IG report: AWIPS not ready

The Commerce Department is rushing its troubled automated weather system into production by October and deploying an incomplete system with serious holes, according to a report due for release today by the department's inspector general's office, a persistent critic of the National Weather Service's $266 million Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System.

"Our concerns with AWIPS haven't changed," said Judy Gordon, assistant inspector general for systems evaluation. "We believe there is no way to develop software to meet that schedule. This milestone is unrealistic and cannot be achieved."

The key issue of dispute between the agency and the IG is whether the deployment schedule for AWIPS should be based on its ability to replace the current weather system, which is aging and has limited capabilities.

"We think they should not go ahead with production and deployment until" the capability to replace the Automation of Field Operations and Services (AFOS) is developed, Gordon said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration acknowledges that the AWIPS schedule is aggressive, said Mary Glackin, modernization systems manager at NWS and AWIPS program manager. "But we believe that the IG report exaggerates the schedule risks that are there."

AWIPS was awarded to PRC Inc. in 1992 and was designed to integrate and display weather information from satellites, radar and sensors. It is the primary processing system for the large-scale weather modernization program.

However, the program has been plagued with delays and design problems. It was restructured with a scaled-down prototype system called Pathfinder, now installed at three sites throughout the country. Even with its limited AWIPS capability, Glackin said there have been improvements in weather warnings and forecasts.

With the Pathfinder system, a weather office can receive a satellite image about every 15 minutes, in contrast to 30 minutes with the older AFOS.

"If we waited to deploy AWIPS until [it is] fully developed, then [weather offices] wouldn't get this high-resolution data in a timely fashion," Glackin said. "This is what we tried to point out. The IG's report didn't consider improvements to weather operations and services, and we believe it's essential to do so."

A PRC spokesman said the company "has every expectation that there will be enough components and system development in place by the October milestone so that the National Weather Service can make that decision" to go ahead with deployment.

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