Report: NWS' key modernization project to cost hundreds of millions more

The National Weather Service's Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System may cost millions more than what was anticipated a couple years ago, according to a report that was discussed at a House hearing today.

AWIPS, which will for the first time integrate satellite, radar and sensor data on one workstation, will cost between $590 million and $647 million, depending on whether the department runs into any further problems with development, according to a Booz-Allen&Hamilton Inc. report that was discussed at the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.

AWIPS, which is the cornerstone of the NWS' $4.5 billion modernization program, was estimated to cost $350 million in 1985. The program currently is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

The General Accounting Office, Congress and the Commerce Department's own inspector general has criticized the AWIPS program for being over budget and behind schedule. About two years ago, Congress placed a $550 million funding cap on the program in an effort to contain costs.

James Baker, undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere at Commerce, said the department is conducting its own study to see how much of the AWIPS development can be done under the $550 million cap. The Booz-Allen study, released last month, was done at the request of the department.

Meanwhile, Joel Willemssen, director of civilian agencies information systems at GAO's Accounting and Information Management Division, testified that AWIPS is not Year 2000-compliant. "[Software] build 4.2—- set for completion a year from now—- is supposed to make all AWIPS applications Year 2000-compliant," Willemssen said. "But several questions remain [and] perhaps the most obvious is: What if it does not?"

Baker said the Year 2000 issue is a "high priority" for the department. "We are currently on track to have Year 2000 issues repaired by March 1999. We will make sure all the old AWIPS code is identified and replaced."

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