The Secretary Of Commerce
Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmospheres
B/G (Ret) John J. Kelly Jr.
October 14, 1997
A report like this can only result from the contributions of many people. First, I must thank the men and women of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Weather Service who provided the needed data and information and responded to our numerous requests for additional information and answers to questions. Next, the Department of Commerce provided me with a team of experts-John Dutton, Craig Dorman, Al Kaehn and David McMillian - each provided wise counsel, useful information and helped get the requisite analyses accomplished. Third, Bob Winokur, Acting Director, NWS and Captain Don Winter insured we received the necessary information and helped us determine locations to visit. Fourth, the MITRE cost analyst team of Robert Abramson, Julia Taylor, Thomas Troiano and Steve Welman, who brought order, insight and meaning to large reams of numbers.
My deepest appreciation goes to the government team - Susan Sutherland, Gary Knebel, Paul Nipko, Greg Mandt and Diana Abney - who assisted in accomplishing this study. This report would not have been done without their hard work, intellectual acuity and persistent efforts.
While I appreciate the inputs and advice from each contributor, this was not a committee effort; the final recommendations and funding decisions are solely the author's.
During the past several months serious questions have arisen within the DOC and NOAA concerning the fiscal and people resources required by the NWS to continue to provide regular operations and maintain current modernization program schedules. These concerns resulted in the commissioning of this study to ascertain appropriate resources needed to operate the NWS.
A preliminary budget analysis was conducted to assess the reasonableness and underlying rational for the FY 1998 and 1999 NWS budgets. The results of this analysis are presented within appropriate sections of this report.
The NWS budget structure is complex with fiscal resources budgeted, appropriated and expended in multiple accounts: a BASE account and five modernization accounts. Within the modernization accounts, budget categories are clearly defined and activities identified and costed. Fiscal resources in the FY 1998 President's Budget and the FY 1999 OMB submit were discernible and our approach involved evaluating the reasonableness of the activity, its associated cost and making appropriate adjustments. This was not the case with the BASE account. Traditionally, NWS, like many government agencies, does not apportion BASE dollars into component parts and activities. Thus, identifying what activities and categories are included and how labor and non-labor costs were allocated within the FY 1998 and 1999 budgets was impossible. Our approach was to develop for both labor and non-labor the level of resources NWS needs to provide required levels of products and services and maintain a supporting infrastructure. We accomplished this by visiting NWS units, meeting with customers, receiving briefings and holding discussions with DOC, NOAA and NWS staffs, analyzing pertinent budget data including NWS' newly developed Zero Base Budget and considering comparable industry norms.
Overall, the NWS FY 1998 budget projections to support modernization activities appear reasonable. We decreased funding ($2.9 million) for acquisition management activities and communication circuits. In FY 1999, projected operations and maintenance costs for the NEXRAD program appeared high when considered within the context of our recommended increase to base. We decreased funding ($7.0 million). Remaining funding will enable NWS to maintain a healthy and sustainable NEXRAD O&M program to include Preventative Maintenance Inspections, procuring spares, initiating a modification program and continuing system evolution efforts. We also reduced funding ($1.0 million) for communication circuits and acquisition management activities. In both years, we increased funding for facilities maintenance ($500,000).
Our analysis of the BASE budget indicates both the FY 1998 President's Budget and FY 1999 OMB Submit under-fund labor and non-labor inflationary costs and do not provide sufficient resources to maintain required field (i.e., Weather Forecast Offices) staffing levels. The labor shortfall is particularly acute in FY 1999, which would have reduced field office staffing by approximately 200 positions below the recommended level of 3600 FTE. Delays in the AWIPS delivery schedule necessitate corresponding delays in the planned drawdown of field office staff. We included additional funding in both years.
We noted funding for several NWS-wide programs (e.g., GOES-Tap, Cooperative Institute program) was fragmented into different offices with no one office assigned overall responsibility; we consolidated funding for these programs. We discovered instances where funds for a program were allocated to one office, but implementation responsibility was assigned to a different office; we consolidated funding in the implementation office.
In FY 1997, NWS streamlined staffing levels allocated to the regional headquarters infrastructure (292 to 235). We saw no evidence to indicate these reduced levels are not adequate. As part of this streamlining, NWS decided to close the Southern Region Headquarters (SRH) and downgrade the Alaska and Pacific Regions. This latter action has been tabled. During our review we noted the NWS Regional Directors had developed a plan to maintain the SRH within the 235 person ceiling. An analysis of this proposal vis-à-vis NWS' showed it to be operationally and managerially superior. From a resource perspective, it is only marginally more expensive. We recommend the Regional Directors' plan be adopted and plans to close the SRH be terminated.
We ascertained the field office staffing model used to allocate labor resources in the modernized NWS is reasonable. The model is predicated on AWIPS and its associated productivity tools meeting design specifications. Our analysis indicates NWS development efforts are on track; when the systems are fielded and the subsequent restructuring completed, NWS should be able to meet programmed staffing levels.
AWIPS like many large information technology programs has experienced technical difficulties, cost growth and schedule delays. Our review indicates the program is making progress. All field personnel who have used the current software release (Build 3) are complimentary about its utility and functionality. We noted several areas (program management structure and approach, system engineering) that require attention and provided recommendations to improve the overall management of this critical program.
Since the required analysis was needed in a comparatively short period of time (less than 90 days), we could not analyze in detail all relevant issues raised by the proposed budgets. Instead, we identified those issues and uncertainties that require more complete analysis and highlight their significance so they can be more fully examined by DOC, NOAA, and NWS. Additionally, we indicate several service activities that should be reviewed to determine if they can be more economically and efficiently provided by other than a government work force. We provided (Section XII) a number of recommendations to improve NOAA and NWS planning, budget analysis and evaluation, program prioritization, cost identification and control, requirements definition and approval, management and decision-making processes.