Department of Commerce: National Weather Service Modernization and NOAA Fleet Issues

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-02-24.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                          United States General Accounting Office

GAO                       Testimony
                          Before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment,
                          Committee on Science, House of Representatives

For Release on Delivery
Expected at
2 p.m.
                          DEPARTMENT OF
February 24, 1999         COMMERCE

                          National Weather Service
                          Modernization and NOAA
                          Fleet Issues
                          Statement of Joel C. Willemssen
                          Director, Civil Agencies Information Systems
                          Accounting and Information Management Division


                          L. Nye Stevens
                          Director, Federal Management and Workforce Issues
                          General Government Division

                        Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

                        We appreciate the opportunity to join in today’s hearing to discuss our
                        work in two areas under the responsibility of the National Oceanic and
                        Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a component of the Department of
                        Commerce. At your request, we will first discuss the status of the National
                        Weather Service (NWS) systems modernization and then address the most
                        cost-effective alternatives for acquiring NOAA’s marine data. Last month,
                        we continued to designate the NWS systems modernization effort as a high-
                        risk information technology area and the NOAA fleet as an additional major
                        management challenge confronting the Department of Commerce.1

                        In brief, although NWS is nearing completion of its systems modernization
                        effort, two significant challenges face it this year—deploying the final
                        system of the modernization and ensuring that all of its mission-critical
                        systems are Year 2000 compliant. NWS has made progress on both fronts.
                        In the NOAA fleet area, NOAA now outsources for more of its research and
                        data needs but plans to spend $185 million over the next 5 years to acquire
                        four new replacement NOAA fisheries research ships. Thus, we believe
                        that continued congressional oversight of NOAA’s budget requests for
                        replacement or upgraded ships is needed to ensure that NOAA is pursuing
                        the most cost-effective alternatives for acquiring marine data.

National Weather        In the 1980s NWS began a nationwide modernization program to upgrade
                        observing systems such as satellites and radars, and design and develop
Service Modernization   advanced computer workstations for forecasters. The goals of the
                        modernization are to achieve more uniform weather services across the
                        nation, improve forecasting, provide better detection and prediction of
                        severe weather and flooding, permit more cost-effective operations
                        through staff and office reductions, and achieve higher productivity. For
                        example, NWS plans to reorganize its field office structure from 256 offices
                        (52 Weather Service Forecast Offices and 204 Weather Service Offices), to
                        121. As of February 1999, NWS officials told us that 132 offices have been

                        1 High-Risk Series:
                                        An Update (GAO/HR-99-1, January 1999) and Major Management Challenges and
                        Program Risks: Department of Commerce (GAO/OCG-99-3, January 1999).

                        Page 1                                                              GAO/T-AIMD/GGD-99-97
NWS’ system modernization includes four major systems development
programs, which are expected to collectively cost about $4.5 billion. I
would like to briefly describe each.

Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD). This is a program to acquire
166 Doppler radars.2 Largely deployed, these radars have helped NWS
increase the accuracy and timeliness of warnings for severe
thunderstorms, tornadoes, and other hazardous weather events. The
reported cost of this program is just under $1.5 billion.

Next Generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite
(GOES-Next). This is a program to acquire, launch, and control five
geostationary satellites, GOES-I through GOES-M, which assist in the
mission of identifying and tracking severe weather events, such as
hurricanes. The first satellite in the current series was launched in 1994
and the fifth is scheduled for launch in 2002. The total cost for these five
satellites, including launch services and ground systems, is estimated to be
just under $2 billion.

Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS). This is a program to
automate and enhance methods for collecting, processing, displaying, and
transmitting surface weather conditions, such as temperature and
precipitation. The system is planned for installation at 314 NWS locations.
Estimated costs for the ASOS Program are about $350 million, which
includes the NWS units and another 679 units for the Federal Aviation
Administration and the Department of Defense.

Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS). This program
integrates, for the first time, satellite, radar, and other data to support
weather forecaster decision-making and communications; it is the linchpin
of the NWS modernization. AWIPS, which was originally scheduled to be
developed incrementally in a series of six modules, or builds, is currently
set to be deployed to 152 locations after the fourth build by the end of June

In 1995 we designated the NWS modernization a high-risk area for the
federal government because of its estimated $4.5 billion cost, its
complexity, its criticality to NWS’ mission of helping to protect life and
property through early forecasting and warnings of potentially dangerous

2 This   includes radars for NWS, the Air Force, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Page 2                                                                        GAO/T-AIMD/GGD-99-97
                          weather, and its past problems--documented in several of our reports.3 Our
                          1997 high-risk series reported that although the development and
                          deployment of the observing systems associated with the modernization
                          were nearing completion, unresolved issues remained.4 These concerned
                          the systems' operational effectiveness and efficient maintenance. For
                          example, new radars were not always up and running when severe weather
                          threatened, and ground-based sensors fell short of user expectations,
                          particularly during active weather. We recommended that NWS correct
                          shortfalls in radar performance, and define and prioritize all ground-based
                          sensor corrections according to user needs.

                          Some of our radar and ground-based sensor performance concerns were
                          addressed, while others remain. We recently reported that a NEXRAD unit
                          in southern California failed to consistently meet NWS’ own NEXRAD
                          availability requirement, and recommended that the Weather Service
                          correct the problem such that the radar meets availability requirements.5
                          NWS agreed, and has several activities planned to bring about such

                          While there have been specific performance problems, NWS reports that
                          the new radars and satellites overall have enabled it to generate better data
                          and greatly improved forecasts and warnings. We continue to view the
                          NWS modernization as a high-risk area, however, for two primary reasons:
                          (1) NWS lacks an overall architecture to guide systems development and
                          (2) the final piece of the modernization--AWIPS (the forecaster
                          workstations that will integrate weather data from NEXRAD, GOES-Next,
                          and ASOS)--has not yet been deployed.6 At this point I would like to
                          discuss these issues in more detail.

NWS Modernization Lacks   A systems architecture is an essential tool for guiding effective and
Overall Systems           efficient systems development and evolution. We initially reported in 1994

                          3 High-Risk Series:   An Overview (GAO/HR-95-1, February 1995).

                          4 High-Risk Series:   Information Management and Technology (GAO/HR-97-9, February 1997).

                              National Weather Service: Sulphur Mountain Radar Performance (GAO/AIMD-99-7,October 16, 1998).

                          6 High-Risk Series:   An Update (GAO/HR-99-1, January 1999).

                          Page 3                                                                   GAO/T-AIMD/GGD-99-97
                            that the NWS modernization needed such an overall technical blueprint;7
                            NWS agrees--and is currently working on one. Until such an architecture is
                            developed and enforced, the modernization will continue to be subject to
                            higher costs and reduced performance. This is an important point as
                            component systems continue to evolve to meet additional demands and
                            take advantage of improved technology. The Assistant Administrator for
                            Weather Services shares this view, and said recently that NWS plans to
                            intensify its efforts to develop a systems architecture.

Delivery of AWIPS Remains   Until AWIPS is fully deployed and functioning properly, NWS will not be
a Concern                   able to take full advantage of the $4.5 billion total investment it has made in
                            the modernization. Over the past several years, we have reported that
                            AWIPS has encountered delays and cost increases due to design problems
                            and management shortcomings and have made several recommendations
                            to improve management of this critical component of the modernization.
                            NWS has acted on most of our recommendations. I would like to now
                            update you on AWIPS’ cost, schedule, software development, and

                            The cost to develop AWIPS was estimated at $350 million in 1985; a decade
                            later, that figure had risen to $525 million. However, in testimony and a
                            report issued in 1996, we pointed out the inaccuracy of this $525 million
                            estimate due to the omission of several cost factors, including known
                            contract increases.8 The Department of Commerce later committed to a
                            $550 million funding cap. Yet as we testified in April 1997, it would prove
                            extremely difficult for NOAA to develop and deploy AWIPS within the
                             $550 million cap if any problems were encountered.9 Given the size and
                            complexity of the development--and recognizing that even managed risks
                            can turn into real problems--we testified that such problems were likely to
                            occur and that costs would likely exceed $550 million.

                            7 Weather Forecasting: Systems Architecture Needed for National Weather Service Modernization
                            (GAO/AIMD-94-28, March 11, 1994).

                            8 WeatherForecasting: Recommendations to Address New Weather Processing System Development
                            Risks (GAO/AIMD-96-74, May 13, 1996), and Weather Forecasting: New Processing System Faces
                            Uncertainties and Risks (GAO/T-AIMD-96-47, February 29, 1996).

                            9 Weather
                                    Service Modernization: Risks Remain That Full Systems Potential Will Not Be Achieved
                            (GAO/T-AIMD-97-85, April 24, 1997).

                            Page 4                                                                  GAO/T-AIMD/GGD-99-97
In accordance with a recommendation we made in 1996, the department
contracted for an independent cost estimate of AWIPS because of the
uncertainty about whether it could be delivered within the $550 million cap
given the increased software development expenses.10 According to the
assessment dated February 2, 1998, the likely cost to complete AWIPS
through its final build--build 6--was $618 million.

In March 1998, we reported that although AWIPS was planned for full
deployment through build 6 in 1999--at 152 locations nationwide--that
schedule is now in doubt. The latest schedule calls only for build 4--
actually build 4.2--to be completed in June, within the $550 million cap.
Also as we testified last year, completion dates for builds 5 and 6 were
uncertain because NWS wanted to ensure that requirements for those
modules were not extraneous to mission needs, in order to minimize future
cost increases.11 This reflects a recommendation we made in 1996 for all
AWIPS builds.12 In August 1998, an independent review team reported that
build 5 requirements are essential to NWS’ core mission and that the cost to
complete should range from an additional $20 to $25 million above the
$550 million cap. The team concluded that build 6 requirements should not
be pursued, however, because they “resemble capabilities desired, rather
than requirements.”

According to the AWIPS program manager, deployment of build 4.2 will
result in improved forecasts and warnings, a reduction of 106 staff, and the
decommissioning of the current Automation of Field Operations and
Services (AFOS) system. The program manager added that build 5 will be
pursued in order to realize expected further improvements in weather
forecasts and warnings, a reduction of an additional 69 staff, and the
decommissioning of the NEXRAD workstations. Schedules for build 5
have not yet been developed. To help ensure that build 4.2 will be delivered
within the cap, the Assistant Administrator for Weather Services has
contracted with an independent accounting firm to verify program

The most critical risk factors underlying questions about AWIPS' future
relate to software development. We have frequently reported on this and

10GAO/AIMD-96-74, May     13, 1996.

     GAO/T-AIMD-98-97, March 4, 1998.

12GAO/AIMD-96-74, May     13, 1996.

Page 5                                                  GAO/T-AIMD/GGD-99-97
made several recommendations to improve AWIPS’ software development
processes.13 Software quality is governed largely by the quality of the
processes used to develop it; however, NWS’ efforts to develop AWIPS
software have lacked defined development processes. Such processes are
all the more essential because of NWS’ increased use of software code
developed internally at NOAA’s Forecast Systems Laboratory (FSL) in
Boulder, Colorado--a research and development facility that primarily
develops prototype systems. This software code has not been developed
according to the rigorous processes commonly used to develop production-
quality code. Failure to adhere to these processes may result in unstable
software that will continue to cause cost increases and schedule delays.

The cost assessment delivered in February 1998 also found risk inherent in
the development of builds 4 through 6 because of the transitioning of FSL-
developed software to AWIPS and the uncertainty surrounding
requirements for these builds. NWS officials have acknowledged these
software development process weaknesses, and have told us that they
continue to strengthen these processes. For example, NWS reports that all
AWIPS software, both that developed by the government and the
contractor, is being controlled under a common configuration management

Another risk area concerns the network control facility, which provides the
ability to monitor and maintain AWIPS sites across the country from a
single location. As we testified last year,14 through build 3, AWIPS was still
experiencing difficulty with the central location's ability to detect and
respond to problems. We further testified that since these problems
concerned only a limited number of sites that as more sites come on line,
problems can be expected to increase. NWS officials have acknowledged
that the poor performance of the network control facility continues to be a
prime concern, have sought the advice of external consultants, and have
initiated a number of actions to improve performance of this facility.

   Weather Forecasting: Improvements Needed in Laboratory Software Development Processes (GAO/
AIMD-95-24, December 14, 1994) and GAO/T-AIMD-97-85, April 24, 1997; GAO/T-AIMD-98-97, March 4,

14GAO/T-AIMD-98-97,   March 4, 1998.

Page 6                                                                GAO/T-AIMD/GGD-99-97
Progress Made on Year 2000,   Finally, a critical risk area is whether the AWIPS builds--and, indeed, all
But Critical Testing and      modernization components--will be Year 2000 compliant.15 AWIPS to date
                              is not Year 2000 compliant. Build 4.2--set for completion this June--is
Contingency Planning          intended to make all AWIPS applications Year 2000 compliant. In the event
Efforts Remain                it is late, NWS has renovated its current system, Automation of Field
                              Operations and Services, to be ready as a potential backup.

                              Yet even if Year 2000 compliance ceases to be an issue with build 4.2, NWS’
                              companion modernization systems will need to be compliant because of
                              the amount of data they exchange. NWS reports that five of the six
                              mission-critical systems that interface with AWIPS are already Year 2000
                              compliant, on the basis of individual systems tests. The remaining system
                              is scheduled to be compliant by March 31, 1999, according to the
                              Department of Commerce’s February 1999 Quarterly Year 2000 Progress
                              Report to the Office of Management and Budget.

                              To ensure that these mission-critical systems can reliably exchange data
                              with other systems and that they are protected from errors that can be
                              introduced by external systems, NWS has begun to perform end-to-end
                              testing.16 These tests include multiple Weather Service systems working
                              together and critical interfaces with the Department of Defense and the
                              Federal Aviation Administration. NWS plans to continue to conduct this
                              end-to-end testing through March of this year. The final report on the
                              results of these tests is scheduled to be issued this May.

                              We suggest that NWS consider conducting additional end-to-end testing
                              after the final version of AWIPS is delivered, which is currently scheduled
                              for this June. Currently, NWS is using a prior version of AWIPS in its end-to-
                              end testing—a version that continues to be modified as AWIPS’ system-
                              level testing progresses. Testing with the final version of AWIPS will help
                              to ensure that the production system that will be running in the year 2000
                              will work with its interrelated systems.

                              15Computer systems have long used two digits to represent the year, such as simply "99" for 1999, to
                              conserve electronic data storage and reduce operating costs. In this format, however, 2000 is
                              indistinguishable from 1900 because both are represented as "00." As a result, if not modified, systems
                              or applications that use dates or perform date- or time- sensitive calculations may generate incorrect
                              results beyond 1999.

                              16OurYear 2000 testing guide--Year 2000 Computing Crisis: A Testing Guide (GAO/AIMD-10.1.21,
                              November 1998)--sets forth a structured approach to testing, including end-to-end testing.

                              Page 7                                                                      GAO/T-AIMD/GGD-99-97
To reduce the risk and potential impact of Year 2000-induced information
systems failures on the Weather Service’s core business processes, it is
critical that NWS have contingency plans in place that will help ensure
continuity of operations through the turn of the century. Without such
plans, NWS will not have well-defined processes to follow in the event of
failures. NWS depends on data provided by other federal agencies as well
as on services provided by the public infrastructure (e.g., power, water,
voice and data telecommunications). One weak link anywhere in this chain
of critical dependencies could cause major disruption to NWS operations.
Given these interdependencies, it is imperative that contingency plans be
developed for all critical core business processes. According to NWS’ Year
2000 program manager, the Weather Service has begun drafting
contingency plans for three core business processes: those that
(1) observe weather data, (2) produce forecasts and warnings, and
(3) disseminate data. It is essential that NWS develop these business
continuity and contingency plans expeditiously, and test these plans to
ensure that they are capable of providing the level of support needed to
allow continued functioning of NWS’ core business processes in the event
of failure.

As noted in our business continuity and contingency guide,17 another key
element of such a plan is the development of a zero day or day one risk
reduction strategy and, more generally, procedures for the period between
December 1999 and early January 2000. Key aspects of this strategy can
include the implementation of (1) an integrated control center, whose
purposes include the internal dissemination of critical data and problem
management and (2) a timeline that details the hours in which certain
events will occur (such as when backup generators will be started) during
the late December and early January rollover period. To date, NWS has no
such strategy. We suggest that the development of such a risk reduction
strategy be undertaken.

In conclusion, NWS has made progress on the development and
operational testing of the forecaster workstations and its Year 2000 testing
and contingency planning. However, cost, schedule, and technical risks
associated with the workstations continue to be concerns. Further, the
results of NWS’ Year 2000 end-to-end testing and business continuity and
contingency plans are expected to be delivered soon.

17Year2000 Computing Crisis: Business Continuity and Contingency Planning (GAO/AIMD-10.1.19,
August 1998).

Page 8                                                                GAO/T-AIMD/GGD-99-97
Pursuing the Most   NOAA has an aging in-house fleet of 15 ships that are used to support its
                    programs in fisheries research, oceanographic research, and hydrographic
Cost-Effective      charting and mapping. Most of NOAA’s ships are past their 30-year life
Alternatives for    expectancies and many of them are costly and inefficient to operate and
                    maintain and lack the latest state-of-the-art technology. NOAA’s ships are
Acquiring NOAA’s    managed and operated by a NOAA Corps of about 240 uniformed service
Marine Data         commissioned officers who, like the Public Health Service Corps, perform
                    civilian rather than military functions but are covered by a military-like pay
                    and benefits system.

                    For more than a decade, congressional committees, public and private
                    sector advisory groups, the National Performance Review, the Commerce
                    Office of Inspector General (OIG), and our office have urged NOAA to
                    aggressively pursue cost-effective alternatives to its in-house fleet of ships.
                    We have also reported and testified on issues relating to NOAA’s
                    Commissioned Corps that manages and operates the in-house fleet of

                    We reported on NOAA’s fleet operations and fleet modernization needs in
                    1986 and again in 1994 and summarized our earlier work, the Commerce
                    OIG’s work, and the Department of Commerce’s corrective actions in
                    summary reports in January 199819 and January 1999. As part of our recent
                    special performance and accountability series of reports, we identified the
                    NOAA fleet as one of four major performance and management issues
                    confronting the Department of Commerce.20 As early as 1986 we reported
                    that NOAA needed to develop more definitive information on private ships’
                    availability, capability, and costs before taking any action to deactivate
                    NOAA’s ships.21 In 1994, we reported that NOAA (1) lacked the financial
                    and operational data it needed to adequately assess whether chartered and
                    contracted ships could cost effectively meet the needs of its programs and

                     See Issues on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Commissioned Corps (GAO/
                    GGD-98-35R, December 2, 1997); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Issues on the
                    Civilianization of the Commissioned Corps (GAO/T-GGD-98-22, October 29, 1997); and Federal
                    Personnel: Issues on the Need for NOAA’s Commissioned Corps (GAO/GGD-97-10, October 31, 1996).

                    19Federal   Management: Major Management Issues (GAO/OCG-98-1R, January 9, 1998).

                      Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Commerce (GAO/OCG-99-3,
                    January 1999).

                    21Deactivating Research
                                         Vessels: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Use of Private
                    Ships (GAO/RCED-86-133, June 11, 1986).

                    Page 9                                                                 GAO/T-AIMD/GGD-99-97
(2) had no assurance that its fleet modernization plan represented the most
cost effective means of meeting future program requirements.22
Consequently, we recommended that NOAA take several actions to ensure
that all viable and cost-effective options for accomplishing its program
missions are considered in making decisions on future fleet modernization.

The Commerce OIG has also reported and testified several times on the
NOAA fleet modernization issue, identified the fleet as one of the top 10
management problems facing the Department of Commerce in April 1997,
January 1998, and again in December 1998, and continues to believe that
NOAA could and should be doing more to pursue cost-effective alternatives
to its in-house fleet of ships for acquiring marine data. Following reports
by us, the Commerce OIG, and others, the Department of Commerce
initially identified the NOAA fleet as a material weakness in its annual
Federal Managers’ Financial Integrity Act (FMFIA) report for fiscal year
1990. It remains a material weakness today.

Since 1990, NOAA has developed several fleet replacement and
modernization plans that call for investments of hundreds of millions of
dollars to upgrade or replace these ships, and each has been criticized by
the Commerce OIG for not pursuing alternative approaches strongly
enough. For example, in a 1996 program evaluation report on NOAA’s
$1 billion 1995 fleet modernization plan, the OIG recommended that NOAA
terminate its fleet modernization efforts; cease investing in its ships;
immediately begin to decommission, sell, or transfer them; and contract for
the required data or ship services.

In response to these criticisms, NOAA now says that it has taken steps to
improve the cost efficiency of its fleet and significantly increased its
outsourcing for these services from about 15 percent in 1990 to over
40 percent today. According to NOAA, for example, it has removed seven
ships from service and brought one new and two converted Navy ships into
service since 1990, now outsources for about 46 percent of its research and
survey needs, and expects to further increase its use of outsourcing to
about 50 percent over the next 10 years.

Although NOAA apparently has made progress in reducing the costs of its
fleet and outsourcing for more of its research and data needs, NOAA

22Research Fleet
               Modernization: NOAA Needs to Consider Alternatives to the Acquisition of New
Vessels (GAO/RCED-94-170, August 3, 1994).

Page 10                                                               GAO/T-AIMD/GGD-99-97
continues to rely heavily on its in-house fleet and still plans to replace or
upgrade some of these ships. In this regard, the President’s budget for
fiscal year 2000 proposes $52 million for construction of a new fisheries
research ship and indicates that NOAA plans to spend a total of $185
million for four new replacement ships over the 5-year period ending in
fiscal year 2004--$52 million in 2000, $51 million in 2001, $40 million in 2002,
$40 million in 2003, and $2 million in 2004. We have not had an opportunity
to review the latest studies of NOAA’s fleet modernization efforts or NOAA’s
acquisition plan for its fisheries research mission. Thus, we do not know
whether or not NOAA’s proposed replacement ships are the most cost-
effective alternative currently available for meeting these fisheries research

In addition to its proposed acquisitions, NOAA also continues to repair and
upgrade its aging fleet of existing ships. Since 1990, it has repaired and
upgraded seven of its existing ships and plans to repair and upgrade two
more in 1999. According to the President’s recent budget requests, NOAA
spent $12 million in 1996 and $13 million in 1997 to modernize, convert, and
replace its existing ships. Also, it spent $21 million on fleet maintenance
and planning in 1998 and expects to spend $13 million in 1999 and
$9 million in 2000.

The question of the viability of the NOAA fleet is entwined with the issue of
the NOAA Corps, which operates the fleet. In 1995, the National
Performance Review, noting that the NOAA Corps was the smallest
uniformed service and that the fleet it commanded was obsolete,
recommended that the NOAA Corps be gradually reduced in numbers and
eventually eliminated. We reported in October 1996 that the NOAA Corps
generally does not meet the criteria and principles cited by the Department
of Defense for a military compensation system.23 We also noted that other
agencies, such as the Navy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), use federal
civilian employees or contractors to carry out duties similar to the
functions that NOAA assigns to the Corps. Commerce developed a plan
and legislative proposal to “disestablish” or civilianize the NOAA Corps in
1997, but the Congress did not adopt this proposal.

23Federal Personnel: Issues on the Need for NOAA’s Commissioned Corps (GAO/GGD-97-10, Oct. 31,

Page 11                                                               GAO/T-AIMD/GGD-99-97
                           According to NOAA and to the Department of Commerce’s annual
                           performance plans for fiscal years 1999 and 2000 under the Results Act, the
                           NOAA Corps has been downsized from over 400 officers in fiscal year 1994
                           to about 240 at the beginning of fiscal year 1999, achieving gross annual
                           cost savings of at least $6 million. In June 1998, NOAA announced a new
                           restructuring plan for the NOAA Corps. NOAA’s plan focused on the need
                           for a NOAA Commissioned Corps of about 240 officers. NOAA’s June 1998
                           restructuring plan also called for a new civilian director of the NOAA Corps
                           and a new recruiting program.

                           However, the Congress had other ideas. The Omnibus Appropriations Act
                           for fiscal year 1999 set the number of NOAA Corps officers at 250.
                           Subsequently, the Governing International Fishery Agreement Act (Public
                           Law 105-384, approved November 13, 1998) made other changes in NOAA’s
                           proposed restructuring plan. This act authorized a NOAA Corps of at least
                           264 but not more than 299 commissioned officers for fiscal years 1999
                           through 2003, requires that a uniformed flag officer be the NOAA Corps’
                           operational chief, and directed the Secretary of Commerce to lift the then-
                           existing recruiting freeze on NOAA Corps officers. According to the NOAA
                           Corps, it expects to have about 250 commissioned officers by the end of
                           fiscal year 1999.

                           In summary, NWS faces significant challenges this year—both in deploying
                           the initial version of AWIPS and in addressing the Year 2000 problem.
                           Longer term, NWS still needs to develop an overall systems architecture
                           and to develop AWIPS’ build 5 requirements since they are essential to
                           NWS’ core mission. In the NOAA fleet area, continuing congressional
                           oversight of NOAA’s budget requests for replacement or upgraded ships is
                           needed to ensure that NOAA is pursuing the most cost-effective
                           alternatives for acquiring marine data.

                           This concludes our statement. We would be happy to respond to any
                           questions that you or other members of the Subcommittee may have at this

(511732, 410427)   Leter   Page 12                                                 GAO/T-AIMD/GGD-99-97
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