A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-sponsored study recommends creating a new, automated national weather service, cutting in half the number of employes, closing 90 percent of weather stations, eliminating the weather radio channel and encouraging private companies to provide weather services.
The report, released by NOAA yesterday, envisions a streamlined, automated and more technologically powerful weather service by the year 2000. It would concentrate more sophisticated weather-sensing instruments in far fewer weather offices, and would end many services now provided by the weather service.
The new high-technology weather service would take 15 years to put in place, and cost about $680 million. But the report said that the proposal will eventually result in savings of about $38 million per year by transferring or firing 1,700 weather service employes and eliminating the weather radio channel now used by 3 million to 5 million people, primarily boaters, but including others who want to keep track of weather continuously or in detail.
NOAA spokesmen said the report, prepared by the consulting firm of Booz Allen & Hamilton Inc., has not been adopted and won't be for as long as a year.
NOAA already has made plans independently of the report to begin cutting back its staff and turning over some weather service functions to private companies.
The new study proposes cutting weather service stations around the country from the present 269 to between 25 and 50. The stations are observation centers that monitor local weather conditions and alert communities to weather problems.
The staff of the field offices would be cut almost in half, from about 3,950 to about 2,190. All 300 or so weather service radio stations would be eliminated, along with the daily weather broadcast called AM weather.
Rep. James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.), who chairs a House subcommittee that deals with weather and related issues, said, "We have some really serious concerns about the Booz Allen study. Our judgment is that the weather service is already at the breaking point as far as effectiveness is concerned.
"We are concerned that this study seems to have originated from a very strong ideological bias--the goal of study laid out was to show that the weather service could be cut in half. As is always the case, anybody can get any study to show anything they want," Scheuer said.
Government officials would not comment on the merits of the proposal, but one former high official of NOAA said, "Some parts of the report make sense, but some parts are totally flawed."
"Nobody really knows what you can really reduce the system down to," said this person, who asked to remain anonymous. "I can design a weather system based on eliminating all the weather stations but one, and I could provide weather forecast from a single office. But the real question is not whether you can do it with one or 25 weather offices, but how well you can protect the public and industry doing it that way."
The Booz Allen report suggested that the weather service streamline itself by concentrating on a "core mission," which is to provide severe-weather warnings and general weather forecasts to the public.
Not counted as part of the mission are aviation forecasts and warnings, oceanographic analyses related to marine weather, agriculturual forecasts, and forecasts for commerce and industry. Those forecasts would be turned over to private companies.
The weather service would provide federal agencies with such "specialized" forecasts, and the federal agencies would be charged for the services. For instance, the Federal Aviation Administration would pay for aviation weather forecasting.