With the agreement by the House on September 16th to changes made by the Senate, H.R. 23, the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2015, is on its way to the President’s desk and likely approval. The House action completes a six year path to reauthorization of a small government program that almost no one opposes.
The measure reauthorizes and slightly modifies the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP). The program ensures coordination on federal efforts to mitigate the impact of severe winds and will enhance cooperation among federal agencies including National Institute of Science and Technology, the National Science Foundation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The measure provides authorizations of $21.1 million a year for three years.
ASCE was instrumental in the creation of NWIRP in 2004, working closely with the original legislation’s authors Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) and former Representative Dennis Moore (D-KS). ASCE members and staff worked closely with the sponsors, House Science Committee staff as well as numerous professional and industry groups over a five-year period to get the program created. The originating legislation authorized the program for five years to 2009.
While a five-year effort to create a federal new program is to be expected, a six-year wait to reauthorize a program with board bipartisan support is not. It is however, an example of the current dysfunction of Congress. Such reauthorizations used to be routinely dealt with by Congress in a timely manner.
Further proof of the breakdown of regular order is that is the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), which is NWIRP big brother, still waits for reauthorization. First created in 1977, NEHRP was the model for NWIRP, and has a long track record of innovation in earthquake hazards mitigation.
Since its creation, NEHRP has been reauthorized on a regular basis by Congress, the last time in 2004 in the same law that created NWIRP. However, since the authorizations for the two programs expired in 2009, Congress has been unable to complete reauthorization of either program on until last week. While lacking any true opposition, legislation to reauthorize the programs have been side tracked or become victim unrelated partisan squabbles in four different Congresses.
The greatest current obstacle for NEHRP has been the lack of a champion. NWIPR has the luxury of its original sponsor, Mr. Neuegbauer, who is now a senior member of the House Science Committee, as a champion. Neither the current Chair of the House Science Committee, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), nor the Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, Senator John Thune (R-SD) have shown much interest in the program. Despite repeated efforts by ASCE and our colleagues in the NEHRP Coalition, no other champion has been identified.
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