The Federal Weather Program Must Have Stronger Central Direction

Gao ID: LCD-80-10 October 16, 1979

The objectives of the federal weather program are to: (1) reduce the economic and social impact of natural disasters; (2) promote the nation's welfare and economy, (3) preserve and enhance the quality of the environment; and (4) strengthen national security. To meet these objectives, seven federal agencies are involved in basic or specialized weather services: the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Agriculture, and Transportation; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and the Environmental Protection Agency. Basic services, which constitute the analysis and forecast process, meet public needs and fulfill requirements common to two or more agencies. Specialized services are developed by tailoring this basic data to specific purposes, such as aviation, marine, agricultural, or military applications. Planned expenditures for basic and specialized programs and supporting research to be conducted by the agencies total $763 million during fiscal year 1979. Commerce and Defense have the most extensive operational programs. They operate the nation's three major weather organizations: the National Weather Service (NWS), which is under Commerce, and the Air Weather Service and the Naval Oceanography Command, which are under Defense. Operational weather forecasts are made by each organization's primary center, specialized centers, and local and regional forecast service offices. Because these three organizations provide both basic and specialized services, they can be considered the heart of weather operations. The specialized centers provide such services as severe storm or hurricane forecasts, and the forecast offices primarily translate basic services received from the primary and specialized centers into specialized forecasts.

Overlapping federal weather programs have concerned both Congress and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for more than a decade. In 1963, Circular A-62 was issued by the Bureau of the Budget to provide agencies with policy guidelines governing weather services. The circular established a federal policy for assessing agency roles in weather activities and for setting goals to be achieved by effective coordination. Although the circular gave Commerce a central role in meeting and coordinating the government's weather information needs, it did not designate Commerce as the single central manager of weather service. Instead, Commerce was made responsible for identifying inefficient and uneconomical operations through systematic reviews and integrated planning of basic and specialized services. Each of the three major weather organizations operates its own primary computer center using a similar forecasting process. Each of the three centers plans to increase its computer capabilities, but has not considered the others' requirements or capabilities when making plans. Commerce has not made an indepth study of the need for three centers.


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