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Highlights

Using advanced systems and trained specialists located in 122 weather forecast offices throughout the country, the National Weather Service (NWS) provides storm and flood warnings and weather forecasts to protect life and property and to enhance the national economy. To improve the efficiency of its operations, in November 2006, NWS approved an effort to develop a prototype of an alternative way of operating. Under this prototype, weather forecasting offices would share selected responsibilities. GAO (1) determined the status of and plans for the prototype, (2) evaluated whether the prototype's justification was sufficient, (3) determined whether NWS's plans to evaluate the prototype are adequate, (4) evaluated whether NWS is sufficiently involving stakeholders in its prototype plans, and (5) determined how NWS plans to ensure that there will be no degradation of service during and after the prototype. To do so, GAO analyzed agency documentation and interviewed program officials and stakeholders.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce If NWS decides to proceed with its prototype, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Assistant Administrator for the National Weather Service to develop a cost-benefit analysis for the clustered peer approach before implementing the prototype in any weather forecasting office.
Closed - Not Implemented
The department agreed with the recommendation, but noted that all efforts to develop a new concept of operations prototype have ceased. The agency has no plans to develop a new concept of operations to which to apply a cost-benefit analysis.
Department of Commerce If NWS decides to proceed with its prototype, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Assistant Administrator for the National Weather Service to develop an evaluation plan that includes a comprehensive set of measures that are linked to prototype goals and identifies the baseline performance that the prototype will be compared with before implementing the prototype in any weather forecasting office.
Closed - Not Implemented
The agency agreed with the recommendation, but noted that all efforts to develop a new concept of operations prototype have ceased. The agency has no plans for a new concept of operations to which they can apply an evaluation plan.
Department of Commerce If NWS decides to proceed with its prototype, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Assistant Administrator for the National Weather Service to develop a plan for internal and external stakeholder involvement, which includes a list of relevant stakeholders, roles and responsibilities for these stakeholders, and a schedule for when stakeholders should be involved before implementing the prototype in any weather forecasting office.
Closed - Implemented
The agency agreed with the recommendation, but noted that all efforts to develop a new concept of operations prototype have ceased. Nonetheless, the agency has taken steps to improve how it involves key stakeholders in its initiatives. In November 2010, NWS and FAA issued a joint FAA/NWS Project Plan Roadmap for Traffic Flow Management Weather support. As part of this roadmap, NWS and FAA provide a list of stakeholders to be considered during the duration of their program. This list includes NextGen, the Joint Planning and Development Office, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the aviation industry, as well as internal FAA and NWS processes, and identified the applicable roles and responsibilities. Further, the roadmap states that both FAA and NWS unions are involved in the joint meetings. The plan to involve stakeholders from beginning will help the agencies better ensure that employee and customer interests are better anticipated, identified, and addressed.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Assistant Administrator for the National Weather Service to evaluate moving forward with technology upgrades to the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System to allow weather forecast offices to switch to backup service more quickly during high-impact weather situations; these upgrades could be handled as an initiative that is separate and distinct from broader changes in the agency's concept of operations.
Closed - Implemented
The department agreed with the recommendation. These system improvements were built into Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) operational build 8.3. As of November 2008, NWS had installed this improvement at all of its AWIPS sites.

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