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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Weather Service Changes In Trouble, Gov't Investigators Find

A planned new operations prototype for the National Weather Service (NWS) is in trouble, according to a new U.S. government report.

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 the prototype, weather forecasting offices would share selected responsibilities.

NWS’s prototype is currently on hold pending a reevaluation of the agency’s approach, according to the recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO is the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress.

The agency had just begun the first phase of its three-phased prototype to demonstrate a new concept of operations over a two-year period when, in late March, a top Department of Commerce official suspended the prototype because of concerns about the agency’s approach, GAO says.

In the first phase, NWS established a program manager and began planning for the next two phases. During the remaining phases, NWS planned to have 20 weather forecasting offices share responsibilities in two-office pairs and then in four-office clusters. NWS then planned to decide whether to implement the new concept of operations on a national basis.

"The justification for the prototype was not sufficient," GAO says. "Before the prototype was suspended, the agency had approved moving forward with its prototype without conducting a cost-benefit analysis. NWS estimated that the prototype would cost approximately $9.3 million and would offer qualitative benefits, such as increased efficiency and an improved ability to focus on severe weather events, but did not quantify benefits or the expected return on its investment. If NWS were to proceed with the prototype without a cost-benefit analysis, it would lack assurance that its approach would be a cost-effective investment for the agency."

The National Weather Service provides storm and flood warnings and weather forecasts nationwide using advanced systems and trained specialists located in 122 weather forecast offices throughout the United States.

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