AWIPS' cost, schedule scrutinized

The National Weather Service's Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) came under fire once again last week for cost overruns, schedule delays and a questionable software development strategy.

It is now expected that AWIPS, the cornerstone of the NWS modernization plan, will cost $525 million when completed in 1999, a figure well in excess of the $350 million price quoted in 1986. It is feared that figure could reach more than $600 million before the project is completed, according to Commerce Department inspector general Frank DeGeorge.

AWIPS' development has been characterized "by substantial cost growth, protracted schedules, management instability and sluggish technical progress," DeGeorge testified before the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment last week. DeGeorge added that rushing the initial deployment of AWIPS, set for August, will lead to millions of dollars in cost overruns because only 20 percent of the system software is developed.

"I think they should deploy when they're sure the software will work," DeGeorge said. In August AWIPS will not be a system but a "limited collection of disparate capabilities" and would be "risky" to deploy.

James Baker, undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said at the hearing that the main disagreement is over "how to put AWIPS together to make it work." NOAA believes the AWIPS schedule is achievable and that there will be enough capability to start deployment in August, with nationwide deployment to follow.

"It's more prudent to proceed with nationwide deployment to begin capturing both the benefits and the experiences from operational use that cannot be obtained in a test bed or at a limited number of sites," Baker said. Deployment delays, he added, would increase costs.

Jack Brock Jr., director of the IRM/Resources, Community and Economic Development Accounting and Information Management Division at the General Accounting Office, also criticized the NWS for beginning software builds before the previous build has been fully tested and debugged. This "introduces a big element of risk that could ultimately slow the system's completion...not to mention raise its price tag," he said.

In a statement issued last week, PRC said, "The current AWIPS deployment schedule will provide a fielded capability that will grow incrementally. We certainly agree with NOAA's strategy. It is an approach from which forecasters, who are the everyday users of AWIPS, can learn and provide vital and timely feedback for use in future development."

AWIPS will integrate weather data from radars, sensors and satellites.

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