NOAA reviews supercomputer pitches

Better hurricane-intensity forecasting may be imminent as the parent agency of the National Weather Service reviews proposals for a new high-performance computer system.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will consolidate its supercomputing resources so all of its agencies can benefit from research and development, officials said.

"Not only will we able to improve upon traditional climate and weather monitoring, but also to develop ecosystems monitoring -- and tie that in to our ocean and climate monitoring," Carl Staton, NOAA's chief information officer, said this week.

A pre-solicitation notice, issued in December 2004, calls for a high-performance computing acquisition to meet each NOAA organization's needs. One contractor will be responsible for the system, according to the notice.

Transportation Department officials will also consolidate information technology systems at a new headquarters building beginning in September 2006. That will save $5 million annually in IT overhead costs. The move to the headquarters on an 11-acre site at the Southeast Federal Center, next to the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., will free funds for mission specific requirements, DOT officials said last week.

Staton said he is paying close attention to DOT's initiative.

Although NOAA's technology management and requirements must be consolidated, the physical machinery does not have to be in one location. The agency has supercomputing facilities in Boulder, Colo.; Princeton, N.J.; and Camp Springs, Md. Interested vendors may use all or none of these facilities in their proposals, according to the acquisition requirements.

Proposals for NOAA's supercomputing system were delivered in May, and the contract will be awarded in September, with installation scheduled to begin in the fall.

NOAA officials expect integration to accelerate the translation of research into applications, such as improved hurricane and global health monitoring.

The agency also plans to use the supercomputing acquisition for a new worldwide environmental monitoring system. The Global Earth Observation System of Systems, a 10-year endeavor, will examine the environment by evaluating a wide range of factors, such as early warning signs of tsunamis and reports of second-hand severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The contract has a potential to last nine years, including two indefinite quantity options. It is estimated to be worth $368 million.

In a related issue, the full House is expected to vote on a new bill that would organize NOAA's responsibilities for the first time. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Act passed the House Science Committee in May.

Introduced by the committee’s Environment, Technology and Standards Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), the bill would create a deputy assistant secretary for science and technology and a chief operating officer.

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