Here's an issue everyone can rally around: improving weather forecasts.

Congress is asking the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the National Weather Service, to create a system that can improve public safety by providing clearer and more accurate data on severe weather such as tornadoes, flooding and earthquakes.

And it wants the agency to go outside the government for help.

"It is time for us to bring our weather forecasting systems into the 21st century," House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said at an environmental subcommittee hearing Tuesday. "Unfortunately, our expertise has slipped in severe weather forecasting."

The Weather Research and Forecast Innovation Act of 2015, which passed the House in May, requires NOAA to enter into a "pilot contract" with a company by October 2016.

The bill asks the agency to look for outside contractors to gather and collect forecasting data, with a major provision of the bill requiring the agency to enter into a contract with a "private-sector entity capable of providing data that meet the standards and specifications set by NOAA to provide commercial weather data in a manner that allows NOAA to calibrate and evaluate the data."

NOAA operates and controls two primary types of satellites that gather and provide weather data.

Some lawmakers such as Smith see the current infrastructure as outdated and unreliable, highlighting delayed construction and cost overruns for proposed satellites. They want a system that takes advantage of technology and can increase public safety with up-to-date innovation.

The 25-page bipartisan bill calls on NOAA to create research programs that place "priority on developing more accurate, timely and effective warnings and forecasts of high-impact weather events that endanger life and property."

Environment subcommittee Chairman Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., and a co-sponsor of the bipartisan legislation, said NOAA's satellite architecture is "fragile" and he expressed fears about potential gaps in future data collection.

"This underscores the need to augment our space-based observing systems by incorporating alternative modes of data collection," Bridenstine said Tuesday. "For instance, a competitive, commercial market for weather data could drive innovation, reduce costs and increase the quantity and quality of data."

NOAA deputy administrator Manson Brown told lawmakers he is "supportive" of the bill's private-sector provision.

"We do want to lean forward with our industry partners," Brown said of the provision. He added NOAA will release its commercial data standards and policy later this year, "which will really signal to the industry [NOAA's] interest" in using the private sector for data collection.

However, relying heavily on commercial data could present major challenges. NOAA is a member of the World Meteorological Organization and is obligated to share global weather data with other members.

That could pose problems as to how global weather data compiled by a private-sector company under contract with NOAA would be shared. Brown said he can envision a system where commercial data can have its intellectual property protected and also be shared globally, but did offer an important caveat. "The problem with that, as I understand on the industry side, there's no business model that supports that. That's sort of where we get stuck."