Fast Facts

The National Weather Service is responsible for issuing weather forecasts and warnings to help protect life and property during severe weather events. However, it has faced a number of challenges over the past decade that may hamper its ability to deliver these services.

In response, NWS followed a competitive process to hire a contractor (McKinsey & Company) to analyze its operations and workforce in 2015. We found that McKinsey provided NWS with a range of services, such as an analysis of gaps in the agency’s workforce. It identified a number of challenges with NWS’s operations, including a lack of clarity about the roles of various offices.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) followed a competitive process to select a contractor for the Operations and Workforce Analysis (OWA) project. NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) initiated this project to, among other things, examine its operations and workforce and develop ideas to help NWS better meet the needs of its core partners, including state and local emergency management agencies, and other stakeholders, such as some utility companies. To select a contractor, NOAA issued a Request for Quotes for a firm-fixed-price task order in December 2014. NOAA received six quotes in response. After evaluating the quotes, NOAA awarded the task order to McKinsey & Company for the OWA project in April 2015.

NOAA later took two additional actions to expand the scope of the OWA project. First, NOAA issued a Request for Quotes for a second task order for additional work focused on NWS units, such as regional offices, that were not the primary focus of the work under the first task order. In response, NOAA received one quote—from McKinsey—and awarded the second task order to McKinsey in April 2016. Second, NOAA further expanded the scope of the OWA project by subsequently modifying the second task order to add new work looking at the broader weather enterprise, which encompasses public sector, private industry, and academic institutions that have a weather focus. By awarding—and subsequently modifying—the second task order, NOAA expanded the work that McKinsey was to perform and increased the price of the OWA project from about $6.8 million (when the first task order was awarded) to over $13.7 million at the end of performance for the two task orders.

The OWA task orders identified a range of materials and services that McKinsey was required to provide to NWS for the OWA project. McKinsey provided NWS with materials and services under the task orders from 2015 through 2017, with most provided by the end of 2016. NWS accepted all of the materials and services as meeting the requirements under the task orders, according to NOAA and NWS officials. The materials and services included a variety of briefing slides, analytical tools, reports, facilitated meetings, training sessions, and workshops. For example, in August and September 2015, McKinsey delivered information on the baseline status and gaps in NWS’s operations and workforce through two sets of briefing slides.

McKinsey’s work generated 14 findings focused on NWS’s workforce, operating model, and organization, among other things, including findings related to a lack of clarity about the roles of various NWS offices and the need for improved collaboration among offices. McKinsey then facilitated the work of several teams of NWS managers and staff that developed 28 ideas intended to address the findings, including ideas for clarifying roles and developing a collaborative forecast process.

Why GAO Did This Study

NWS is responsible for issuing weather forecasts and warnings to help protect life and property during severe weather events such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and winter storms. Over the past decade, reports by the National Academy of Sciences and others have identified challenges facing NWS that may hamper the agency’s ability to deliver its services, including challenges related to the agency’s operations and workforce. Partially in response to these reports, NWS initiated the OWA project in 2015.

GAO was asked to review NOAA’s contractor selection process for NWS’s OWA project and the work performed by the contractor. This report describes (1) NOAA’s process for selecting a contractor for the OWA project and subsequent changes to the project’s scope and total price and (2) the materials and services that the contractor provided to NWS and the findings and ideas the contractor and NWS developed under the OWA project. GAO reviewed agency documents associated with the project, including acquisition documents such as Requests for Quotes and memorandums describing NOAA’s process for selecting a contractor. GAO also reviewed and summarized documentation of the materials and services the contractor provided to NWS as well as NWS documents about the findings and ideas developed under the OWA project. In addition, GAO interviewed NOAA contracting officials, NWS headquarters officials, and contractor staff who were involved with the OWA project.

For more information, contact Anne-Marie Fennell at (202) 512-3841 or fennella@gao.gov.

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