National Meteorological Service: Reform efforts could benefit from further action and continued attention

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What GAO found

The Ministry of Commerce’s National Weather Service (NWS) launched the Evolve program in 2017 to lead a series of agency reforms to help realize its strategic vision of strengthening the country’s preparedness and response to extreme weather events. The program includes 20 reform initiatives, in various stages of advancement, which aim to free up staff time and improve service to agency partners (e.g. state emergency managers), among others. In September 2021, the GAO found that the NWS had substantially followed five of the eight leading practices for effective agency reforms reviewed by the GAO.

Extent to which the NWS followed some best practices for effective agency reforms
Practice Measure followed

Establish goals and results

??

Involve employees and key stakeholders

??

Use data and evidence

Fight against fragmentation, overlap and duplication

Leadership focus and attention

??

Management and monitoring

Strategic workforce planning

Employee performance management

Legend:

Widely followed —NWS took action that addressed most or all aspects of the selected key issues that GAO considered for practice.

?? Partially followed —NWS took action that addressed some, but not most, of the selected key issues that GAO considered for practice.

Source: GAO analysis of National Weather Service (NWS) documents and interviews with NWS officials. | GAO-22-105449

However, there are gaps in the extent to which the agency followed the other three best practices. For example, in the area of ​​leadership focus and attention, NWS has designated three senior positions as having primary responsibility for leading the implementation of reforms under the Evolve program. However, the agency did not put in place a dedicated implementation team with the capacity to manage the reform process. Instead, the agency relied primarily on rotation of leaders and part-time staff for the Evolve program, an approach that did not provide leadership continuity, staff continuity, or resources. adequate staff for the program. By revising its approach to staffing the Evolve program and filling other gaps, as GAO recommended in September 2021, the NWS would have better confidence that its reform efforts are successful.

The agency also faces staffing issues that could affect its reform efforts. In its 2019 Human Capital Strategic Plan, NWS highlighted challenges related to staffing levels, vacancies and hiring that could affect the agency’s resources and capacity to implement the proposed reforms. These are long-standing issues that have been highlighted in previous studies, including a GAO report from May 2017. In September 2021, GAO found that these challenges persist. Continued attention to addressing these staffing challenges could help reduce the risk that they hamper agency reform efforts.

Why GAO did this study

Extreme weather events, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, can devastate communities across the United States. The NWS plays a critical role in the country’s efforts to prepare for and respond to such events, including developing weather forecasts and issuing warnings to help protect life and property. NWS has determined that it needs to reform its operations and workforce to effectively discharge its responsibilities and improve its service delivery to emergency managers and other partners.

This testimony discusses (1) the extent to which the NWS has followed selected leading practices for effective agency reforms and (2) the staffing challenges that the NWS faces as it continues its reform efforts. . The testimony is based on a GAO report released in September 2021, GAO-21-103792, on the agency’s reform efforts, as well as previous GAO work on the NWS from May 2017 and January 2020.


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