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Highlights

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the joint acquisition of the Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) by the National Weather Service (NWS), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and Air Force, focusing on: (1) changes in acquisition and deployment plans; (2) the feasibility and cost of purchasing additional radars; (3) the Air Force contribution to the national NEXRAD network; and (4) the availability of Air Force and NWS NEXRAD.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce 1. The Secretary of Commerce should direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Assistant Administrator for Weather Services to not purchase additional radars to address any weaknesses in radar coverage that may result from the NRC study until assessing FAA plans for deploying the five radars scheduled for storage and NWS mission requirements for NEXRAD in these areas.
Closed - Implemented
NWS agreed with this recommendation. Accordingly, NWS assessed FAA's plans for deploying the five radars scheduled for storage and determined that FAA did not have a requirement for two of the five radars. NWS will convert these two radars into four standalone units to fill three existing gaps in radar coverage that NRC and a subsequent internal assessment identified.
Department of Commerce 2. The Secretary of Commerce should direct the NOAA Assistant Administrator for Weather Services to ensure that any radars bought in response to NRC national radar coverage findings are cost-beneficial, given that their unit cost could be substantially higher than those already purchased.
Closed - Implemented
NWS found a cost-effective solution to its additional radar needs by acting on another recommendation and purchasing radars that FAA had surplused. The cost of acquiring the FAA radars is only slightly higher than the cost of already-purchased radars after adjusting the previous cost for inflation.
Department of the Air Force 3. The Secretary of the Air Force should direct the Air Force Director of Weather to improve the reliability of the Air Force NEXRAD availability data and to correct any shortfalls that these data show.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Defense (DOD) agreed with this recommendation and the Air Force took several steps to improve the reliability of NEXRAD availability data and to correct any shortfalls indicated by these data. While these steps improved NEXRAD availability in the short run, they have been less effective in the long run. For the one year period ending July 31, 2000, the average monthly availability for all 21 Air Force NEXRADs in the continental United States was below the 96 percent availability standard. According to the NEXRAD Program Management Council, the primary reason for the decreased levels of service availability are delays in maintenance response during system outages.
Department of Commerce 4. The Secretary of Commerce should direct the NOAA Assistant Administrator for Weather Services to begin analyzing and monitoring system availability data on a site-specific basis for its operational NEXRAD and correct any shortfalls in system availability that this analysis shows.
Closed - Implemented
NWS agreed with this recommendation and now routinely and automatically collects system availability data from each of its sites through its Engineering Management Reporting System (EMRS). According to NWS, availability data is used by the Office of Systems Operations to identify common failure causes and individual systems with unacceptable availability scores. NWS said that these analyses led to a number of changes being implemented to improve availability. Based on our review of EMRS availability data, 90 percent of NWS' 120 NEXRAD locations met or exceeded the availability standard during calendar year 1998.

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