Weather Forecasting:

Improvements Needed in Laboratory Software Development Processes

AIMD-95-24: Published: Dec 14, 1994. Publicly Released: Dec 14, 1994.

Additional Materials:


Jack L. Brock, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Weather Service's (NWS) Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS), focusing on whether the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Forecast Systems Laboratory (FSL) and NWS Technical Development Laboratory (TDL) software development processes are adequate to support the AWIPS Forecast Preparation System (AFPS).

GAO found that: (1) although FSL and TDL software development processes are adequate to support NWS near-term AFPS development activities, these processes are not sufficient for developing high-quality, production AFPS software for direct integration into AWIPS; (2) FSL and TDL rely more on staff capabilities than on clearly defined and documented processes; (3) FSL and TDL need to introduce discipline into their software development processes before they begin writing production-quality codes to avoid poor AFPS and AWIPS performance, schedule delays, and cost overruns; and (4) FSL and TDL officials have recognized their limitations in terms of developing production-quality software and plan to implement needed improvements.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to NWS officials, both TDL and FSL have initiated some recommended activities to strengthen their practices for producing operational code. For example, FSL is using a formal case tool for analysis and design, and FSL's documentation is under configuration control. In addition, TDL now has a software development plan and a software test plan to guide its software development and testing. However, GAO testified on February 29, 1996, that TDL's and FSL's actions have not been fully responsive to the recommendation. Specifically, GAO testified that NWS has not established a software quality assurance program for AWIPS.

    Recommendation: In light of the NWS plan to provide the AWIPS contractor with production-quality software for direct integration into AWIPS, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere to have FSL and TDL strengthen their software development processes for requirements management, project planning, quality assurance, configuration management, and tracking and oversight before beginning development of any production-quality code.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce


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