The Federal Weather Program Must Have Stronger Central Direction

LCD-80-10: Published: Oct 16, 1979. Publicly Released: Oct 16, 1979.


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The objectives of the federal weather program are to: (1) reduce the economic and social impact of natural disasters; (2) promote the nation's welfare and economy, (3) preserve and enhance the quality of the environment; and (4) strengthen national security. To meet these objectives, seven federal agencies are involved in basic or specialized weather services: the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Agriculture, and Transportation; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and the Environmental Protection Agency. Basic services, which constitute the analysis and forecast process, meet public needs and fulfill requirements common to two or more agencies. Specialized services are developed by tailoring this basic data to specific purposes, such as aviation, marine, agricultural, or military applications. Planned expenditures for basic and specialized programs and supporting research to be conducted by the agencies total $763 million during fiscal year 1979. Commerce and Defense have the most extensive operational programs. They operate the nation's three major weather organizations: the National Weather Service (NWS), which is under Commerce, and the Air Weather Service and the Naval Oceanography Command, which are under Defense. Operational weather forecasts are made by each organization's primary center, specialized centers, and local and regional forecast service offices. Because these three organizations provide both basic and specialized services, they can be considered the heart of weather operations. The specialized centers provide such services as severe storm or hurricane forecasts, and the forecast offices primarily translate basic services received from the primary and specialized centers into specialized forecasts.

Overlapping federal weather programs have concerned both Congress and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for more than a decade. In 1963, Circular A-62 was issued by the Bureau of the Budget to provide agencies with policy guidelines governing weather services. The circular established a federal policy for assessing agency roles in weather activities and for setting goals to be achieved by effective coordination. Although the circular gave Commerce a central role in meeting and coordinating the government's weather information needs, it did not designate Commerce as the single central manager of weather service. Instead, Commerce was made responsible for identifying inefficient and uneconomical operations through systematic reviews and integrated planning of basic and specialized services. Each of the three major weather organizations operates its own primary computer center using a similar forecasting process. Each of the three centers plans to increase its computer capabilities, but has not considered the others' requirements or capabilities when making plans. Commerce has not made an indepth study of the need for three centers.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress should enact legislation which would: (1) reaffirm the central agency role for weather and specifically define its authority and responsibilities concerning civil and military weather organizations; and (2) strengthen the central agency's role by requiring it to assist OMB in its annual review of agencies' budget submissions by providing comments and recommendations on budgeted activities and on their consistency with the central agency's overall federal plan or plans.

    Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Federal Coordinator to: (1) develop a comprehensive federal weather plan designed to fully streamline and integrate weather responsibilities, capabilities, and services; and (2) develop a formal review system that would require federal agencies to submit revised or new weather service requirements and require formal justification why the requirements cannot be met through existing services. The Director, OMB, should sponsor an independent study to evaluate the computer needs of the three primary centers and any related centers in research to identify the best service arrangements. The purpose of the study should be to reduce overall computer requirements and to obtain lower capital and operating costs, as well as to obtain such benefits as standardization, greater backup capability, and economies of scale and specialization.

    Agency Affected:

    Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

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