Weather Forecasting:

Systems Architecture Needed for National Weather Service Modernization

AIMD-94-28: Published: Mar 11, 1994. Publicly Released: Mar 11, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Weather Service's (NWS) modernization of its forecasting system, focusing on: (1) the systems architecture the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses to guide the development and evolution of the interrelated subsystems under the modernization; (2) the existence and impact of architectural differences among the subsystems; and (3 responsibility for managing the modernization.

GAO found that: (1) NOAA lacks a systems architecture for the weather forecasting and warning system's modernization because it has not developed the multiple subsystems as integral parts of a single system; (2) one NOAA office has developed an architecture for its four subsystems, but that architecture is not applicable to the entire system; (3) incompatibilities among the subsystems have increased costs; (4) NOAA has developed special interfaces to overcome and interconnect the systems' different communications protocols; (5) the subsystems' different communications protocols, operating systems, and application languages complicate system upgrades and maintenance; (6) NWS plans to reallocate functions among the subsystems, but the subsystems' incompatibilities make information sharing and functional transfers difficult; (7) NOAA is considering shifting the systems to an open environment that is not vendor-dependent, but the subsystems must move to the same open system options; (8) NOAA continues to develop and manage subsystems independently because it has not assigned a central manager to the modernization; and (9) without a single management focus and a system architecture, integration of the subsystems will require more time, effort, and money than necessary.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere created a new position, NWS Modernization Systems Manager, to prepare the plans and schedules for an overall modernization systems architecture.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere to designate a single manager or chief architect for the modernization with the responsibility and authority to define and enforce adherence to an overall systems architecture.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NOAA agreed with this recommendation and recently issued an IT architecture that includes the NWS IT architecture. Included in NWS' architecture is a description of all weather forecasting and warning subsystems such as radar, satellite, computer models, the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System, NOAA Weather Wire Service, and NOAA Weather Radio. In addition, the architecture can be used as a guide in current and future subsystems development because it describes existing subsystems and specifies the target technology infrastructure and technical standards for these subsystems.

    Recommendation: The Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere should direct the new single manager or chief architect for modernization to develop a systems architecture and that the architecture include all weather forecasting and warning subsystems and be used as a guide in current and future subsystems development.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Office of the Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere: Office of the Deputy Under Secretary


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