National Weather Service:

Budget Events and Continuing Risks of Systems Modernization

T-AIMD-98-97: Published: Mar 4, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 4, 1998.

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Joel C. Willemssen
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed its work regarding the events surrounding the fiscal year (FY) 1997 budget of the National Weather Service (NWS) and continuing risks of systems modernization.

GAO noted that: (1) NWS was able to operate within its appropriated FY 1997 budget level, but had to do so with fewer funds than in FY 1996; NWS referred to this difference in available funds as a budget shortfall; (2) the shortfall was reported in different amounts at different points in time, such that some members of Congress experienced confusion as to the actual amount; (3) two events associated with the shortfall and potential ways to accommodate it raised concerns among department officials; (4) the first centered on a NWS request that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reprogram funds--and NWS' intention to fill critical field office vacancies before approval of that request; (5) NOAA informed NWS officials that the vacancies could not be filled because the reprogramming request had not been approved; (6) the second event involved NWS' attempt to obtain NOAA certification approval to consolidate, automate, or close weather service offices; (7) the NWS modernization program--vital to improved operations--is one of the largest in the federal government; (8) NWS systems modernization includes 4 major programs; (9) ongoing problems, both developmental and operational, have, however, surrounded the modernization efforts; (10) as part of its streamlining efforts, NWS has identified various weather offices nationwide, including the Erie area and Northwestern Pennsylvania, for closure, with responsibilities to be taken over by neighboring offices; (11) however, there were concerns that there would be a gap in lake-effect snowcoverage; and (12) because of this concern, the Director of NWS' Office of Meterology recommended that a new radar be installed for the Erie area.

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