H.R. 2413's sponsor and cosponsors when we release our First Session BillTally report in the coming months. It will likely have a marginal impact on an individual’s proposed spending agenda, but that will also depend on the Member’s other proposals.
Something to remember: NTU Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization and so does not take a stance on any legislation, candidates, or the fitness of currently serving officials to serve. BillTally and The Taxpayer’s Tab is intended to educate Americans on the proposals and spending that can affect the federal budget and their own pocketbooks. We are happy not only to write about the many measures being considered in Congress, but also to clarify our work as a bill evolves and makes its way through Congress.
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