Fast Facts

In 2017, the National Weather Service started an effort to reform the agency and better prepare the U.S. for extreme weather events. The agency has established 20 reform initiatives, such as automating weather balloon launches, to free up staff for other responsibilities and improve service to emergency managers and others.

The agency has largely followed leading reform practices, but it still has more to do. For example, the agency has designated leadership positions to oversee the reforms, but it has not established a dedicated implementation team that has the capacity to manage the reform process. Our recommendations address these practices.

A Weather Balloon Auto-Launcher in Fairbanks, Alaska

A Weather Balloon Auto-Launcher

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Commerce's National Weather Service (NWS) initiated the Evolve Program in 2017 to carry out a series of agency reforms to help it achieve its strategic vision of strengthening the nation's readiness and responsiveness to extreme weather events. The program has 20 reform initiatives that are in varying stages of completeness and are intended to free up staff time and improve service to the agency's partners, among other things.

NWS has substantially followed five of eight leading reform practices.

Extent to Which NWS Has Followed Selected Leading Practices for Effective Agency Reforms

Practice

Extent followed

Establishing goals and outcomes

Involving employees and key stakeholders

Using data and evidence

Addressing fragmentation, overlap, and duplication

Leadership focus and attention

Managing and monitoring

Strategic workforce planning

Employee performance management

Legend:

Substantially followed —NWS took actions that addressed most or all aspects of the selected key questions GAO examined for the practice.

Partially followed —NWS took actions that addressed some, but not most, aspects of the selected key questions GAO examined for the practice.

Source: GAO analysis of National Weather Service (NWS) documents and interviews with NWS officials. | GAO-21-103792

However, the agency has only partially followed the other three practices, resulting in gaps.

Establishing goals and outcomes. NWS has established goals for the Evolve Program but has not established performance measures for key elements of the program's reform efforts.

Involving employees and key stakeholders. NWS has engaged its employees in a number of ways in developing the Evolve reforms, including by sending quarterly email updates to all employees. However, the agency has not developed a two-way communications strategy for the program that listens and responds to employee concerns about the proposed reforms.

Leadership focus and attention. NWS has designated three leadership positions as having primary responsibility for leading the implementation of the reforms. However, the agency has not established a dedicated implementation team that has the capacity to manage the reform process. Instead, the agency has primarily relied on rotating leaders and part-time staff for the Evolve Program, an approach that has not provided adequate leadership and staff continuity for the program.

By addressing gaps in these areas, NWS would have better assurance that its Evolve reform efforts will succeed.

Why GAO Did This Study

Extreme weather events, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, have caused major damage and loss of life in the United States. NWS is responsible for developing weather forecasts and issuing warnings to help protect life and property from such events. NWS has determined that it needs to reform its operations and workforce to effectively carry out this responsibility and to improve its provision of services to emergency managers and other partners.

GAO was asked to review NWS's reform efforts under the Evolve Program. This report examines, among other things, the actions NWS has taken under the Evolve Program and the extent to which it has followed selected leading practices for effective agency reforms. GAO reviewed relevant NWS documents, interviewed officials, and assessed the Evolve reform efforts against selected leading practices.

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Recommendations

GAO is making three recommendations to NWS: (1) incorporate key attributes of successful performance measures as it develops measures for the Evolve Program, (2) develop a two-way communications strategy for the program that outlines how the agency will listen and respond to employee concerns, and (3) revise its approach to staffing the program to improve leadership and staff continuity. The Department of Commerce agreed with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
National Weather Service The Director of NWS should ensure that as NWS continues its efforts to develop performance measures for the Evolve Program's reform efforts, it incorporates GAO's key attributes of successful performance measures to the extent appropriate for the program. (Recommendation 1)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
National Weather Service The Director of NWS should ensure that the final communications strategy developed by the Evolve Program is a two-way communications strategy that outlines how NWS will listen and respond to employee concerns about the agency's reform efforts, including NBM. (Recommendation 2)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
National Weather Service The Director of NWS should revise NWS's approach to staffing the Evolve PMO to improve leadership continuity, staff continuity, and the sufficiency of staff resources to effectively implement the Evolve Program's reform efforts. (Recommendation 3)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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