NAPA weighs in on National Weather Service improvement.

When the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council (NAS/NRC) released its report Weather Services for the Nation: Becoming Second to None back in the summer of 2012, it was widely understood that the NRC study, which focused on needed investments, would be followed by a similar review from the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) that would look at the organizational implications and “provide a change management framework for the future.” That long-awaited sequel, Forecast for the Future: Assuring the Capacity of the National Weather Service, has finally been released. Below you’ll find the CONSOLIDATED LIST OF RECOMMENDATIONS, taken verbatim from the report  (a big dose to absorb in this form, but worth seeing in their entirety).

1. While most agree that the Modernization and Associated Restructuring transformed the structure and operations of the NWS for the better, the Panel recommends additional and ongoing change to improve the operations and services of the organization.

2. The Panel recommends that the NWS improve its engagement with the weather enterprise and core partners to enhance the primary and secondary value-chains.

3. To realize the vision of building a Weather-Ready Nation, the Panel recommends that the NWS engage both internal and external stakeholders to secure support for the concept and their commitment to collaborate to achieve mutual goals in the national interest.

4. To ensure the NWS receives advice from the range of external stakeholders, the Panel recommends the NWS establish a formal advisory committee under the procedures established by the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

5. The Panel recommends that the NWS better align its resources and operations to effectively and efficiently meet the emerging needs of the Weather-Ready Nation paradigm.

6. To guide and support the important changes needed to more effectively and efficiently deliver weather, water, and climate products and services, the Panel recommends that the NWS conduct additional zero-based analyses of staff alignment and functions.

7. The Panel recommends that the NWS expand its recruitment to include competencies needed for Weather-Ready Nation such as internal and external communication skills, problem-solving, collaboration, conflict management, and leadership.

8. The Panel recommends that the NWS examine its training and development strategies and technology to build an improved training and development framework that marries the science, leadership, and decision support skills needed to ensure the success of Weather-Ready Nation.

9. The Panel recommends that the NWS and NWSEO collaborate to re-frame the labor/management relationship in keeping with the true partnership spirit of Executive Order 13522, which will necessitate the pre-decisional involvement sought by the union and the increased organizational results sought by management within a climate of mutual trust.

10. To ensure that NWS Research to Operations (R2O) and Operations to Research (O2R) receive appropriate priority and support, the Panel recommends that it consolidate the current distributed management of this function.

11. The Panel recommends that the NWS establish Configuration Management and Security Risk Management over its information technology systems.

12. The Panel recommends that the NWS conduct an NWS-wide analysis of its enterprise architecture, dissemination systems, and telecommunications infrastructure and identify opportunities for consolidating, integrating, or eliminating hardware or systems given current or anticipated future operational scenarios.

13. The Panel recommends that the NWS conduct an NWS-wide requirements analysis of its facilities.

14. The Panel recommends that in keeping with its vision of a Weather-Ready Nation, the NWS prioritize and accelerate its efforts to develop mobile computing applications and the use of Virtual Private Networks and rapidly transition these technologies for use in mobile, forward-deployed, and remote applications.

15. To facilitate additional and ongoing change the Panel recommends that the NWS, in conjunction with its partners, develop a process and structure to guide significant organizational and operational changes.

Let’s look at this report from four perspectives:

NWS leadership and employees. From this viewpoint, it’s easy to be overwhelmed, maybe even a bit depressed. Between the NAS/NRC and NAPA studies, the National Weather Service is being told to step up nearly every aspect of its game, at precisely the same time the agency and its people are facing constrained budgets, flat salaries, unfilled positions, the prospect of furloughs, travel restrictions, and more. Talk about being asked to do more with less! Where will it all end? Is there any light at the end of this tunnel?

But there’s merit in every detail of both the NAS/NRC and NAPA critiques. From the NWS director on down to the entry-level interns and the bench forecasters, everyone has to shoulder responsibility, identify a target for improvement, take some initial steps.

That said, the rest of us don’t get a free pass:

NWS stakeholders. Whether weather enterprise or core partners, whether internal or external… all players or would-be players in this collaboration, even though not targeted or singled out in this report, nevertheless share responsibility. We are equal partners when it comes to engagement, transitioning technologies, facilitating change, reframing the labor/management relationship, communicating (listening as well as talking), training and education, responding to NWS recruitments, realigning operations and resources… and more. None of these actions can be executed by NWS alone; all require coordination… not just for a short period, but sustained for a period of years.

Congress and the Administration. In today’s focus on the NAPA report and changes within the agency, national leaders in both the executive and legislative branches have to uphold their end of the bargain and make the investments needed to sustain the agency and the weather enterprise for decades to come.

J.R. Spradley, a NOAA political official from the Reagan days, once said in a similar situation he was reminded of a mule they had down on the farm. They were training the mule to do more and more work around the farm on less food…but just when they’d succeeded… when they’d gotten the mule to work all day for no food at all, it went and died on ‘em.

Every single local community across the United States. The NAPA recommendations are all framed in terms of The Weather-Ready Nationa society that is prepared for and responds to weather-dependent events. No way does this happen unilaterally. We reach this goal only when every individual, every parent, every small business owner, every school teacher, every hospital administrator, every banker, every county and local official takes this goal seriously, integrates it with other community objectives, works with the National Weather Service instead of sitting in solemn judgment on it.

NWS has to act, but this is not a spectator sport. All of us are participants. Together, we can do this. And it’ll be worth our joint effort.

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