National Weather Service:

Events Surrounding Fiscal Year 1997 Budget

AIMD-98-69: Published: Mar 4, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 4, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the key events related to the fiscal year (FY) 1997 budget shortfall of the National Weather Service (NWS), focusing on: (1) the formulation and execution of the NWS' FY 1997 budget; and (2) key events regarding NWS' FY 1997 budget shortfall and efforts to address it.

GAO noted that: (1) based on guidance provided by the Department of Commerce and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) prepared a FY 1997 budget proposal for each of its components--including NWS; (2) the Department of Commerce reviewed this proposal and asked OMB to include $693 million for NWS in the President's budget; (3) based on OMB's direction regarding NOAA-wide and NWS-specific reductions, this request was revised to the $671 million that appeared in the President's budget submission to Congress; (4) Congress further reduced this amount, enacting appropriations that included $638 million in FY 1997; (5) although NWS believed it had a budget shortfall because of the reductions that OMB and Congress made to its FY 1997 budget request, as well as inflationary and other cost increases, NOAA and NWS reported varying amounts to Congress about the size of this shortfall; (6) according to NOAA and NWS officials, the information provided to Congress responded to specific questions asked at particular points in time and did not necessarily include all known elements of the shortfall; (7) NWS ultimately succeeded in staying within its FY 1997 budget level by implementing a number of temporary and permanent actions; (8) other events associated with the shortfall raised concerns among department officials and Congress; (9) the first event centered on a NWS reprogramming request to NOAA and NWS' intention to start filling critical field vacancies prior to receiving NOAA authorization; (10) NWS assumed that the reprogramming request would be approved by Commerce and funds would be available to fill these vacancies; (11) NOAA informed NWS that the vacancies could not be filled because the reprogramming request had not yet been approved; (12) the second event involved NWS' effort to obtain certification approval from NOAA to consolidate, automate, and close weather service offices; (13) upon learning that NWS would not be able to fill critical field vacancies, NWS recommended to NOAA that selected certification packages be held back because, according to NWS, this would have resulted in a degradation of weather services at locations; (14) however, Commerce noted that the certification packages, as submitted by NWS on April 22, 1997, did not indicate that there were vacancies in these offices that would preclude proceeding with certification; and (15) no link was made during this time between the ability to proceed with certification and the need for reprogramming approval by Congress.

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