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Testimony: 

Before the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Committee on 
Science and Technology, House of Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 
GAO: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 11:00 a.m. EDT:
Thursday, July 16, 2009: 

Aviation Weather: 

FAA and the National Weather Service Are Considering Plans to 
Consolidate Weather Service Offices, But Face Significant Challenges: 

Statement of David A. Powner, Director: 
Information Technology Management Issues: 

GAO-09-887T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-09-887T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on 
Investigations and Oversight, House Committee on Science and 
Technology. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

The National Weather Service’s (NWS) weather products are a vital 
component of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) air traffic 
control system. In addition to providing aviation weather products 
developed at its own facilities, NWS also provides staff onsite at each 
of FAA’s en route centers—the facilities that control high-altitude 
flight outside the airport tower and terminal areas. Over the last few 
years, FAA and NWS have been exploring options for enhancing the 
efficiency of the aviation weather services provided at en route 
centers. 

GAO was asked to summarize its draft report that (1) determines the 
status and plans of efforts to restructure the center weather service 
units, (2) evaluates efforts to establish a baseline of the current 
performance provided by these units, and (3) evaluates challenges to 
restructuring them. 

In preparing the draft report on which this testimony is based, GAO 
evaluated agency plans for the restructuring and for establishing 
performance measures. GAO also compared agency efforts to leading 
practices and interviewed agency officials. 

What GAO Found: 

NWS and FAA are considering plans to restructure the way aviation 
weather services are provided at en route centers, but it is not yet 
clear whether and how these changes will be implemented. In 2005, FAA 
requested that NWS restructure its services by consolidating operations 
to a smaller number of sites, reducing personnel costs, and providing 
services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. NWS developed two 
successive proposals, both of which were rejected by FAA—most recently 
because the costs were too high. FAA subsequently requested that NWS 
develop another proposal by late December 2008. In response, NWS 
developed a third proposal that involves consolidating 20 of 21 
existing center weather service units into 2 locations. NWS sent this 
proposal to FAA in early June 2009. FAA officials stated that they plan 
to respond to NWS’s proposal in early August 2009. 

In response to GAO’s prior concerns that NWS and FAA lacked performance 
measures and a baseline of current performance, the agencies have 
agreed on five measures and NWS has proposed eight others. In addition, 
the agencies initiated efforts to establish a performance baseline for 
4 of 13 potential performance measures. However, the agencies have not 
established baseline performance for the other 9 measures. NWS 
officials stated that they are not collecting baseline information on 
the 9 measures for a variety of reasons, including that some of the 
measures have not yet been approved by FAA, and that selected measures 
involve products that have not yet been developed. While 4 of the 9 
measures are tied to new products or services that are to be developed 
if NWS’s latest restructuring proposal is accepted, the other 5 could 
be measured in the current operational environment. For example, both 
forecast accuracy and customer satisfaction measures are applicable to 
current operations. It is important to obtain an understanding of the 
current level of performance in these measures before beginning any 
efforts to restructure aviation weather services. Without an 
understanding of the current level of performance, NWS and FAA may not 
be able to measure the success of any changes they make to the center 
weather service unit operations. As a result, any changes to the 
current structure could degrade aviation operations and safety—and the 
agencies may not know it. 

NWS and FAA face challenges in their efforts to improve the current 
aviation weather structure. These include challenges associated with 
(1) interagency collaboration, (2) defining FAA’s requirements, and (3) 
aligning any changes with the Next Generation Air Transportation System 
(NextGen)—a long-term initiative to increase the efficiency of the 
national airspace system. If the restructuring proposal is accepted, 
the agencies face three additional challenges in implementing it: (1) 
developing a feasible schedule that includes adequate time for 
stakeholder involvement, (2) undertaking a comprehensive demonstration 
to ensure no services are degraded, and (3) effectively reconfiguring 
the infrastructure and technologies to the new structure. Unless and 
until these challenges are addressed, the proposed restructuring of 
aviation weather services at en route centers has a reduced chance of 
success. 

What GAO Recommends: 

In its draft report, GAO is recommending that Commerce and 
Transportation document baseline performance for several measures, and 
take steps to address underlying challenges affecting the agencies’ 
efforts. 

View [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-887T] or key 
components. For more information, contact David A. Powner at (202) 512-
9286 or at pownerd@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in today's hearing on the 
proposed changes to the aviation weather services provided at the 
Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) en route centers. The National 
Weather Service (NWS) plays a significant role in providing weather 
services to the aviation community. NWS's weather products and data are 
vital components of FAA's air traffic control system, providing weather 
information to local, regional, and national air traffic management, 
navigation, and surveillance systems. NWS aviation weather products 
include forecasts and warnings of meteorological conditions that could 
affect air traffic, including thunderstorms, air turbulence, and icing. 
In addition to providing aviation weather products that are developed 
at its own facilities, NWS also provides staff on-site at each of FAA's 
en route centers--the facilities that control high-altitude flight 
outside the airport tower and terminal areas. This group of NWS 
meteorologists--called a center weather service unit--provides air 
traffic staff with forecasts, advisories, and periodic weather 
briefings on regional conditions. 

Over the last few years, FAA and NWS have been exploring options for 
enhancing the efficiency of the aviation weather services provided at 
en route centers. In September 2005, FAA asked NWS to restructure its 
services to be more efficient. Since then, NWS has developed and 
submitted two proposals to FAA, both of which were rejected. NWS 
subsequently submitted another proposal. As requested, this statement 
summarizes our draft report that (1) determines the status and plans of 
efforts to restructure the center weather service units, (2) evaluates 
efforts to establish a baseline of the current performance provided by 
the center weather service units so that FAA and NWS can ensure that 
any operational changes do not degrade aviation weather services, and 
(3) evaluates challenges to restructuring the center weather service 
units. 

In preparing our draft report and this testimony, we reviewed NWS's 
proposals and transition plans for restructuring the service units and 
FAA's response to NWS's proposals. We identified both agencies' efforts 
to establish a baseline of current performance and compared these 
efforts to government guidance and best practices of leading 
organizations in performance management. To identify challenges, we 
compared the agencies' plans with best practices of leading 
organizations in system development, interagency collaboration, and 
architecture planning. We also interviewed relevant agency officials. 
All of our work for this report was performed in accordance with 
generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards 
require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, 
appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and 
conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence 
obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions 
based on our audit objectives. A more detailed description of the scope 
and methodology of our draft report is provided in attachment 1. 

Background: 

FAA is responsible for ensuring safe, orderly, and efficient air travel 
in the national airspace system. NWS supports FAA by providing aviation-
related forecasts and warnings at air traffic facilities across the 
country. Among other support and services, NWS provides four 
meteorologists at each of FAA's 21 en route centers to provide on-site 
aviation weather services. This arrangement is defined and funded under 
an interagency agreement. 

FAA's Mission and Organizational Structure: 

FAA's primary mission is to ensure safe, orderly, and efficient air 
travel in the national airspace system. FAA reported that, in 2007, air 
traffic in the national airspace system exceeded 46 million flights and 
776 million passengers. In addition, at any one time, as many as 7,000 
aircraft--both civilian and military--could be aloft over the United 
States. In 2004, FAA's Air Traffic Organization was formed to, among 
other responsibilities, improve the provision of air traffic services. 
More than 33,000 employees within FAA's Air Traffic Organization 
support the operations that help move aircraft through the national 
airspace system. The agency's ability to fulfill its mission depends on 
the adequacy and reliability of its air traffic control systems, as 
well as weather forecasts made available by NWS and automated systems. 
These resources reside at, or are associated with, several types of 
facilities: air traffic control towers, terminal radar approach control 
facilities, air route traffic control centers (en route centers), and 
the Air Traffic Control System Command Center. The number and functions 
of these facilities are as follows: 

* 517 air traffic control towers manage and control the airspace within 
about 5 miles of an airport. They control departures and landings, as 
well as ground operations on airport taxiways and runways. 

* 170 terminal radar approach control facilities provide air traffic 
control services for airspace within approximately 40 miles of an 
airport and generally up to 10,000 feet above the airport, where en 
route centers' control begins. Terminal controllers establish and 
maintain the sequence and separation of aircraft. 

* 21 en route centers control planes over the United States--in transit 
and during approaches to some airports. Each center handles a different 
region of airspace. En route centers operate the computer suite that 
processes radar surveillance and flight planning data, reformats it for 
presentation purposes, and sends it to display equipment that is used 
by controllers to track aircraft. The centers control the switching of 
voice communications between aircraft and the center, as well as 
between the center and other air traffic control facilities. Three of 
these en route centers also control air traffic over the oceans. 

* The Air Traffic Control System Command Center manages the flow of air 
traffic within the United States. This facility regulates air traffic 
when weather, equipment, runway closures, or other conditions place 
stress on the national airspace system. In these instances, traffic 
management specialists at the command center take action to modify 
traffic demands in order to keep traffic within system capacity. 

See figure 1 for a visual summary of the facilities that control and 
manage air traffic over the United States. 

Figure 1: FAA Facilities Involved In Air Traffic Control: 

[Refer to PDF for image: illustration] 

Air Traffic Control System Command Center: 

Preflight: 
Air Traffic Control Tower. 

Takeoff: 
Air Traffic Control Tower. 

Departure: 
Terminal Radar Approach Control; 
Air Route Traffic Control Center. 

En route: 
Air Route Traffic Control Center. 

Descent: 
Air Route Traffic Control Center; 
Terminal Radar Approach Control. 

Approach: 
Terminal Radar Approach Control. 

Landing: 
Air Traffic Control Tower. 

Source: GAO analysis of FAA data. 

[End of figure] 

NWS's Mission and Organizational Structure: 

The mission of NWS--an agency within the Department of Commerce's 
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)--is to provide 
weather, water, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United 
States, its territories, and its adjacent waters and oceans to protect 
life and property and to enhance the national economy. In addition, NWS 
is the official source of aviation-and marine-related weather forecasts 
and warnings, as well as warnings about life-threatening weather 
situations. 

The coordinated activities of weather facilities throughout the United 
States allow NWS to deliver a broad spectrum of climate, weather, 
water, and space weather services in support of its mission. These 
facilities include 122 weather forecast offices located across the 
country that provide a wide variety of weather, water, and climate 
services for their local county warning areas, including advisories, 
warnings, and forecasts; 9 national prediction centers[Footnote 1] that 
provide nationwide computer modeling to all NWS field offices; and 21 
center weather service units that are located at FAA en route centers 
across the nation and provide meteorological support to air traffic 
controllers. 

NWS Provides Aviation Weather Services to FAA: 

As an official source of aviation weather forecasts and warnings, 
several NWS facilities provide aviation weather products and services 
to FAA and the aviation sector. These facilities include the Aviation 
Weather Center, weather forecast offices located across the country, 
and 21 center weather service units located at FAA en route centers 
across the country. 

Aviation Weather Center: 

The Aviation Weather Center located in Kansas City, Missouri, issues 
warnings, forecasts, and analyses of hazardous weather for aviation. 
Staffed by 65 personnel, the center develops warnings of hazardous 
weather for aircraft in flight and forecasts of weather conditions for 
the next 2 days that could affect both domestic and international 
aviation. The center also produces a Collaborative Convective Forecast 
Product, a graphical representation of convective occurrence at 2-, 4- 
, and 6-hours. This is used by FAA to manage aviation traffic flow 
across the country. The Aviation Weather Center's key products are 
described in table 1. 

Table 1: Key Weather Products Produced by the Aviation Weather Center: 

Weather product: Significant Meteorological Information; 
Description: An advisory concerning the occurrence or expected 
occurrence of potentially hazardous weather conditions that may affect 
the safety of aircraft operations in the en route environment. 

Weather product: Convective Significant Meteorological Information; 
Description: A text product describing the occurrence or expected 
occurrence of thunderstorms and related weather conditions over the 
contiguous United States within 2 hours of issuance time. 

Weather product: Airman's Meteorological Information; 
Description: An advisory concerning the occurrence or expected 
occurrence of certain weather conditions that may affect the safety of 
aircraft in the en route environment, but at intensities that do not 
meet the criteria to develop a Significant Meteorological Information 
product. 

Weather product: Collaborative Convection Forecast Product; 
Description: A graphical convection forecast developed for strategic 
planning and management of en route air traffic. It is produced every 2 
hours through collaboration - by way of an online chat room - among the 
Aviation Weather Center, the Meteorological Services of Canada, airline 
meteorology departments, FAA's Air Traffic Control System Command 
Center, and the center weather service units. These collaborative 
forecasts are produced between March 1 and October 31 every year. 

Source: GAO analysis of NWS data. 

[End of table] 

Weather Forecast Offices: 

NWS's 122 weather forecast offices issue terminal area forecasts for 
approximately 625 locations every 6 hours or when conditions change, 
consisting of the expected weather conditions significant to a given 
airport or terminal area and are primarily used by commercial and 
general aviation pilots. 

Center Weather Service Units: 

NWS's center weather service units are located at each of FAA's 21 en 
route centers and operate 16 hours a day, 7 days a week (see fig. 2). 
Each center weather service unit usually consists of three 
meteorologists and a meteorologist-in-charge who provide strategic 
advice and aviation weather forecasts to FAA traffic management 
personnel. Governed by an interagency agreement, FAA currently 
reimburses NWS approximately $12 million annually for this support. 

Figure 2: Center Weather Service Unit Locations and Service Areas: 

[Refer to PDF for image: map of the United States] 

Service Areas are depicted on the map for the following Center Weather 
Service Unit Locations: 

Albuquerque, New Mexico; 
Anchorage, Alaska; 
Atlanta, Georgia; 
Boston, Massachusetts; 
Chicago, Illinois; 
Cleveland, Ohio; 
Denver, Colorado; 
Fort Worth, Texas; 
Houston, Texas; 
Indianapolis, Indiana; 
Jacksonville, Florida; 
Kansas City, Missouri; 
Los Angeles, California; 
Memphis, Tennessee; 
Miami, Florida; 
Minneapolis, Minnesota; 
New York City, New York; 
Oakland, California; 
Salt Lake City, Utah; 
Seattle, Washington; 
Washington, DC. 

Sources: NWS (data), Map Resources (map). 

[End of figure] 

Center Weather Service Units: An Overview of Systems and Operations: 

The meteorologists at the center weather service units use a variety of 
systems to gather and analyze information compiled from NWS and FAA 
weather sensors. Key systems used to compile weather information 
include FAA's Weather and Radar Processor, FAA's Integrated Terminal 
Weather System, FAA's Corridor Integrated Weather System, and a remote 
display of NWS's Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System. 
Meteorologists at several center weather service units also use NWS's 
National Center Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System. Table 2 
provides a description of selected systems. 

Table 2: Systems Used in the Center Weather Service Units: 

System: Weather and Radar Processor; 
Description: FAA's Weather and Radar Processor is used in en route 
centers and receives NWS products and data, information from automated 
weather sensors located at airports and data from other sources such as 
weather satellites and radars. It compiles the information and provides 
current weather and forecasts to air traffic supervisors, traffic flow 
managers, and the center weather service unit meteorologists. 

System: Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System--Remote Display; 
Description: NWS's Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System 
integrates hydrometeorological data from a variety of sources and 
produces graphical displays at NWS weather forecast offices, river 
forecast centers, and national centers. This system aids forecaster 
analysis and decision making. Meteorologists at the en route centers 
have access to this system through a remote display system, which 
provides a dedicated connection to the supporting weather forecast 
office. The Remote Display is funded by FAA, and maintenance is 
provided by NWS. 

System: Integrated Terminal Weather System; 
Description: FAA's Integrated Terminal Weather System furnishes air 
traffic controllers and meteorologists with full-color graphic displays 
of weather information concerning airport terminal airspace within a 60-
mile radius. The system also projects movement of severe weather 
systems up to 1 hour in the future and has been installed at 39 
airports. 

System: Corridor Integrated Weather System; 
Description: FAA's Corridor Integrated Weather System is a prototype 
decision support tool that gathers weather information to help 
controllers select the most efficient routes for diverting traffic to 
avoid severe weather conditions. This system provides traffic flow 
managers with comprehensive convective weather data needed for tactical 
modifications, occurring within 2 hours, to the operational plan. These 
tactical modifications to the operational plan may include the weather 
impacts on air traffic control capacity, a need to modify the 
mitigation plan, and the execution of a modified mitigation plan. 

System: National Center Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System; 
Description: NWS's National Center Advanced Weather Interactive 
Processing System is the meteorological data visualization and 
integrated product generation system that provides a national scope of 
weather information. It is comprised of software that ingests, 
analyzes, displays, and integrates various types of hydrometeorological 
data including numerical model, surface, upper-air, satellite, radar, 
and text data. This system is only used in a few center weather service 
units. 

Source: GAO analysis of FAA and NWS data. 

[End of table] 

NWS meteorologists at the en route centers provide several products and 
services to the FAA staff, including meteorological impact statements, 
center weather advisories, periodic briefings, and on-demand 
consultations. These products and services are described in table 3. In 
addition, center weather service unit meteorologists receive and 
disseminate pilot reports, provide input every 2 hours to the Aviation 
Weather Center's creation of the Collaborative Convective Forecast 
Product, train FAA personnel on how to interpret weather information, 
and provide weather briefings to nearby terminal radar approach control 
facilities and air traffic control towers. 

Table 3: Key Products and Services Provided by Center Weather Service 
Units: 

Product or service: Meteorological impact statement; 
Description: An unscheduled forecast of weather conditions that are 
expected to adversely impact the flow of air traffic in the en route 
center's area of responsibility within 4 to 12 hours. 

Product or service: Center weather advisory; 
Description: A short-term, unscheduled warning of hazardous weather 
conditions used primarily by air crews to anticipate and avoid adverse 
weather conditions in the en route and terminal environments. It 
describes current weather conditions or adverse weather conditions--
such as moderate to severe icing or turbulence, thunderstorms, low-
level wind shear, and low ceilings and visibility--beginning within the 
next 2 hours. 

Product or service: Briefings; 
Description: Short updates provided by NWS meteorologists to FAA 
supervisors twice a day; these briefings include current weather 
warnings and advisories, a summary of forecasted weather across the 
national airspace, terminal forecasts, and other pertinent 
meteorological information. 

Product or service: On-demand consultation; 
Description: Unscheduled verbal presentations regarding ongoing or 
expected weather conditions provided to FAA traffic control personnel, 
supervisors, and other FAA facilities. 

Source: GAO analysis of FAA and NWS data. 

[End of table] 

FAA Seeks to Improve Aviation Weather Services Provided at En Route 
Centers: 

In recent years, FAA has undertaken multiple initiatives to assess and 
improve the performance of the center weather service units.[Footnote 
2] Studies conducted in 2003 and 2006 highlighted concerns with the 
lack of standardization of products and services at NWS's center 
weather service units. To address these concerns, the agency sponsored 
studies that determined that weather data could be provided remotely 
using current technologies, and that private sector vendors could 
provide these services. In 2005, the agency requested that NWS 
restructure its aviation weather services by consolidating its center 
weather service units to a smaller number of sites, reducing personnel 
costs, and providing products and services 24 hours a day, 7 days a 
week. NWS subsequently submitted a proposal for restructuring its 
services, but FAA declined the proposal citing the need to refine its 
requirements. 

In December 2007, FAA issued revised requirements and asked NWS to 
respond with proposals defining the technical and cost implications of 
three operational concepts. The three concepts involved (1) on-site 
services provided within the existing configuration of offices located 
at the 21 en route centers, (2) remote services provided by a reduced 
number of regional facilities, and (3) remote services provided by a 
single centralized facility. NWS responded with three proposals, but 
FAA rejected these proposals in September 2008, noting that while 
elements of each proposal had merit, the proposed costs were too high. 
FAA requested that NWS revise its proposal to bring costs down while 
stating a preference to move towards a single center weather service 
unit with a back-up site. 

As a separate initiative, NWS initiated an improvement program for the 
center weather service units in April 2008. The goal of the program was 
to improve the consistency of the units' products and services. This 
program involved standardizing the technology, collaboration, and 
training for all 21 center weather service units and conducting site 
visits to evaluate each unit. NWS reported that it has completed its 
efforts to standardize the service units and plans to complete its site 
visits by September 2009. Table 4 provides a chronology of the 
agencies' assessment and improvement efforts. 

Table 4: Chronology of Efforts by FAA and NWS: 

Time frame: November 2003; 
Activity: FAA performed a functional audit of center weather service 
units and found that the services provided at different en route 
locations were inconsistent, the products were not standardized, and 
there was little communication and collaboration between neighboring 
service units. 

Time frame: September 2005; 
Activity: FAA requested that NWS restructure its aviation weather 
services to provide improved services more efficiently. Specifically, 
FAA requested that NWS consolidate 20 of the center weather service 
units (excluding the unit in Alaska) to a smaller number of sites, 
reduce NWS personnel costs by 20 percent, and deliver forecast products 
and services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Time frame: January 2006; 
Activity: FAA initiated an analysis of the value of different 
activities performed by the center weather service units. Similar to 
the 2003 study, the results of this analysis noted the lack of 
standardization of products, services, tools, and procedures. In 
addition, the report found that quality assurance was provided on an 
informal basis, there was no formal feedback process for products and 
services, and meteorological training was not standardized. 

Time frame: August 2006; 
Activity: NWS conducted a prototype in which center weather service 
unit products and services were completed and delivered remotely from 
the closest weather forecast office. This prototype showed that remote 
operations were possible and effective, but that they would be 
difficult to implement because of the need for cultural change, 
technology upgrades, and communication stability. Specifically, 
forecasters in the prototype were not able to provide dedicated support 
for the aviation mission because their other duties - including 
forecasting severe weather at the weather forecast office - took 
precedence. In addition, a collaboration technology used during the 
prototype was not operationally ready to use, servers were unstable, 
critical radar data were inconsistent with weather forecast office 
data, and communications lines were unstable throughout the prototype. 

Time frame: September 2006; 
Activity: An FAA study confirmed that it is possible to deliver weather 
information, products, and services from one or many remote locations 
with currently available state-of-the-art technology platforms. 

Time frame: October 2006; 
Activity: FAA administered a market survey to determine whether the 
private sector could provide remote weather services at a lower cost 
than currently provided. Ten organizations, including private sector 
firms and government-funded laboratories, responded that they could 
provide the services that FAA wanted; Separately, NWS presented its 
proposal for restructuring its aviation weather services to FAA. In 
this proposal, NWS suggested moving meteorologists from the en route 
centers to regional weather forecast offices, and providing remote 
aviation weather services from the weather forecast offices. 

Time frame: April 2007; 
Activity: FAA declined NWS's proposal. Instead, FAA reported that it 
would redefine its requirements for the functions provided by the 
center weather service units. 

Time frame: December 2007; 
Activity: FAA transmitted its redefined requirements to NWS and 
requested a written response detailing three different operational 
concepts. 

Time frame: April 2008; 
Activity: NWS initiated a short-term improvement program for the center 
weather service units. The goal of this program was to standardize the 
technology and training for the units to improve the consistency of 
products and services. 

Time frame: May 2008; 
Activity: In response to the new requirements, NWS provided FAA with 
three proposals to restructure the center weather service units. 

Time frame: September 2008; 
Activity: FAA rejected NWS's three proposals, stating that while 
elements of each proposal had merit, the agency could not accept them 
because the proposed costs were too high. Additionally, FAA requested 
that NWS deliver a revised proposal by December 2008, stating a 
preference to move toward a single center weather service unit with a 
back-up site. 

Source: GAO analysis of NWS and FAA data. 

[End of table] 

Prior GAO Report Identified Concerns with Center Weather Service Units; 
Recommended Steps to Improve Quality Assurance: 

In January 2008, we reported on concerns about inconsistencies in 
products and quality among center weather service units.[Footnote 3] We 
noted that while both NWS and FAA have responsibilities for assuring 
and controlling the quality of aviation weather observations, neither 
agency monitored the accuracy and quality of the aviation weather 
products provided at center weather service units. We recommended that 
NWS and FAA develop performance measures and metrics for the products 
and services to be provided by center weather service units, perform 
annual evaluations of aviation weather services provided at en route 
centers, and provide feedback to the center weather service units. The 
Department of Commerce agreed with our recommendations, and the 
Department of Transportation stated that FAA planned to revise its 
requirements and that these would establish performance measures and 
evaluation procedures. 

Proposal to Consolidate Center Weather Service Units Is Under 
Consideration: 

NWS and FAA are considering plans to restructure the way aviation 
weather services are provided at en route centers. After a 6-month 
delay, NWS sent FAA its latest proposal for restructuring the center 
weather service units in June 2009.[Footnote 4] NWS's proposal involves 
consolidating 20 of the 21 existing center weather service units into 2 
locations, with one at the Aviation Weather Center in Kansas City, 
Missouri and the other at a new National Centers for Environmental 
Prediction office planned for the DC metropolitan area of Maryland. 
[Footnote 5] The Missouri center is expected to handle the southern 
half of the United States while the Maryland center is expected to 
handle the northern half of the United States. NWS plans for the two 
new units to be staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and to function 
as backup sites for each other. These new units would continue to use 
existing forecasting systems and tools to develop products and 
services. See figure 3 for a visual summary of the proposed 
consolidated center weather service unit facilities that control and 
manage air traffic over the United States. 

Figure 3: Proposed Center Weather Service Unit Structure: 

[Refer to PDF for image: map of the United States] 

The map depicts the following: 

* Current (21) center weather service unit locations at en route 
centers (refer to figure 2 for specific locations); 
* Proposed (2) center weather service unit locations (Kansas City, MO 
and Maryland); 
* Proposed area of responsibility for center weather service unit 
North; 
* Proposed area of responsibility for center weather service unit 
South; 
* Center weather service unit location not part of proposed 
consolidation. 

Sources: NWS (data), Map Resources (map). 

[End of figure] 

While these new units would continue to use existing forecasting 
systems and tools to develop products and services, NWS has also 
proposed new products, services, and tools. Two new products are the 
Collaborative Weather Impact Product and the terminal radar approach 
control forecast. The former is expected to expand the Aviation Weather 
Center's existing Collaborative Convective Forecast Product to include 
convection, turbulence, icing, wind, ceiling/visibility, and 
precipitation type/intensity. The latter is expected to extract data 
from the Collaborative Weather Impact Product and include 
precipitation, winds, and convection for the terminal area; the display 
will allow the forecaster to layer this information on air traffic 
management information such as jet routes. In addition, NWS plans to 
create a web portal to allow FAA and other users to access its 
advisories, forecasts, and products as well as national, regional, and 
local weather briefings. To support on-demand briefings at the new 
center weather service units, NWS plans to use collaboration tools, 
such as instant messaging and online collaboration software. 

Given the reduced number of locations in the revised organizational 
structure, NWS also proposed reducing the number of personnel needed to 
support its operations from 84 to 50 full time staff--a reduction of 34 
positions. Specifically, the agency determined that it will require 20 
staff members for each of the new center weather service units; 4 staff 
members at the Alaska unit; 5 additional forecasters at the Aviation 
Weather Center to help prepare the Collaborative Weather Impact 
Product; and a quality assurance manager at NWS headquarters. NWS 
anticipates the staff reductions will be achieved through scheduled 
retirements, resignations, and reassignments. However, the agency has 
identified the transition of its existing workforce to the new centers 
as a high-impact risk because staff may decline to move to the new 
locations. 

NWS also proposed tentative time frames for transitioning to the new 
organizational structure over a 3-year period. During the first year 
after FAA accepts the proposal, NWS plans to develop a transition plan 
and conduct a 9-month demonstration of the concept in order to ensure 
that the new structure will not degrade its services. Agency officials 
estimated that initial operating capability would be achieved by the 
end of the second year after FAA approval and full operating capability 
by the end of the third year. 

NWS estimated the transition costs for this proposal at approximately 
$12.8 million, which includes approximately $3.3 million for the 
demonstration. In addition, NWS estimated that the annual recurring 
costs will be about 21 percent lower than current annual costs. For 
example, using 2009 prices, NWS estimated that the new structure would 
cost $9.7 million--about $2.6 million less than the current $12.3 
million cost. See table 5 for the estimated costs for transitioning the 
centers. 

Table 5: Approximate Costs for the Transition: 

Description: Legacy centers; 
Year 1: $12.3 million; 
Year 2: $12.7 million; 
Year 3: $11.7 million; 
Year 4: $1.6 million; 
Year 5: $0; 
Total Cost: $38.2 million[A]. 

Description: Transition costs; 
Year 1: $4.6 million; 
Year 2: $4.0 million; 
Year 3: $3.0 million; 
Year 4: $1.1 million; 
Year 5: $0; 
Total Cost: $12.8 million[A]. 

Description: New centers; 
Year 1: $0; 
Year 2: $0; 
Year 3: $4.8 million; 
Year 4: $10.8 million; 
Year 5: $11.0 million; 
Total Cost: $26.6 million. 

Description: Total; 
Year 1: $16.9 million; 
Year 2: $16.7 million; 
Year 3: $19.5 million; 
Year 4: $13.5 million; 
Year 5: $11.0 million; 
Total Cost: $77.6 million. 

Source: GAO analysis of NWS data. 

[A] Numbers do not add correctly due to rounding. 

[End of table] 

However, it is not clear when and if the agencies will move forward 
with the proposal. While FAA plans to respond in early August 2009, the 
agency could decide to reject the proposal or to modify its 
requirements, thereby triggering another NWS proposal. One 
consideration that may affect the proposal involves the current 
interagency agreement. The most recent agreement between the two 
agencies, signed in December 2007, is to expire at the end of September 
2009. Before it expires, the two agencies could choose to exercise an 
option to continue this agreement for another year, terminate the 
agreement, or sign a new agreement. An FAA official reported that the 
agency wanted to create a new agreement that includes key dates from 
the proposal, such as those related to the concept demonstration. This 
official added that such agreements typically take time to develop and 
coordinate between the agencies. 

NWS and FAA Are Working to Establish a Baseline of Current Performance, 
but Are Not Assessing Key Measures: 

According to best practices in leading organizations, performance 
should be measured in order to evaluate the success or failure of 
programs.[Footnote 6] Performance measurement involves identifying 
performance goals and measures, establishing performance baselines, 
identifying targets for improving performance, and measuring progress 
against those targets. Having a clear understanding of an 
organization's current performance--a baseline--is essential to 
determining whether new initiatives (like the proposed restructuring) 
result in improved or degraded products and services. 

In January 2008, we reported that NWS and FAA lacked performance 
measures and a baseline of current performance for the center weather 
service units and recommended that they develop performance measures. 
[Footnote 7] In response to this recommendation, FAA established five 
performance standards for the center weather service units. FAA also 
recommended that NWS identify additional performance measures in its 
proposal for restructuring the center weather service units. While NWS 
subsequently identified eight additional performance measures in its 
proposal, FAA has not yet approved these measures. All 13 performance 
measures are listed in table 6. 

Table 6: Performance Measures Identified by FAA and NWS: 

Performance measure: Service provision (organizational); 
Description: A measure of the hours and days per week that the unit is 
operating; 
Source: Required by interagency agreement. 

Performance measure: Product participation; 
Description: A measure of the frequency of the unit's participation in 
the development of the Collaborative Convective Forecast Product; 
Source: Required by interagency agreement. 

Performance measure: Format consistency; 
Description: A measure of the consistency of product formats, content, 
and procedures for the issuance of key existing products; 
Source: Required by interagency agreement. 

Performance measure: Service provision (briefings); 
Description: A measure of the unit's provision of twice-daily stand up 
briefings; 
Source: Required by interagency agreement and proposed by NWS. 

Performance measure: Forecast accuracy; 
Description: A measure of the accuracy of forecasts used in traffic 
management decisions; 
Source: Required by interagency agreement and proposed by NWS. 

Performance measure: Customer satisfaction; 
Description: A measure of satisfaction with product quality, 
timeliness, accuracy, and customer service, as well as the number of 
complaints received; 
Source: Proposed by NWS. 

Performance measure: Service delivery conformity; Description: A 
measure of the conformity of both standardized and customized services 
to a checklist of components; Source: Proposed by NWS. 

Performance measure: Timeliness of on-demand services; 
Description: A measure of the time taken to respond to requests for 
on-demand service; 
Source: Proposed by NWS. 

Performance measure: Training completion; 
Description: A measure of completion of standardized training; 
Source: Proposed by NWS. 

Performance measure: Product consistency; 
Description: A measure of the consistency of the proposed Collaborative 
Weather Impact Product with other products; 
Source: Proposed by NWS. 

Performance measure: Timeliness of information updates; 
Description: A measure of NWS's ability to provide timely updates to 
the proposed Collaborative Weather Impact Product; 
Source: Proposed by NWS. 

Performance measure: Product availability; 
Description: A measure of the availability of products via a proposed 
web portal; 
Source: Proposed by NWS. 

Performance measure: Timeliness of management reports on the 
restructuring; 
Description: A measure of NWS's ability to provide timely management 
reports associated with the restructuring; 
Source: Proposed by NWS. 

Source: GAO analysis of NWS and FAA data. 

[End of table] 

NWS officials reported that they have historical data for one of the 13 
performance measures--participation in the Collaborative Convective 
Forecast Product--and are working to obtain a baseline for three other 
performance measures. Specifically, in January 2009, NWS and FAA began 
evaluating how the center weather service units are performing and, as 
part of this initiative, are collecting data associated with 
organizational service provision, format consistency, and briefing 
service provision. As of June 2009, the agencies had completed 
evaluations of 13 service units and plan to complete evaluations for 
all 21 service units by September 2009. 

However, the agencies have not established a baseline of performance 
for the 9 other performance measures. NWS officials reported that they 
are not collecting baseline information for a variety of reasons, 
including that the measures have not yet been approved by FAA, and that 
selected measures involve products that have not yet been developed. A 
summary of the status of efforts to establish baselines and reasons for 
not establishing baselines is provided in table 7. 

Table 7: Status of Efforts to Identify Baseline Performance: 

Performance measure: Service provision (organizational); 
Status of efforts to identify baseline performance: Performance at 21 
sites is being documented during site visits; 
NWS reason for not capturing a performance baseline: Not applicable--is 
being measured. 

Performance measure: Product participation; 
Status of efforts to identify baseline performance: Historical 
performance is being captured; 
NWS reason for not capturing a performance baseline: Not applicable--is 
being measured. 

Performance measure: Format consistency; 
Status of efforts to identify baseline performance: Performance at 21 
sites is being documented during site visits; 
NWS reason for not capturing a performance baseline: Not applicable--is 
being measured. 

Performance measure: Service provision (briefings); 
Status of efforts to identify baseline performance: Performance at 21 
sites is being documented during site visits; 
NWS reason for not capturing a performance baseline: Not applicable--is 
being measured. 

Performance measure: Forecast accuracy; 
Status of efforts to identify baseline performance: Not measured; 
NWS reason for not capturing a performance baseline: More work is 
needed to determine how to measure accuracy. 

Performance measure: Customer satisfaction; 
Status of efforts to identify baseline performance: Not measured; 
NWS reason for not capturing a performance baseline: FAA has not 
approved this measure; in addition, NWS officials stated they do not 
currently have the resources to develop and implement this measure. 

Performance measure: Service delivery conformity; 
Status of efforts to identify baseline performance: Not measured; 
NWS reason for not capturing a performance baseline: FAA has not 
approved this measure. 

Performance measure: Timeliness of on-demand services; 
Status of efforts to identify baseline performance: Not measured; 
NWS reason for not capturing a performance baseline: FAA has not 
approved this measure. 

Performance measure: Training completion; 
Status of efforts to identify baseline performance: Not measured; 
NWS reason for not capturing a performance baseline: FAA has not 
approved this measure. 

Performance measure: Product consistency; 
Status of efforts to identify baseline performance: Not measured; 
NWS reason for not capturing a performance baseline: This product has 
not yet been developed. 

Performance measure: Timeliness of information updates; 
Status of efforts to identify baseline performance: Not measured; 
NWS reason for not capturing a performance baseline: This product has 
not yet been developed. 

Performance measure: Product availability; 
Status of efforts to identify baseline performance: Not measured; 
NWS reason for not capturing a performance baseline: This product has 
not yet been developed. 

Performance measure: Timeliness of management reports on the 
restructuring; 
Status of efforts to identify baseline performance: Not measured; 
NWS reason for not capturing a performance baseline: These reports 
involve an initiative that has not yet been approved. 

Source: GAO analysis of NWS and FAA data. 

[End of table] 

While 4 of the potential measures are tied to new products or services 
under the restructuring, the other 5 could be measured using current 
products and services. For example, accuracy and customer satisfaction 
are measures that could be tracked for current operations. NWS 
continually measures the accuracy of a range of weather products-- 
including hurricane and tornado forecasts. Customer satisfaction 
measures could be determined by surveying the FAA managers who receive 
the aviation weather products. 

It is important to obtain an understanding of the current level of 
performance in these measures before beginning any efforts to 
restructure aviation weather services. Without an understanding of the 
current level of performance, NWS and FAA will not be able to measure 
the success or failure of any changes they make to the center weather 
service unit operations. As a result, any changes to the current 
structure could degrade aviation operations and safety--and the 
agencies may not know it. 

NWS and FAA Face Challenges in Efforts to Modify the Current Aviation 
Weather Structure: 

NWS and FAA face challenges in their efforts to modify the current 
aviation weather structure. These include challenges associated with 
(1) interagency collaboration, (2) defining requirements, and (3) 
aligning any changes with the Next Generation Air Transportation System 
(NextGen)--a long-term initiative to increase the efficiency of the 
national airspace system. Specifically, the two agencies have had 
difficulties in interagency collaboration and requirements development 
leading to an inability to reach agreement on a way forward. In 
addition, the restructuring proposals have not been aligned with the 
national strategic vision for the future air transportation system. 
Looking forward, if a proposal is accepted, the agencies could face 
three additional challenges in implementing the proposal, including (1) 
developing a feasible schedule that includes adequate time for 
stakeholder involvement, (2) undertaking a comprehensive demonstration 
to ensure no services are degraded, and (3) effectively reconfiguring 
the infrastructure and technologies to the new structure. Unless and 
until these challenges are addressed, the proposed restructuring of 
aviation weather services at en route centers has a reduced chance of 
success. 

Interagency Collaboration: 

To date, FAA and NWS have encountered challenges in interagency 
collaboration. We have previously reported on key practices that can 
help enhance and sustain interagency collaboration.[Footnote 8] The 
practices generally consist of two or more agencies defining a common 
outcome, establishing joint strategies to achieve the outcome, agreeing 
upon agency roles and responsibilities, establishing compatible 
policies and procedures to operate across agency boundaries, and 
developing mechanisms to monitor, evaluate, and report the results of 
collaborative efforts. 

While NWS and FAA have established policies and procedures for 
operating across agencies through an interagency agreement and have 
initiated efforts to establish a baseline of performance for selected 
measures through their ongoing site evaluations, the agencies have not 
defined a common outcome, established joint strategies to achieve the 
outcome, or agreed upon agency responsibilities. Instead, the agencies 
have demonstrated an inability to work together to resolve issues and 
to accomplish meaningful change. Specifically, since 2005, FAA has 
requested that NWS restructure its aviation weather services three 
times, and then rejected NWS's proposals twice. Further, after 
requesting extensions twice, NWS provided its proposal to FAA in June 
2009. As a result, it is now almost 4 years since FAA first initiated 
efforts to improve NWS aviation weather services, and the agencies have 
not yet agreed on what needs to be changed and how it will be changed. 
Table 8 lists key events. 

Table 8: Key Events in FAA and NWS Interactions: 

Time frame: September 2005; 
Activity: FAA requested that NWS restructure its aviation weather 
services to consolidate operations in a smaller number of sites at a 
reduced cost. 

Time frame: October 2006; 
Activity: NWS provided a proposal to FAA on how to restructure aviation 
weather services; also, FAA administered a market study to determine 
whether the private sector could provide remote aviation weather 
services. 

Time frame: April 2007; 
Activity: FAA rejected NWS's proposal because it did not consolidate 
the offices to a smaller number of sites and it involved higher 
training costs. At that time, FAA decided to revise its requirements 
for aviation weather provided at the center weather service units. 

Time frame: December 2007; 
Activity: FAA provided NWS with a new set of aviation weather 
requirements. 

Time frame: May 2008; 
Activity: NWS provided FAA with three proposals to restructure the 
center weather service units. 

Time frame: September 2008; 
Activity: FAA rejected all three proposals and sent NWS back to the 
drawing board to create a hybrid solution at a lower cost by December 
2008. 

Time frame: December 2008; 
Activity: NWS requested and FAA approved a 60-day extension on NWS's 
proposal deadline to address public misperceptions regarding the 
changes. 

Time frame: February 2009; 
Activity: NWS requested a 60-day extension on NWS's proposal deadline 
to allow the new NOAA administrator time to work with the then-unnamed 
FAA administrator on the consolidation. FAA approved a 30-day 
extension. 

Time frame: June 2009; 
Activity: NWS provided FAA with a proposal that would consolidate 20 of 
21 center weather service units into two locations. 

Source: GAO analysis of FAA and NWS data. 

[End of table] 

Until the agencies agree on a common outcome, establish joint 
strategies to achieve the outcome, and agree on respective agency 
responsibilities, they are unlikely to move forward in efforts to 
restructure weather services. Without sound interagency collaboration, 
both FAA and NWS will continue to spend time and resources proposing 
and rejecting options rather than implementing solutions. 

Defining Requirements: 

The two agencies' difficulties in determining how to proceed with their 
restructuring plans are due in part to a lack of stability in FAA's 
requirements for center weather service units. According to best 
practices of leading organizations, requirements describe the 
functionality needed to meet user needs and perform as intended in the 
operational environment.[Footnote 9] A disciplined process for 
developing and managing requirements can help reduce the risks 
associated with developing or acquiring a system or product. 

FAA released its revised requirements in December 2007 and NWS 
subsequently provided proposals to meet these requirements. However, 
FAA rejected all three of NWS's proposals in September 2008 on the 
basis that the costs of the proposals were too high, even though cost 
was not specified in FAA's requirements. NWS's latest proposal is based 
on FAA's December 2007 requirements as well as detailed discussions 
held between the two agencies in October 2008. However, FAA has not 
revised its requirements to reflect the guidance it provided to NWS in 
those discussions, including reported guidance on handling the Alaska 
center and moving to the two-center approach. Without formal 
requirements developed prior to the development of the new products and 
services, FAA runs the risk of procuring products and services that do 
not fully meet their users' needs or perform as intended. In addition, 
NWS risks continued investments in trying to create a product for FAA 
without clear information on what the agency wants. 

Alignment with the Next Generation Air Transportation System: 

Neither FAA nor NWS have ensured that the restructuring of the center 
weather service units fits with the national vision for a Next 
Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) --a long-term initiative 
to transition FAA from the current radar-based system to an aircraft- 
centered, satellite-based system. Our prior work on enterprise 
architectures shows that connecting strategic planning with program and 
system solutions can increase the chances that an organization's 
operational and information technology (IT) environments will be 
configured to optimize mission performance.[Footnote 10] Our experience 
with federal agencies has shown that investing in IT without defining 
these investments in the context of a larger, strategic vision often 
results in systems that are duplicative, not well integrated, and 
unnecessarily costly to maintain and interface. 

The Joint Planning and Development Office[Footnote 11] is responsible 
for planning and coordinating NextGen. As part of this program, the 
Joint Planning and Development Office envisions restructuring air 
traffic facilities, including en route centers, across the country as 
well as a transitioning to new technologies. However, NWS and FAA 
efforts to restructure the center weather service units have not been 
aligned with the Joint Planning and Development Office's vision for 
transforming air traffic control under the NextGen program. 
Specifically, the chair of NextGen's weather group stated that Joint 
Planning and Development Office officials have not evaluated NWS and 
FAA's plans for restructuring the center weather service units, nor 
have they been asked to do so. 

Other groups within FAA are responsible for aligning the agency's 
enterprise architecture with the NextGen vision through annual roadmaps 
that define near-term initiatives.[Footnote 12] However, recent 
roadmaps for aviation weather do not include any discussion of plans to 
restructure the center weather service units or the potential impact 
that such a change could have on aviation weather systems. 
Additionally, in its proposal, NWS stated that it followed FAA's 
guidance to avoid tightly linking the transition schedule to NextGen's 
expected initial operating capability in 2013, but recommended doing so 
since the specific role of the center weather service units in NextGen 
operations is unknown. 

Until the agencies ensure that changes to the center weather service 
units fit within the strategic-level and implementation plans for 
NextGen, any changes to the current structure could result in wasted 
efforts and resources. 

Schedule Development: 

Looking forward, if a proposal is accepted, both agencies could also 
face challenges in developing a feasible schedule that includes 
adequate time for stakeholder involvement. NWS estimated a 3-year 
transition time frame from current operations to the two-center 
approach. FAA officials commented that they would like to have the two- 
center approach in place by 2012. However, NWS may have difficulty in 
meeting the transition timeframes because activities that need to be 
conducted serially are planned concurrently within the 3-year schedule. 
For example, NWS may need to negotiate with its union before 
implementing changes that affect working conditions--such as moving 
operations from an en route center to a remote location.[Footnote 13] 
NWS officials acknowledge the risk that these negotiations can be 
prolonged and sometimes take years to complete. If the proposal is 
accepted, it will be important for NWS to identify activities that must 
be conducted before others in order to build a feasible schedule. 

Demonstrating No Degradation of Service: 

If a proposal is accepted, both agencies could face challenges in 
demonstrating that existing services will not be degraded during the 
restructuring. In its proposal, NWS identified preliminary plans to 
demonstrate the new operational concept before implementing it in order 
to ensure that there is no degradation of service. Key steps included 
establishing a detailed demonstration plan, conducting risk mitigation 
activities, and implementing a demonstration that is to last at least 9 
months. NWS also proposed that the demonstration will include an 
independent evaluation by a team of government and industry both before 
the demonstration, to determine if the demonstration is adequate to 
validate the new concept of operations, and after, to determine the 
success of the demonstration. In addition, throughout the 9-month 
demonstration, NWS plans to have the independent team periodically 
provide feedback, recommendations, and corrective actions. 

However, as noted earlier, NWS has not yet defined all of the 
performance measures it will use to determine whether the prototype is 
successful. In its proposal, NWS stated that the agencies will begin to 
document performance metrics and develop and refine evaluation criteria 
during the demonstration. If NWS waits to define evaluation criteria 
during the evaluation, it may not have baseline metrics needed to 
compare to the demonstration results. Without baseline metrics, NWS may 
be unable to determine whether the demonstration has degraded service 
or not. 

Technology Transition: 

Both agencies could face challenges in effectively transitioning the 
infrastructure and technologies to the new consolidated structure, if a 
proposal is accepted. In its proposal, NWS planned to move its 
operations from 20 en route centers to two sites within 3 years. 
However, to do so, the agencies will need to modify their aviation 
weather systems and develop a communications infrastructure. 
Specifically, NWS and FAA will need to modify or acquire systems to 
allow both current and new products for an expanded view of the 
country. Additionally, NWS will need to develop continuous two-way 
communications in lieu of having staff onsite at each en route center. 
NWS has recognized the infrastructure as a challenge, and plans to 
mitigate the risk through continuous dialogue with FAA. However, if 
interagency collaboration does not improve, attempting to coordinate 
the systems and technology of the two agencies may prove difficult and 
further delay the schedule. 

Implementation of Draft Recommendations Should Improve Interagency 
Approach to Aviation Weather: 

In our draft report, we are making recommendations to the Secretaries 
of Commerce and Transportation to improve the aviation weather products 
and services provided at FAA's en route centers. Specifically, we are 
recommending that the Secretaries direct the NWS and FAA 
administrators, respectively, to improve their ability to measure 
improvements in the center weather service units by establishing and 
approving a set of performance measures for the center weather service 
units, and by immediately identifying the current level of performance 
for the five potential measures that could be identified under current 
operations (forecast accuracy, customer satisfaction, service delivery 
conformity, timeliness of on-demand services, and training completion) 
so that there will be a baseline from which to measure the impact of 
any proposed operational changes. 

In addition, we are recommending that the Secretaries direct the NWS 
and FAA administrators to address specific challenges by: 

* improving interagency collaboration by defining a common outcome, 
establishing joint strategies to achieve the outcome, and agreeing upon 
each agency's responsibilities; 

* establishing and finalizing requirements for aviation weather 
services at en route centers; 

* ensuring that any proposed organizational changes are aligned with 
NextGen initiatives by seeking a review by the Joint Program 
Development Office responsible for developing the NextGen vision; and: 

* before moving forward with any proposed operational changes, address 
implementation challenges by developing a feasible schedule that 
includes adequate time for stakeholder involvement; undertaking a 
comprehensive demonstration to ensure no services are degraded; and 
effectively transitioning the infrastructure and technologies to the 
new consolidated structure. 

In summary, for several years, FAA and NWS have explored ways to 
improve the operations of the center weather service units by 
consolidating operations and providing remote services. Meanwhile, the 
two agencies have to make a decision on the interagency agreement, 
which will expire at the end of September 2009. If FAA and NWS are to 
create a new interagency agreement that incorporates key dates within 
the proposal, decisions on the proposal will have to be made quickly. 

An important component of any effort to improve operations is a solid 
understanding of current performance. However, FAA and NWS are not 
working to identify the current level of performance in five measures 
that are applicable to current operations. Until the agencies have an 
understanding of the current level of performance, they will not be 
able to measure the success or failure of any changes to the center 
weather service unit operations. As a result, any changes to the 
current structure could degrade aviation operations and safety--and the 
agencies may not know it. 

If the agencies move forward with plans to restructure aviation weather 
services, they face significant challenges including a poor record of 
interagency collaboration, undocumented requirements, and a lack of 
assurance that this plan fits in the broader vision of the Next 
Generation Air Transportation System. Moreover, efforts to implement 
the restructuring will require a feasible schedule, a comprehensive 
demonstration, and a solid plan for technology transition. Until these 
challenges are addressed, the proposed restructuring of aviation 
weather services at en route centers has little chance of success. 

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, this concludes my 
statement. I would be pleased to respond to any questions that you may 
have at this time. 

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

If you have any questions on matters discussed in this testimony, 
please contact David A. Powner at (202) 512-9286 or at pownerd@gao.gov. 
Other key contributors to this testimony include Colleen Phillips, 
Assistant Director; Gerard Aflague; Kate Agatone; Neil Doherty; Rebecca 
Eyler; and Jessica Waselkow. 

[End of section] 

Attachment 1: Scope and Methodology: 

For the draft report on which this testimony is based, we determined 
the status of NWS's plans for restructuring the center weather service 
units by reviewing the existing interagency agreement, FAA's proposed 
requirements, and NWS's draft and final proposals for addressing FAA's 
requirements. We analyzed NWS's draft transition schedules, cost 
proposals, and evaluation plans. We also interviewed NWS and FAA 
officials to obtain clarifications on these plans. 

To evaluate the agencies' efforts to establish a baseline of the 
current performance provided by center weather service units, we 
reviewed documentation including FAA's performance standards, the 
current interagency agreement, NWS's restructuring proposals and 
Quality Assurance Surveillance Plan, and the agencies' plans for 
evaluating the centers. We compared the agencies' plans for creating a 
baseline of current performance with best practices for performance 
management by the Department of the Navy and General Services 
Administration.[Footnote 14] We also interviewed NWS and FAA officials 
involved in establishing a baseline of current performance provided by 
center weather service units. 

To evaluate challenges to restructuring the center weather service 
units, we reviewed agency documentation, including FAA's requirements 
document and NWS's proposals to restructure the center weather service 
units. We also reviewed planning documents for the Next Generation Air 
Transportation System. We compared these documents with best practices 
for system development and requirements management from the Capability 
Maturity Model® Integration for Development; and with GAO's best 
practices in interagency collaboration and architecture planning. 
[Footnote 15] In addition, we interviewed NWS, FAA, and Joint Planning 
and Development Office officials regarding challenges to restructuring 
the center weather service units. 

We performed our work at FAA and NWS headquarters offices, and FAA's 
Air Traffic Control System Command Center in the Washington, D.C., 
metropolitan area. We conducted this performance audit from August 2008 
to July 2009, in accordance with generally accepted government auditing 
standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit 
to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable 
basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 
We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for 
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] These centers include the National Centers for Environmental 
Prediction Central Operations, Aviation Weather Center, Environmental 
Modeling Center, Hydrometeorological Prediction Center, Ocean 
Prediction Center, Storm Prediction Center, Tropical Prediction Center/ 
National Hurricane Center, Climate Prediction Center, and Space 
Environment Center. 

[2] FAA is also involved in a longer-term initiative to increase the 
efficiency of the national airspace system and to improve its overall 
safety. This initiative, called the Next Generation Air Transportation 
System, is a joint effort of the Department of Transportation, the 
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the White House Office 
of Science and Technology Policy, and the Departments of Homeland 
Security, Defense, and Commerce. FAA anticipates that this initiative 
may lead to major changes in the aviation weather program that would 
supersede its current efforts. 

[3] GAO, Aviation Weather: FAA is Reevaluating Services at Key Centers; 
Both FAA and the National Weather Service Need to Better Ensure Product 
Quality, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-258] 
(Washington, D.C.: Jan. 11, 2008). 

[4] NWS sought two extensions to the December 2008 deadline in order to 
allow NWS and FAA a chance to address public misperceptions and to 
brief the incoming administration and to arrange discussions between 
the appropriate NWS and FAA executives. 

[5] NWS proposed that the center weather service unit located in 
Anchorage, Alaska remain unchanged. 

[6] Department of the Navy, Office of the Chief Information Officer, 
Guide for Developing and Using Information Technology (IT) Performance 
Measurements (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 2001); General Services 
Administration, Office of Governmentwide Policy, Performance-Based 
Management: Eight Steps To Develop and Use Information Technology 
Performance Measures Effectively (Washington, D.C.: 1996). 

[7] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-258]. 

[8] GAO, Results-Oriented Government: Practices that Can Help Enhance 
and Sustain Collaboration among Federal Agencies, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-15] (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 21, 
2005). 

[9] Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute, 
Capability Maturity Model® Integration for Development, Version 1.2 
(Pittsburgh, PA: August 2006). Capability Maturity Model® and 
Capability Maturity Modeling are registered in the U.S. Patent and 
Trademark Office. CMM is a service mark of Carnegie Mellon University. 

[10] GAO, Enterprise Architecture: Leadership Remains Key to 
Establishing and Leveraging Architectures for Organizational 
Transformation, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-831] 
(Washington, D.C.: Aug. 14, 2006). 

[11] The Joint Planning and Development Office has multiple federal 
partners, including FAA; the Departments of Transportation, Commerce, 
Defense, and Homeland Security; the National Aeronautics and Space 
Administration; and the White House Office of Science and Technology 
Policy. 

[12] These groups include the NextGen and Operations Planning Service 
Unit's Aviation Weather Office, Systems Engineering Office, and NextGen 
Integration and Implementation Office. 

[13] NWS's agreement with its union includes the need to negotiate on 
the impact and implementation of any changes affecting working 
conditions before those changes can be implemented. As such, any effort 
to realign the center weather service units will involve negotiations 
between union employees and NWS management. 

[14] Department of the Navy, Office of the Chief Information Officer, 
Guide for Developing and Using Information Technology (IT) Performance 
Measurements (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 2001); General Services 
Administration, Office of Governmentwide Policy, Performance-Based 
Management: Eight Steps To Develop and Use Information Technology 
Performance Measures Effectively (Washington, D.C.: 1996). 

[15] Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute, 
Capability Maturity Model® Integration for Development, Version 1.2 
(Pittsburgh, PA: August 2006); GAO, Results-Oriented Government: 
Practices that Can Help Enhance and Sustain Collaboration among Federal 
Agencies, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-15] 
(Washington, D.C.: Oct. 21, 2005); and GAO, Enterprise Architecture: 
Leadership Remains Key to Establishing and Leveraging Architectures for 
Organizational Transformation, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-831] (Washington, D.C.: Aug. 14, 
2006). 

[End of section] 

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