I spent almost 1/4 century working for a non-profit that was primarily funded by NOAA and the DoD. We worked with other agencies as well, and even other countries. As I look back I can say clearly that it got much harder over the years. When we began we operated almost entirely through a single, stable Cooperative Agreement. Our DoD partners were able to work with us through that cooperative agreement as were our partners in the Meteorological Service of Canada. As we went along funds got tighter and things got harder.
Why does this matter? When people say that the government is broken, I strongly believe that this is part of the reason why. When I started working for a small program called COMET we were able to efficiently bring together funding from multiple agencies within the government. We educated weather forecasters in the National Weather Service, the DoD, the private sector and the world. If every agency had tried to work alone it would have been restrictively expensive. If they had worked with a contractor they wouldn’t have served the broader weather communities or helped the crucial private/public partnership. We also brought together universities and forecast offices, with very small amounts of funding, to target research that helped with specific practical research projects.
Weather is a perfect way to demonstrate the power of cooperation within our government and around the world. Weather doesn’t stop at borders. It requires significant resources for everything from satellites to some of the most powerful computers out there. The public – private partnership is something you hear about occasionally but not enough. What does it mean? That the government and the private sector should not work against each other instead they should work together and help the country succeed. It works well. The private sector is incredibly successful in the world of weather. They figured out that there were things that the government can do better and things that are more appropriately done by the private sector. By working together everyone succeeds.
So what changed over the years? Why did we go from a single cooperative agreement to needing to negotiate agreements with every agency and why does any of it matter? As calls for more “government accountability” and budget cuts became more common, as cutting the deficit became the be all and end all, and we have been told to distrust the government,and those that work with it, things got harder.Budget cuts have hit the government hard and it has progressively become harder for them to wonk across agencies. I’m not just talking about funding to external programs like the one I worked for. I’m talking about funding to agencies like NOAA, like the NWS, like the EPA, to name just a few. Not only do these agencies need funds for staff, they also funding for infrastructure, just like the rest of country does.
The Republicans hate “big government”, they refuse to believe in climate change, they don’t want to fund regulations that keep lead out of your water. So as time goes by, and they continue to cut funding for these agencies, and ramp up regulations and investigations on them, it has become harder for them to be effective. To the Republicans that is proof that they are not needed and that the government is broken. Rather than encouraging agencies to work together they create rules that make it harder. Oversight and accountability become impediments rather than serving as a positive force. Smaller program get as much, or more, scrutiny than larger programs, do.
To be successful we have to invest in our country, and that includes our government. Cutting taxes is not the answer, nor is slowly suffocating the government that is supposed to serve us.
This is just a small piece of the puzzle and I’ll write more in the days to come.