GAO Calls Weather Service Restructure Goals “Overly Ambitious”

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In testimony presented Tuesday on Capitol Hill before the Committee on Science and Technology, David A. Powner, director of information technology management for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), questioned whether the FAA and the National Weather Service will be able meet their goals for restructuring the way weather information is gathered and delivered to pilots. In a January 2008 report, the GAO criticized the FAA and NWS for failing to establish reliable performance metrics and oversight responsibility for the weather services provided by the 21 en route center weather service units (CWSUs). The report was in response to an October 2006 restructuring proposal submitted by the NWS to the FAA, which subsequently rejected the proposal in April 2007 on the grounds that it was too expensive. The FAA gave the NWS a revised set of requirements in December 2007, and expects the NWS to respond by early May 2008.

"FAA's estimated time frames for providing the revised services may be overly ambitious," Powner said. "Given the importance of accurate and timely weather information in air traffic control, it will be important for NWS to conduct a thorough evaluation before it transitions to a new operational concept in order to ensure that there are no impacts on the continuity of air traffic operations and no degradation of weather service." The FAA is asking the NWS to submit plans for three operational concepts, from which the FAA will choose one in August. The options are to improve services but maintain the existing configuration at the 21 CWSUs, with a 90-day transition period; provide remote services through a reduced number of regional facilities, with a 180-day transition period; or provide remote services through a single centralized facility, with a one-year transition period.

Eugene D. Juba, senior vice president for finance services at the FAA's Air Traffic Organization, also testified before the committee Tuesday. He said the FAA spends over $200 million a year on aviation weather services, with $12 million of that going to support 84 NWS employees located at the 21 centers. "We believe the NWS is committed to providing their best response to these requirements," Juba said. "We believe GAO is on target with its analysis identifying shortcomings and variability in some of the existing CWSU support for FAA," testified NWS Director Jack L. Hayes. He noted that the NWS is actively involved in the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) development through its participation on the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) Board and in providing leadership for the JPDO Weather Working Group.