National Weather Service:

Closure of Regional Office Not Supported by Risk Analysis

AIMD-97-133: Published: Jul 31, 1997. Publicly Released: Aug 8, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed proposed staffing cuts at the National Weather Service (NWS), focusing on the NWS analysis: (1) supporting the planned closure of its southern regional headquarters office; and (2) of alternative plans for maintaining its current regional structure of four mainland offices.

GAO noted that: (1) NWS did not perform any documented risk analysis to support its decision to close its southern regional headquarters office; (2) accelerating the planned closure of this office was one of several actions taken in response to a budget shortfall estimated by both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NWS to be about $47 million for fiscal year 1997; (3) while acknowledging that no risk analysis was conducted, NWS officials stated that, on the basis of their professional judgment, no degradation of service would occur from the closure because the southern region's responsibilities would be transferred to other regional offices; (4) weather service users have raised concerns, however, including whether the closure would adversely affect weather services and jeopardize public safety and the protection of property; (5) several alternative strategies for maintaining the current regional structure were proposed by NWS regional offices; (6) headquarters officials rejected these strategies primarily because they did not meet the agency's overall staffing targets for the regions; and (7) because of uncertainties surrounding NWS funding, the Secretary of Commerce announced on June 25, 1997, that a decision to close the southern regional office would be delayed for 60 days, to give outside experts an opportunity to complete a review of NWS' budget and operations.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Commerce commissioned John J. Kelly, retired USAF general, to assess the resources necessary to operate the National Weather Service and complete systems modernization, and specifically to review the feasibility of closing the Southern Region Headquarters. His report stated that he believed that six regional headquarters were required and that plans to close the Southern Region Headquarters should be terminated. The Secretary of Commerce agreed to this recommendation and the closing of the Southern Regional Headquarters is not planned.

    Recommendation: To ensure that weather service users are not adversely affected by a decision to restructure NWS offices, the Secretary of Commerce should, prior to making any decision to close the southern regional headquarters office, direct that the Administrator, NOAA, complete a documented analysis of the risks associated with a range of alternative actions to address NWS budget shortfalls. This analysis should also include a set of actions to minimize any degradation of service as part of an effort to meet present and future budgetary goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce


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