NWS Industrial Meteorology

Policy Statement on the Weather Service/Private Sector Roles

Note: This policy is no longer in effect. For current policy, see: NOAA Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Environmental Information

From the Federal Register, Vol. 56, No. 13, Pg. 1984, Friday, January 18, 1991 / Notices, Docket No. 91045-1009

AGENCY: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Commerce.
ACTION: Notice.

SUMMARY: This notice publishes the policy statement on the weather service/private sector roles entitled "The National Weather Service (NWS) and Private Weather Industry: A Public-Private Partnership." This statement was jointly prepared by the Privatization Branch of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service (NWS). The process, which began in early 1989, resulted in the milestone publication of a draft policy statement in the Federal Register on December 22, 1989 (54 FR 52839). During the past year the comments received, as well as a continuing dialogue with the private sector and internal NWS and OMB coordination, have resulted in this policy statement.

The policy statement focuses on the concept of a public-private partnership to enhance total weather services to the American public, government, and industry. It designates the NWS as the single "official" voice in the critical area of severe weather, hurricane, flood, and tsunamic warnings. It emphasizes the need to protect the free and open exchange of meteorologic, hydrologic, and oceanographic data as well as delimiting the areas in which the NWS and the private sector will provide products and services. It provides a mechanism to implement this policy and establishes a strong basis for a Government/private sector partnership and should minimize any misunderstandings and false expectations which may occur between both parties. It offers the close cooperation and coordination needed to ensure that the public receives the best possible weather service.

Generally the comments received were favorable. Some, however, reflected a concern on the part of the private weather industry that the policy statement could provide restraints on existing activities. Several comments urged the NWS to more clearly define what the relationship between the public and private weather industry should be. The information which follows will address the significant comments received and the new areas which were added to the policy statement. In addition, there were comments concerning clarity in general and changes were made in both restructuring and rewording the statement in order to respond.

Comment--Comments were received from the private weather industry expressing concern on what it perceives as a limited role for it in providing weather services to the general public.

Response--The NWS firmly believes that the private weather industry plays an important and essential role as a partner in ensuring that the Nation receives the full benefit of weather and hydrometeorological information for promoting protection of life and property, and economic prosperity. The final policy statement more clearly delimits areas in which the NWS and the private weather industry will provide such products and services as well as a mechanism to implement the policy.

Comment--Under the section entitled General Criteria, the NWS noncompetition paragraph will be better stated, "The NWS will not compete with the private sector in those areas where the private sector services are available." Along these same lines, a responder voiced concern over the NWS providing specialized agricultural services. Another expressed concern about the NWS withdrawing from providing those same services.

Response--The NWS will not compete with the private sector when a service is currently provided or can be provided by commercial enterprises, unless otherwise directed by applicable law, e.g., the provision of NOAA's Appropriations Act concerning the fruit frost program which has attracted some private sector interest.

The NWS will also assure the public of continuation of services when those services are not available from the private sector, unless directed otherwise.

Comment--Implication of the use of the words "single" and "official," especially in combination, was of great concern to one of the responders. He states that the connotation of the use of the word "official" means "governmental." Then the wording is not objectionable, but if there is any intent here which suggests that by making the NWS the "single official voice," the private weather industry is to be restricted or limited in any way in providing to the public its own weather forecasts or information regarding severe weather or floods, then this is a serious incursion into the area of freedom of speech.

Response--In order to avoid confusion on the part of the public, it is vital that there be one single "official" voice when issuing warnings of life threatening situations. The policy statement is not intended to discourage or preclude the private sector from providing comments and advice on publicly issued warnings, but the distinction between the NWS "official" warning and these comments and interpretations of it must be clear to the public. This is in no way a restraint on freedom of speech.

Comment--Placing scientific data, especially real-time information, that can affect decisions concerning the protection of life and property and the ability of firms in the private weather sector as well as individual meteorologists and scientists to access, analyze, comment upon, predict from, and disseminate information is of grave concern. Placing such resources in the hands of a limited number of major corporations who have control, not only over the collection of the data but its dissemination and the establishment of the price that will be paid for the receipt of the data, coupled with the ability to pick and choose who may be given access to that data, needs to be stopped.

Response--The NWS provides access to near real-time alphanumeric and graphical data and information through a variety of ways. This access is open to anyone in the marketplace who signs an agreement with the NWS or a contractor who has been competitively selected to provide specialized services for the delivery of and access to data by the private sector and others requiring that data. An example is the Contel ASC contract to deliver the NOAA Weather Wire Service to the Government and other subscribers around the Nation at an agreed to price. Contel, like any NWS contractor, cannot pick and choose who receives the data but is required to provide the data both efficiently and at a more reasonable price than the NWS could do by itself. Currently the NWS costs are based on the incremental access costs, but a fair market pricing policy is being developed as a result of the 1990 Budget Reconciliation Act.

Comment--One responder expressed concern over the direct participation of NWS personnel with the radio and television media.

Response--The policy limits direct NWS participation with the radio and television media to those situations requiring urgent public action, as in the case of severe or extreme weather and flooding or to education and preparedness activities.

Comment--Representatives of the World Meteorological Organization and others questioned how the NWS intends to ensure that the free and open international exchange of data concept continues.

Response--The NWS has incorporated into this final policy statement a section requiring that the private weather industry and the NWS work together to protect the free and open international exchange of data provided by the NWS by ensuring that the data are not used to compete directly with or interfere with internal policies of national meteorological agencies in those countries where they also provide commercial weather services. Any activity by a U.S. weather company in another country must, of course, be in accordance with the laws and established practices of that country.

Representatives of the library community questioned whether this policy statement would in any way interfere with existing laws, e.g., title 44 U.S.C., which requires NOAA and NWS publications to be made available through the Depository Program regardless of privatization.

Response--This policy statement in no way changes or alters existing arrangements among NOAA and the NWS and the library community for the receipt of its data and information.

Comment--Insert the following two phrases in the section entitled "The Private Weather Industry."

Response--The first phrase dealing with the provision of climatological summaries, probability values of weather extremes, and similar materials for design and construction has been included in the final policy statement. However, the second phrase was not included since the subject of testimony in litigation is too complex for this statement. The issue is addressed in detail in Federal regulations (15 CFR parts 15a and 909.4) which state that NOAA employees will not provide such testimony and generally anticipate that the private sector will. However, exceptions exist where NOAA and the NWS could provide expert testimony, for example, in Government-related cases. This, of course, in no way precludes the private weather industry's recognized role to provide expert testimony in both civil and Government litigation.

This policy statement is the first of its kind to be developed within NOAA. It applies only to the National Weather Service and should not be interpreted to apply to any other component of NOAA nor to prejudice any future decisions by NOAA and its components with regard to relations with private sector users of their services and products.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Edward M. Gross, Constituent Affairs Officer (NWS), 1325 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, (301) 427-7258.

Elbert W. Friday, Jr.
Assistant Administrator for Weather Services.


Policy Statement of the Weather Service/Private Sector Roles

The National Weather Service and the Private Weather Industry: A Public-Private Partnership

Accurate and timely weather and river forecast and warning systems are vital to the safety and well-being of the Nation's population. Weather and water resources forecasting harnesses modern advances in information to increase the productivity of American industry, thereby contributing to economic growth. A public-private partnership is needed to provide American industry with the most effective means to increase productivity.

A continuing strong cooperative relationship between the National Weather Service (NWS) and the private sector will provide both industry and the general public with more accurate and timely weather and river forecasts and other hydrometeorological products. An effective partnership will allow each sector to perform those functions which it can carry out best and avoid unnecessary duplication or competition between the Government and the private sector.

The purpose of this policy statement is to define the relationship and respective roles of NWS and the private sector to ensure that Federal resources are focused on providing essential core functions and to encourage the private sector to provide those services which it is ideally suited to provide.

The goal is a partnership which enhances total service to the American public, Government and industry.

General Criteria

The policy statement is based on the respective roles of NWS and the private sector described below:

Policy

In order to carry out its mission and foster this public-private partnership, NWS shall:

The NWS also recognizes the important contribution that private broadcast meteorologists, newspapers, and news agencies make to the timely dissemination of NWS watches and warnings and other products that may require public response. The relationship is one of mutual support and cooperation. In order to protect the competitive nature of the privately-owned media, direct NWS participation with the radio and television media should be limited to those situations requiring urgent public. action as in the case of severe or extreme weather and flooding or educational and preparedness activities.

The private weather industry provides:

Free and open international exchange of data.

This concept of a public-private partnership is not intended to discourage or preclude the private sector from providing comments and advice on publicly issued warnings and forecasts nor government agencies from obtaining weather services from the private sector. However, in the critical area of severe weather, hurricane, flood, and tsunami warning, the NWS is the single "official" voice.

Implementation

It is the responsibility of all NWS officials and employees to comply with this policy. An effective partnership requires that the parties understand each other's role and be sensitive to the constraints and aspirations that govern their respective actions. This policy statement cannot cover all possibilities. However, it should minimize any misunderstandings and false expectations between both parties. Close coordination and cooperation are essential to ensure that the public receives the best possible weather service. Regional and local NWS officials should arrange periodic meetings with private meteorologists and hydrologists to promote an exchange of ideas which will be mutually beneficial and increase understanding between the two groups. The overriding goal of this policy statement is to ensure that the Nation receives the full benefit of weather and hydrometeorological information to promote safety of life and property and economic prosperity. Effective partnership between the NWS and the private meteorological sector is the means to that end.

Persons who believe that NWS or any of its employees are providing specialized services contrary to this policy may bring the matter directly to the attention of the Assistant Administrator for Weather Services, 1325 East-West Highway, Room 18130, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910. The Assistant Administrator for Weather Services shall ascertain the facts and report promptly to the complainant the results of his inquiry and advise him of any remedial action that will be taken by the NWS to assure full compliance with this policy. In the event that the situation resulted from decisions made by the Assistant Administrator, the resolution will take place at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration level.

[FR Doc. 91-1242 Filed 1-15-91; 11:37 am]


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