Lessons Learned from the Modernization and Associated Restructuring
The following are the lessons from the Modernization and Associated Restructuring, identified in the first report from this Committee, The National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment (NRC, 2012a).
Lesson 1. If a science-based agency like the National Weather Service, which provides critical services to the nation, waits until it is close to becoming obsolete, it will require a complex and very expensive program to modernize.
Lesson 2 – Management and Planning. The budget, schedule, and technological issues encountered during execution of the Modernization and Associated Restructuring of the National Weather Service (NWS) reflected traditional challenges of large projects: inexperience of the government project-level leadership, shifting budget constraints, ambitious technology leaps, multi-party stakeholder pressures, cultural inertia, contractor shortcomings, and oversight burdens. Each represents important lessons for the NWS with regard to future projects of a similar nature:
• Expertise in system design, procurement, and deployment is essential to successful implementation of any complex technical upgrade.
• Dedicated leaders are crucial for resolving roadblocks and ensuring ultimate project success.
• Clearly defined system-level requirements, and competent management of those requirements, are essential to any contractual acquisition of a major system.
• Statistical performance indicators are a major element for gaining and maintaining support for implementing changes.
• It is necessary to establish comprehensive performance metrics at the beginning of a process, evaluate them throughout the process, and reevaluate them after the process is complete.
Lesson 3 – Modernization of Technology. The time scale for implementing major change in government systems is very long compared to the time scale for major technological change. The pace of technological progress complicates the planning, procurement, and deployment of large, complex systems. While technology is changing so rapidly, in every aspect of the project where it is feasible, it is crucial to
• Establish clear metrics for evaluating improvement in forecasts and warnings at the beginning of a major technological upgrade.
• Use rapid prototyping and system demonstrations. An example includes the Program for Regional Observing and Forecasting Service (PROFS) and their Denver AWIPS Risk Reduction and Requirements Evaluation (DAR3E) effort, which proved critical to the success of the Modernization and Associated Restructuring.
• Evaluate such prototype systems under a variety of actual operational situations with multiple classes of users and stakeholders in order to refine the system design.
key challenges include keeping pace, meeting expanding and evolving user needs, and partnering with an increasingly capable enterprise. Mass (2012) provides an excellent example of how these challenges have converged to frame directions for the future of the NWS.
Keeping Pace. The pace of scientific and technological advancement in the atmospheric and hydrologic sciences continues to accelerate. As an outgrowth of public- and private-sector investment in weather, climate, and hydrologic research, new observational, data assimilation, prediction, and other technology advancements are exceeding the capacity of the NWS to optimally acquire, integrate, and communicate critical forecast and warning information based on these technological achievements. The MAR focused on NWS observational and warning functions and instituted an operational framework appropriate for that time. Now, as scientific and technological progress continues, critical components within the NWS are lagging behind the state of the science. Furthermore, enormous amounts of data generated by new surface networks, radars, satellites, and numerical models need to be rapidly distilled into actionable information in order to create and communicate effective public forecasts and warnings. The skills required to comprehend, manage, and optimize this decision-making process go beyond traditional meteorological and hydrologic curricula. Hence, the NWS workforce skill set will need to evolve appropriately.