The Committee is not aware of any international assessment of the impact or effect of WMO Resolution 40 (Cg-XII) on the global exchange of hydrometeorological data and products or on the provision of hydrometeorological services. This is an area where private-sector interests could fail to align with NWS responsibilities to international partners. The Committee feels the tradition of “free and unrestricted” international exchange of hydrometeorological data and information is crucial to the provision of the best possible weather, water, and climate services.
When thinking about the role of the private sector in the context of the broader weather, water, and climate enterprise, the focus tends to be on the provision of value-added services rather than infrastructure providers. These two private-sector roles are distinct, and each has their own issues. The diversity of the private sector is reflected in a broad spectrum of commercial interests. These range from designing and building weather, water, and climate data acquisition systems and data processing systems via direct contract to a government program office to developing value-added products and services based on NWS data and directly selling these to a third-party consumer.
NOAA has well-established contract procurement processes for weather, water, and climate data acquisition and processing systems and subsystems. These systems form the core of NOAA’s observation network and include elements such as satellite platforms, launch vehicles, sensors (space, air, and ground-based), command and control systems, and data processing and distribution systems. The procurement processes for elements of this core infrastructure include architecture studies at the system level (e.g., trades comparing many smaller satellites versus fewer larger satellites based on cost, risk, schedule; data product requirements such as spatial and temporal resolution), sensor design trades (cost, risk, schedule, data requirements), or segment trades (location and number of ground stations, cost, risk, schedule). Early stage studies are often only partly funded by government contracts. The competing private-sector entities frequently fund studies and early R&D largely with their own internal funds.
In line with NOAA’s Partnership Policy to “foster the growth of this complex and diverse enterprise as a whole to serve the public interest and the Nation’s economy” (NOAA, 2007), the Committee believes the nation needs a strong private sector capable of developing core infrastructure. The existing NOAA procurement process should be reviewed, well-functioning aspects retained, and any poorly functioning aspects improved. Per Lesson 2 presented in the Committee’s first report, aspects subject to improvement may include strengthening NOAA’s system architecture and system engineering processes (NRC, 2012a). It is also important that NOAA improve contract management practices where needed. Maintaining a healthy and vibrant private sector that competes to design and build traditional key infrastructure components helps to provide a best value approach for the nation. Not only do competing entities frequently develop and test some of the more innovative design ideas on their own internal, nongovernment funds; competition typically leads to important technical innovation too.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a whole should strengthen its systems engineering and procurement processes for major systems, including ground-based sensor, gauge, and radar networks, satellites and ground processing, and major communications and processing systems so as to achieve more productive and cost-effective interactions with the enterprise partners developing and building such systems.