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Highlights

To provide accurate and timely weather forecasts, the National Weather Service (NWS) uses systems, technologies, and manual processes to collect, process, and disseminate weather data to its nationwide network of field offices and centers. After completing a major modernization program in the 1990s, NWS is seeking to upgrade its systems with the goal of improving its forecasting abilities, and it is considering changing how its nationwide office structure operates in order to enhance efficiency. GAO was asked to (1) evaluate NWS's efforts to achieve improvements in the delivery of its services through system and technology upgrades, (2) assess agency plans to achieve service improvements through training its employees, and (3) evaluate agency plans to revise its nationwide office configuration and the implications of these plans on local forecasting services, staffing, and budgets.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce To improve NWS's ability to achieve planned service improvements, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Assistant Administrator for Weather Services to require training officials to validate the accuracy of training justifications.
Closed - Implemented
NWS agreed with our recommendation and created an Implementation Plan for National Weather Service Training and Education. This plan documents the process by which NWS determines which training courses to fund. Under this plan, training needs are identified and justified; senior managers subsequently evaluate the justifications, rank them, and make resource decisions.
Department of Commerce To improve NWS's ability to achieve planned service improvements, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Assistant Administrator for Weather Services to establish key activities, timelines, and measures for evaluating the "clustered peer" office structure prototype before beginning the prototype.
Closed - Implemented
NWS agreed with our recommendation and completed a Prototype Plan on November 14, 2006, which was prior to beginning the clustered peer prototype. The plan included key activities, timelines, and a limited set of measures. However, NOAA subsequently directed NWS to suspend the prototype because of concerns about the agency's approach.
Department of Commerce To improve NWS's ability to achieve planned service improvements, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Assistant Administrator for Weather Services to ensure that plans for evaluating the prototype address the impact of any changes on budget, staffing, and services.
Closed - Not Implemented
NWS agreed with our recommendation and completed the clustered peer Prototype Plan on November 14, 2006. The Plan provided NWS's plans to evaluate the prototype, including limited measures. However, these plans to evaluate the prototype did not include plans to evaluate impact to budget, staffing, or services. Agency officials reported that these items would be included in a more detailed evaluation plan to be developed by August 2007. However, in March 2006, NOAA directed NWS to suspend the prototype because of concerns about the agency's approach. The agency no longer plans to implement or evaluate the prototype.

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