Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Environmental Information

Final Policy Issued December 1, 2004

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is adopting a policyregarding the provision of information products and services. This policy strengthens the partnership among government, academia and the private sector which provides the nation with high quality environmental information.

The policy responds to recommendations contained in both the National Research Council's (NRC) study, "Fair Weather: Effective Partnerships in Weather and Climate Services," (National Academy Press, 2003) [http://books.nap.edu/catalog/10610.html] and extensive public comments on a proposed policy. The NRC study identified the need for a policy that would recognize advances in technology, as well as the enactment of relevant laws and implementing guidance, particularly the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, 44 USC Part 45, and OMB Circular No. A-130, "Management of Federal Information Resources," 61 FR 6428 (February 20, 1996), [http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/circulars/a130/a130trans4.html] which were promulgated subsequent to a previous National Weather Service (NWS) policy issued in 1991. (56 FR 1984, ( January 18, 1991 ))

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Introduction

Environmental information services about weather, water, and climate are expanding to include chemical, biological, and ecological parameters. This policy uses the term "environmental information services" to capture this reality and convey the intended scope: This policy concerns provision of environmental information by all of NOAA's programs, which are organized by the NOAA strategic plan into NOAA's four mission goals:

Similarly, the broad enterprise providing these services and composed of government, private sector, and academic/research institutions is expanding the scope of the types of information services provided. The term "environmental information enterprise" is used throughout to refer to this growing and vigorous enterprise -- both traditional and emerging elements.

The nation's environmental information enterprise is conducted by many parties whose contributions are complementary and at times overlapping. NOAA has specific mission responsibilities as part of this enterprise, and NOAA also has a responsibility to foster the growth of this complex and diverse enterprise as a whole to serve the public interest and the nation's economy. The nation benefits from government information disseminated both by Federal agencies and by diverse nonfederal parties, including commercial and not-for-profit entities. This policy commits NOAA to give due consideration to these abilities, and to consider the effects of its decisions on the activities of these entities in accordance with applicable law and government-wide policy. NOAA intends to allay fears that it will haphazardly institute significant changes in existing information dissemination activities, or introduce new services, without first carefully considering the full range of views and capabilities of all parties as well as the public's interest in the environmental information enterprise.

The NRC study examined the respective roles of the government, academic, and private sectors, and provided recommendations regarding how the partnership can effectively move forward in an era of rapid advances in science and technology. This three-sector system has led to an extensive and flourishing set of services that are of great benefit to the public and the economy. The NRC also found that some level of tension is an inevitable but acceptable price to pay for the excellent array of weather and climate products and services our nation enjoys. The NRC study challenged the community to reduce the frictions and inefficiencies of the existing system, permitting the three sectors to live in greater harmony. This policy will help advance that goal.

During the period January 12 through June 30, 2004, NOAA sought and received 1473 comments on a proposed policy. Of these, 1190 supported the proposed policy, and 176 opposed it. In addition, 68 comments recommended the proposed policy be applied NOAA-wide. Commenters have helped to clarify the language of the policy and have made important contributions to its content. As described in more detail in the attached background, this policy responds to recommendations from the NRC study, incorporates applicable law and government-wide information policies, and responds to criticisms of the proposed policy.

The policy directs all NOAA offices to "establish and publish procedures to implement this policy" and identifies the NOAA Assistant Administrators and Chief Information Officer as responsible officials for implementation within the policy and management context of each office. It applies to all NOAA activities concerned with provision of environmental information services.

The policy recognizes external parties may disagree with decisions made at the program level and provides these parties recourse to cognizant leadership when they do. The policy also recognizes responsible NOAA officials may need access to independent advice to exercise their oversight of NOAA's information services.

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Scope and application

The nation's environmental information enterprise is conducted by many parties. For convenience, these parties are typically grouped into three sectors - government, private sector entities, and the academic and research community - although the enterprise as a whole also includes non-governmental organizations, private citizens, and others. Activities of NOAA, other government agencies, the private sector, and the academic / research community include, but are not limited to:

This policy only applies to the provision of environmental information services by NOAA. It sets forth basic principles NOAA will apply in making decisions regarding these information services for the purpose of advancing the nation's environmental information enterprise. It does not apply to NOAA acquisition or use of information. Other NOAA policies apply to NOAA's acquisition and use of information in carrying out its mission responsibilities, and to publication of reports, journal articles, and the like. And in particular, this policy does not apply to NOAA's acquisition, use, or provision of information in connection with performing its regulatory responsibilities carried out under applicable law, including the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act.

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Policy

  1. NOAA will adhere to the policies contained in the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, OMB Circular No. A-130, "Management of Federal Information Resources," and other relevant laws. These policies are based on the premise that government information is a valuable national resource, and the benefits to society are maximized when government information is available in a timely and equitable manner to all.
  2. In furtherance of these policies, NOAA will carry out activities that contribute to its mission, including conducting research; providing environmental assessments; collecting and archiving data; ensuring their quality; issuing forecasts, warnings, and advisories; and providing open and unrestricted access to publicly-funded observations, analyses, model results, forecasts, and related information products in a timely manner and at the lowest possible cost to users.
  3. To advance the environmental information enterprise, NOAA will provide information in forms accessible to the public as well as underlying data in forms convenient to additional processing, to the extent practicable and within resource constraints. NOAA will make its data and products available in internet-accessible, vendor-neutral form and will use other dissemination technologies, e.g. satellite broadcast, NOAA Weather Radio, and wireless, as appropriate. Information will comply with recognized standards, formats, and metadata descriptions to ensure data from different observing platforms, databases, and models can be integrated and used by all interested parties.
  4. NOAA recognizes the public interest is served by the ability of private sector entities and the academic and research community to provide diverse services to meet the varied needs of specific individuals, organizations, and economic entities. The nation benefits from government information disseminated both by Federal agencies and by diverse nonfederal parties, including commercial and not-for-profit entities. NOAA will give due consideration to these abilities, and consider the effects of its decisions on the activities of these entities, in accordance with its responsibilities as an agency of the U.S. Government, to serve the public interest and advance the nation's environmental information enterprise as a whole.
  5. NOAA will use appropriate mechanisms to encourage the maximum practicable and timely input from and collaboration with interested persons and entities on decisions affecting the environmental information enterprise. These mechanisms include:
    1. Establishing orderly processes for seeking input and suggestions to create, modify, or discontinue products and services;
    2. Cooperating with, and as necessary establishing, open processes concerned with advancing the environmental information enterprise; and
    3. Seeking advice on specific matters of concern in accord with the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
  6. NOAA will promote the open and unrestricted exchange of environmental information worldwide, and seek to improve global opportunities for developing the enterprise.
  7. NOAA's participation in the environmental information enterprise will be founded on the following principles:
    1. Mission connection: NOAA's information services will support the NOAA mission. As a government agency, NOAA recognizes its core responsibility to protect life and property.
    2. Consultation: Unless public safety or national security concerns dictate otherwise, NOAA will provide interested persons and entities adequate notice and opportunity for input into decisions regarding the development, dissemination, and discontinuance of significant products and services.
    3. Open information dissemination: NOAA recognizes that open and unrestricted dissemination of high quality publicly funded information, as appropriate and within resource constraints, is good policy and is the law.
    4. Equity: NOAA will be equitable in dealings with various classes of entities and will not show favoritism toward any particular entity within a class. NOAA recognizes it has special responsibilities to some users (e.g. public safety officials) and different legal requirements for its interactions with entities of different types (e.g. other federal agencies). NOAA will not provide an information service to one entity unless it can also be provided to other similar entities.
    5. Recognition of Roles of Others: When faced with requests for information services, NOAA will explain existing NOAA services, including their uses and limitations, and inform the requester that others in the environmental information enterprise may be able to meet the requester's needs.
  8. Implementation. NOAA offices will establish and publish procedures to implement this policy. Responsible officials include the NOAA Assistant Administrators and Chief Information Officer.
  9. Complaints. Persons who believe NOAA offices' information services are being provided in a manner contrary to this policy may bring the matter to the attention of the responsible officials (see above) who will ascertain the facts and advise the complainant of their conclusions.
  10. Administrative Review Mechanism. NOAA will establish discretionary administrative review processes that responsible officials may use, as appropriate, to assist in making decisions regarding the creation, modification or termination of significant environmental information services.
  11. Periodic Review. NOAA will review the effectiveness of this policy every five years beginning five years after the implementation date.


                          <signed>                          Date: December 1, 2004
    V. ADM (Ret) Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr.
    Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere

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For further information contact John Sokich (john.sokich@noaa.gov) 301-713-0258

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Background:
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Environmental Information

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  1. Comments on the Proposed Policy

  2. On January 12, 2004, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released for public comment a Proposed Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Weather, Water, Climate, and Related Environmental Information. The comment period, originally due to close on May 14, 2004, was extended to June 30, 2004, in response to a request to allow additional time for the public to comment.

    NOAA sought comments on the proposed policy including whether it is suitable for the activities of the National Weather Service (NWS) in the area of weather, water, climate and related environmental information services; whether the scope of the proposed policy should be expanded to include similar activities of other NOAA offices such as the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), and the National Ocean Service (NOS); and whether adopting the same or similar principles for other NOAA programs would be appropriate.

    NOAA sought comments directly in several ways including a press release, a notice of availability in the Federal Register, notification on NWS web pages, and announcements at various meetings and conferences. In addition, others generated interest in the proposed policy, notably the American Meteorological Society (AMS), the Commercial Weather Services Association (CWSA), the Weather Risk Management Association (WRMA), and slashdot.com. These efforts generated widespread interest in the proposed policy.

    Commenters expressed appreciation for the opportunity to comment on the proposed policy, regardless of their position on the policy itself. For example, the National Council of Industrial Meteorologists (NCIM) stated,

    NCIM strongly supports the policy of 'openness' that the NWS is using to obtain feedback on this draft policy and is grateful for this opportunity to provide feedback. (Comment #1413)

    A total of 1473 comments were received.

    Grouping the comments into major categories, including interpreting ambiguous comments to be in opposition to the proposed NOAA policy, results in approximately the following:

    Of the 1473:

    • 1190 supported the proposed policy.
    • 176 opposed the proposed policy.
    • 850 specifically stated their disagreement with the "Commercial Weather Services Association/private sector" position.
    • 170 specifically supported the "CWSA/private sector" position (which opposes the proposed policy).
    • 68 recommended that the proposed policy be applied NOAA-wide.
    • None recommended that the proposed policy be applied to NWS alone.

    Notes:

    1. A file containing all comments is available at http://weather.gov/fairweather .
    2. Specific comments quoted throughout are referenced by number, referring to the sequence number in this file.
    3. Numbers above do not add to 1473 as they are partially overlapping sets and some comments contained no clear statement of support or opposition.
    4. In addition to these major categories, many commenters offered specific suggestions regarding NOAA's commitment to open internet-based standards in its information systems, and others made suggestions regarding the wording of the proposed policy.

    All comments received have been considered in developing this policy.

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  3. Policy Foundation

  4. The National Research Council's study, "Fair Weather: Effective Partnerships in Weather and Climate Services," (National Academy Press, 2003) [http://books.nap.edu/catalog/10610.html], examined the issues addressed in this policy. The expert study panel, convened in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), was composed of a cross-section of government, academic, and private sector members representing weather and climate interests of the environmental information enterprise. In addition, all interested parties were invited to present their views, and many did so.

    The study found that the United States' vibrant weather and climate enterprise - a leader in the world - is composed of a dynamic partnership among government, academic and private entities engaged in complementary, and at times overlapping, activities. The study also found advances in science and technology have blurred the distinctions between the sectors:

    Each sector contributes in varying degrees to the same activities - data collection, modeling and analysis, product development, and information dissemination - making it difficult to clearly differentiate their roles. ["Fair Weather," p 2]

    The NRC study recognized advances in science and technology are driving the evolution of the weather and climate enterprise, and the rapid changes in science and information and communications technologies underlying environmental forecasting and mitigation efforts are likely to continue. Therefore, the study's primary conclusion was:

    "it is counterproductive and diversionary to establish detailed and rigid boundaries for each sector outlining who can do what and with which tools. Instead, efforts should focus on improving the processes by which the public and private providers of weather services interact. Improving these processes would also help alleviate the misunderstanding and suspicion that exists between some members of the sectors." ["Fair Weather" p.3, italics in original]

    With this as background, the NRC's first recommendation was:

    Recommendation 1. The NWS should replace its 1991 public-private partnership policy with a policy that defines processes for making decisions on products, technologies, and services, rather than rigidly defining the roles of the NWS and the private sector. ["Fair Weather" p.3]

    Comments received by NOAA on the proposed policy also illustrate the growing diversity and capability within each sector. Comments were received from all sectors and from diverse perspectives within each sector. Some comments explicitly addressed this growing diversity, for example:

    Please consider that the "private sector" includes many companies other than the commercial weather distribution companies. We see great value to ourselves as well as many other traditional partners of NWS in the Proposed Policy. (Comment #790)

    The NRC report concluded:

    This three sector system has led to an extensive and flourishing set of weather services that are of great benefit to the U.S. public and to major sections of the U.S. economy. However, the system also has a certain level of built-in friction between the public, private and academic sectors .... Some level of tension is an inevitable but acceptable price to pay for the excellent array of weather and climate products and services our nation enjoys. ["Fair Weather," at pp. 2-3]

    The panel also considered applicable law and policy regarding the obligation of all Federal agencies, including NOAA, to actively disseminate their information to the general public by the most effective available means, particularly using the internet and related technologies. Specifically, the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA), and their implementing guidance, OMB Circular No. A-130, "Management of Federal Information Resources," set forth the fundamental obligation of government agencies to actively disseminate taxpayer-funded information to the general public.

    Section 8(a)(8) of Circular A-130 (http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/circulars/a130/a130trans4.html) states:

    Agencies will use electronic media and formats, including public networks, as appropriate and within budgetary constraints, in order to make government information more easily accessible and useful to the public. [emphasis added]

    Appendix IV of the Circular explains:

    A basic purpose of the PRA is to "provide for the dissemination of public information on a timely basis, on equitable terms, and in a manner that promotes the utility of the information to the public and makes effective use of information technology." (44 U.S.C. 3501(7)) Agencies can frequently enhance the value, practical utility, and timeliness of government information as a national resource by disseminating information in electronic media. Electronic collection and dissemination may substantially increase the usefulness of government information dissemination products for three reasons. First, information disseminated electronically is likely to be more timely and accurate because it does not require data reentry. Second, electronic records often contain more complete and current information because, unlike paper, it is relatively easy to make frequent changes. Finally, because electronic information is more easily manipulated by the user and can be tailored to a wide variety of needs, electronic information dissemination products are more useful to the recipients.

    In furtherance of its mission, NOAA provides forecasts, warnings and data to all on equitable terms and in convenient forms, including through the internet, satellite broadcast, and radio technologies. NOAA directly provides much of the underlying data and information used by the private sector to create specialized value-added products, but under the law must also make it available to all taxpayers, not just a select few.

    The United States is the only country to directly support its private sector with comprehensive government-funded data services in this way. Some commenters view this as a government subsidy for the private sector, and urge that the private sector be charged for data access as is done in some countries. However, NOAA believes providing comprehensive government-funded data has fueled the growth of the enterprise as a whole and supports environmental information services which are among the best in the world. NOAA also works to advance these principles internationally. As the Weather Risk Management Association stated:

    We welcome your efforts to promote the open and unrestricted exchange of weather, water, climate, and related environmental information worldwide .... data issues are critical to sustain our industry, not only in the U.S., but globally as well. (Comment #1146)

    As part of its work, the NRC panel actively solicited examples of perceived unfair competition but did not document any instance where private-sector entities were demonstrably damaged by NOAA actions. The most significant complaints of a few private sector firms are in Appendix D of "Fair Weather," pp. 149-191. Many of the comments critical of the proposed policy repeated themes documented there. See also, Appendix E, "On Fairness and Self-Serving Biases in the Privatization of Environmental Data," pp. 193-211.

    NOAA's proactive information dissemination activities raise public awareness of the importance of environmental information. The public, and particularly specialized users, then avail themselves of a wide variety of tailored commercial services of the private sector including national media outlets and local broadcast and print media, comprehensive service providers, numerous specialty firms, hundreds of private consultants, as well as the rapidly growing weather risk management sector and internet information services. This is precisely the arrangement which the Academy applauded.

    Accordingly, this policy responds specifically to the NRC's first recommendation:

    Strengthening the public-private partnership
    In an attempt to foster collaboration, rather than conflict, the NWS has adopted a series of policies to guide its interactions with the private sector since the 1970s. The 1991 public-private partnership policy and its predecessors have taken the same approach - to define the roles of the NWS and the private sector and to provide guidelines for avoiding competition. However, defining exactly what activities should be carried out by the NWS is a matter of interpretation - social, political, and lega l- and the interpretation changes as new laws are enacted. Moreover, the current policy specifies that the NWS will not provide services that the private sector is currently providing or could provide, unless otherwise directed by law. This guideline is untenable because the private sector can now do much of what the NWS legitimately does, and there may be good public policy reasons for the NWS to carry out certain activities, even if the private sector does or could do them. Although the 1991 policy does not work as intended, the committee believes that a policy is necessary - one that emphasizes processes for interactions among the sectors and takes account of newer federal government laws and policies.

    Recommendation 1. The NWS should replace its 1991 public-private partnership policy with a policy that defines processes for making decisions on products, technologies, and services, rather than rigidly defining the roles of the NWS and the private sector. ["Fair Weather," at p. 3, italics added.]

    Sections below discuss specific features of the policy, followed by sections which address concerns raised by comments on the proposed policy.

  5. NOAA-wide Implementation

  6. This policy applies to the provision of environmental information services by NOAA. It sets forth basic principles NOAA will apply in making decisions regarding the provision of these information services for the purpose of advancing the operation of the nation's environmental information enterprise as a whole.

    NOAA sought comments on the proposed policy including whether the scope of the proposed policy should be expanded beyond NWS to include similar activities of other NOAA offices such as NESDIS, OAR, and NOS. NOAA offices are increasingly interdependent in their information activities, making it difficult to operate under different policies. The comments received also show significant support for expanding the scope to encompass all of NOAA, and no explicit support for restricting its scope to NWS alone. Some who opposed the proposed policy on other grounds supported its extension beyond NWS, for example:

    The 1991 public private partnership policy should: be strengthened, not replaced with a process; and be expanded to include NOAA and other agencies in the federal weather enterprise ... (Comment #1232)

    As discussed below, NWS has implemented procedures which comport with this policy and implement some of its provisions. The policy directs all NOAA offices to "establish and publish procedures to implement this policy" and identifies the NOAA Assistant Administrators and Chief Information Officer as responsible officials for implementation within the policy and management context of each office. Although NWS, NESDIS, NOS, OAR, and the CIO have responsibilities most closely aligned with this policy, it applies to all NOAA activities concerned with provision of environmental information services.

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  7. Scope Limitations

  8. The policy includes certain limitations in scope:

    This policy only applies to the provision of environmental information services by NOAA. It sets forth basic principles NOAA will apply in making decisions regarding these information services for the purpose of advancing the nation's environmental information enterprise. It does not apply to NOAA acquisition or use of information. Other NOAA policies apply to NOAA's acquisition and use of information in carrying out its mission responsibilities, and to publication of reports, journal articles, and the like. And in particular, this policy does not apply to NOAA's acquisition, use, or provision of information in connection with performing its regulatory responsibilities carried out under applicable law, including the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act.

    Concerning acquisition, all parties in the environmental information enterprise increasingly cooperate in establishing observing systems and sharing observational data, both in the US and globally. NOAA acquires observations and other information from many participants in the environmental information enterprise through numerous means including contracts, agreements of various types, treaties, and open sources. NOAA expects these arrangements to continue, and indeed expand. NOAA excludes acquisition from the scope of this policy, because applicable law, policy, and procedures for NOAA acquisition of information differ greatly according to the source.

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  9. Commitment to Open Internet-Based Standards for Information Sharing

  10. As cited above, OMB Circular A-130 requires that Federal agencies make their information available in commonly accepted formats and distribute it over publicly accessible means, such as the internet.

    In the mid-1990's, the internet became a primary dissemination method for public information of all types. NOAA has contributed through hundreds of websites that are accessed by millions of citizens. By 2004, more than 6 million citizens access NOAA websites daily to view NOAA data with much higher peak use, e.g. during a hurricane, and NOAA processes some 200,000 online requests each year for historical climatological data.

    NOAA environmental information has historically been made available in formats that are unique to the community using the information. These community-unique formats are widely known and used, and some of them are international and/or interagency standards. As a result, there is considerable inertia to continue NOAA information in existing formats, and in any case, this policy requires "orderly processes for seeking input and suggestions to .... discontinue products and services."

    However, for those not already using them, learning and developing programs to access these community-unique formats is a formidable task, both in learning about the formats and in creating custom code to process them, since few resources are available. The use of Extendable Markup Language (XML) and other open standards lowers the barriers to entry in the commercial marketplace, as pointed out in this comment from the Center for Democracy and Technology:

    Open standards are the key to future openness in the marketplace. In particular, the use of XML based standards offers an unprecedented opportunity. While shutting down new XML data feeds in favor of proprietary standards may please some companies in the private weather sector today, the end result will be a less diverse and less competitive market by restricting the creation of specialized weather products, tools, and models in the academic and private sectors. Improved data access benefits all sectors in the weather enterprise by maximizing the affordability, availability and usefulness of NWS weather information services to a large population and will open opportunities for business plans that can not even be predicted today. We hope that the NWS will adopt policies supportive of technical capabilities that allow users to access information directly through standardized formats and believe that the NRC document created a reasonably clear roadmap to reach this goal. (Comment #1444)

    Several commenters expressed an interest in XML services, and NOAA/NWS has experimented with several XML based services, e.g. NOAA's new digital weather data that provides forecast information at a 5x5 kilometer resolution. (See http://weather.gov/forecasts/xml) Results have been promising. For example, 80 percent of citizens who responded to a survey ranked ease of use of one NWS XML service seven or higher (scale of 1-10).

    In addition to XML, NOAA is also using other commonly accepted formats, including open geographic information system (GIS) protocols and formats, wireless device formats (WAP/HTML) and email (SMTP) to disseminate data. Use of these formats meets the requirement of OMB Circular No. A-130. Other OMB Circulars, such as OMB Circular No. A-16, which is aimed at creating a nationwide spatial data infrastructure, also apply in some cases.

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  11. Enhancing a "Culture of Consultation"

  12. Section 8(a)(6)(j) of OMB Circular A-130 requires agencies to:

    Provide adequate notice when initiating, substantially modifying, or terminating significant information dissemination products.

    Appendix IV of the Circular explains:

    Among agencies' responsibilities for dissemination is an active knowledge of, and regular consultation with, the users of their information dissemination products. A primary reason for communication with users is to gain their contribution to improving the quality and relevance of government information - how it is created, collected, and disseminated .... A key part of communicating with the public is providing adequate notice of agency information dissemination plans .... . The decision to initiate, terminate, or substantially modify the content, form, frequency, or availability of significant products should also trigger advance public notice.

    NWS has implemented policies and procedures to comply with these requirements in part. NWS Directives 1-10, "Management of Information Resources," and 10-102, "New or Enhanced Products and Services," are the most directly relevant NWS policies. (1-10: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/directives/001/pd00110a.pdf ; 10-102: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/directives/010/pd01001002a.pdf )

    NWS Directive 10-102 establishes procedures for documenting, seeking comments on, and making decisions about, whether new or enhanced products and services should advance from experimental to operational. NWS has followed such an open public notice and comment process on a number of occasions and values the contributions such processes have made to improved decision making. For example, on December 30, 2001, NWS "went live" with a prototype "common look and feel" web page design to be implemented on all NWS web pages. Prior to that time, most NWS Offices and Centers maintained their own unique web page designs, layouts and navigation tools. This led to complaints regarding poor usability, inconsistency of information content, and difficulties in navigating among sites. Others argued that NWS should have no, or at least a very limited, internet presence at all.

    During a two month period ending March 1, 2002, some 1,084 comments were received from people in all professions and walks of life. About 80% generally supported or applauded the proposed common approach, and less than 10% opposed it, the rest being neutral. Many of the comments included specific technical and content suggestions which were immediately provided to the design team and which resulted in significant improvements to the functionality and user-friendliness of the prototype design.

    NOAA believes it is appropriate to seek the views of the entire community prior to making significant decisions regarding information products and dissemination technologies. In addition, as NOAA has never had a specific policy on this topic, this policy brings all of NOAA into explicit compliance with the public consultation provisions of the PRA and OMB Circular No. A-130. As one commenter stated:

    I would like to commend the Weather Service for bringing their old policy into compliance with Federal law, the Paperwork Reduction Act, and compliance with government-wide regulation on dissemination, OMB Circular A-130, almost 10 years after they were issued. The government has a central principle of proactive dissemination of government information. The citizens own it, they funded its creation and gathering. This policy fosters innovation, reduces uncertainty in the marketplace, and makes the modern economy more efficient .... . This policy will increase research, innovation, and economic growth as the PRA and A-130 intended. (Comment #1335)

    This NOAA policy establishes top-level policy principles, drawn from the Fair Weather report in large part and consistent with applicable law and government-wide policy. The policy directs NOAA offices to "establish and publish procedures to implement this policy," and further defines the officials responsible for implementation to include the NOAA Assistant Administrators (AA) and Chief Information Officer (CIO). The proposed NOAA policy is in general agreement with existing NWS Directives 1-10 and 10-102. Other NOAA offices will likewise need to implement the NOAA policy within the policy and management context of each office.

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  13. Forums for Discussing Common Concerns

  14. NOAA has a long history of cooperation with outside groups to share views on current and planned products and services. In some cases, these contacts are organized directly by NOAA; in others, external groups, notably the American Meteorological Society (AMS), organize venues for these interactions. Recent examples include NOAA stakeholders meetings used to develop the NOAA Strategic Plan; the annual NWS Partners Workshop which is organized by NWS as an opportunity to discuss NWS programs affecting users of its information services; a session at the AMS Fifth Symposium on Fire and Forest Meteorology which focused on NWS policy for provision of fire weather services and led to a revision of that policy; the Climate and Global Change Working Group of the NOAA Science Advisory Board, the annual Family of Services meeting which brings together high-volume users of NOAA data feeds; local meetings with emergency and public safety managers, community groups, and users of NOAA products; and numerous others. This policy supports continuing such interactions.

    The American Meteorological Society (AMS) has a diverse and balanced membership among public sector, private sector, and academic practitioners. Recognizing this, the NRC Fair Weather report's recommendation 3 states:

    Recommendation 3. The NWS and relevant academic, state, and private organizations should seek a neutral host, such as the American Meteorological Society, to provide a periodic dedicated venue for the weather enterprise as a whole to discuss issues related to the public-private partnership.
    ["Fair Weather," p. 5]

    The AMS has responded to this recommendation in several ways: AMS organized a webcast on April 14, 2004, to encourage the enterprise as a whole to consider carefully the proposed NOAA/NWS partnership policy and to respond during the open comment period. In a similar vein, the 33rd Conference on Broadcast Meteorology, 14 - 18 June 2004, included a session focused on the proposed policy shortly before the close of the comment period. AMS is also contemplating changes in the institutional structure of the Society to foster such gatherings. NOAA applauds the initiative of AMS in these matters and contemplates continued participation in and support for meetings and other events sponsored by AMS aimed at improved communication among parties affected by NOAA information services. However, this is not an exclusive arrangement - NOAA will also continue to participate in and support interactions sponsored by other groups.

    Finally, NOAA recognizes the specific requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act and may commission bodies operating under FACA to seek specific advice and recommendations as appropriate. The NOAA Science Advisory Board (SAB) is chartered under FACA and may be called on to advise NOAA on matters related to this policy which are appropriate to the composition and charter of the SAB. The National Research Council also operates under FACA rules and may be used in similar fashion, e.g. NRC prepared the "Fair Weather" report which is a foundation for this policy. NOAA will continue to use such FACA bodies to address broad concerns affecting the enterprise. As discussed below, such FACA bodies may also be called upon in the context of administrative review of specific NOAA information services.

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  15. Complaints

  16. Some commenters compared the language of the 1991 NWS policy to the proposed policy, and complained regarding the lack of explicit language regarding complaint procedures:

    Among the negative approaches and effects of this proposal are:
    ....

    The complaint and appeal process is eradicated.
    (Comment #1417)

    The final policy addresses this concern by including a clear statement regarding the responsibilities of named NOAA officials to respond to complaints. NOAA expects most issues to be successfully resolved at this level, but recognizes some may be taken up with higher officials in NOAA.

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  17. Discretionary Administrative Review Processes

  18. This policy identifies the NOAA officials responsible for implementation in a consistent and equitable manner for all NOAA information services covered by this policy. By nature of their positions, they have the necessary authority. These officials may wish to seek advice from time to time to exercise their authority appropriately. Such advice may take the form of informal discussions with colleagues and staff or, on purely technical matters, support from contracts. However, these officials may wish to use more formal advisory mechanisms to assure consistent application of Federal and NOAA information management and related policies and laws; and to assure external parties that the "due consideration" standard is applied fairly, consistently, and with a degree of independence. Accordingly, this policy recognizes the need for discretionary administrative review processes to support the NOAA officials responsible for implementation.

    Responsible officials may seek formal independent advice through advisory bodies composed of government officials or advisory bodies with broader membership.

    NWS has successfully prototyped an advisory body composed of government officials. The Assistant Administrator (AA) for Weather Services established this body in the context of the "Fair Weather" report, the existing policy framework within NWS, and the NOAA/NWS partnership policy as proposed on January 12, 2004. This NWS body is composed of government experts outside of NWS (including experts outside NOAA and DOC) with backgrounds appropriate for the legal, policy, and technical issues the AA for Weather Services may ask them to address. Extending a similar approach NOAA-wide will serve to give all responsible officials (including AAs and the CIO) access to advice when needed to inform their decisions regarding significant information services which may affect the environmental information enterprise.

    Responsible officials also have recourse to advisory bodies established in accord with FACA including the National Research Council and the NOAA Science Advisory Board.

    Actions taken by responsible officials based on advice they receive from any of these discretionary administrative review processes will be made available to the public and will be considered as part of the five-year periodic review of this policy discussed in the following section.

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  19. Periodic Review

  20. As NRC's "Fair Weather" report points out, advances in science and technology are driving the enterprise and can be expected to continue - providing opportunities for improved services by all, but also creating the potential for new sources of friction. Recognizing this potential, and also the challenge posed by NOAA-wide implementation of a new policy of such scope, the policy includes a provision for periodic review - NOAA will review the effectiveness of this policy every five years.

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  21. Concerns Regarding Procedural Approach

  22. A number of commenters criticized the proposed policy for a lack of procedural detail, some referring specifically to the phrase in the "Fair Weather" report's first recommendation italicized above (section 2). As discussed above, NOAA is taking three complementary approaches to developing processes to assist in making decisions on significant public information dissemination products, technologies, and services as follows:

    1. Enhancing a "culture of consultation" throughout NOAA supported by orderly processes and specific procedures. This element renews NOAA's commitment to open consultation on significant information dissemination decisions, as required by the Paperwork Reduction Act and OMB Circular No. A-130.
    2. Providing NOAA leadership with independent expert advice as may be needed in making such decisions.
    3. A commitment to work actively with others to continue and, as appropriate, create effective forums for the community to come together to discuss topics of shared interest.

    NOAA believes that enhancing its processes for consultation, exercising administrative review processes, and advancing forums for dialogue within the community is responsive to the NRC report and applicable law, appropriate for a government agency, and most likely to serve the public interest.

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  23. Concerns Regarding Respective Roles and "Competition"

  24. As discussed above, the fundamental conclusion of the NRC "Fair Weather" report is founded on an understanding that the roles of the participants are increasingly difficult to differentiate based on their activities and the tools they use and that efforts to resolve the inevitable conflicts between participants should therefore be founded on improved processes for making decisions, not on an attempt to specify roles of the participants. However, this fundamental conclusion is not shared by all who commented on the proposed policy - one theme in the comments of those who opposed the proposed policy was concern that the lack of specific enumeration of roles within the proposed policy signaled NOAA's intention to significantly alter these roles, which is not the case. Similarly, some read the lack of a specific "will not compete" phrase, contained in the 1991 NWS policy, as signaling NOAA's intent to actively compete with the private sector - also not the case.

    The broadcast community is illustrative. Several broadcasters expressed concern that the proposed policy failed to provide an explicit recognition of their critical role, for example:

    I am concerned that the critical partnership between the NWS and broadcasters in the dissemination of watches and warnings is no longer recognized in the proposed policy document. (Comment #1453)

    However, this concern was not universal within the broadcast community, as expressed by another broadcaster:

    As to the actual wording of the document, I don't see any reason why a policy statement for the NWS should include statements about broadcast meteorology or commercial weather services. (Comment #1318)

    Some commenters opposed to the proposed policy also included language from the comment of the Commercial Weather Services Association:

    The Commercial Weather Services Association has gone on record, in commenting on the NRC report, asserting that the 1991 policy....be strengthened and not replaced with a process....

    Earlier this year, NOAA/NWS advanced a new proposed policy which would replace the 1991 policy. This proposal steps backwards, rather than advancing the good of the nation. Among the negative approach and effects of this proposal are: ....

    The non-competition language will be repealed. (Even the NRC report suggested a process envisioned a continuing policy of non-competition.) ....The present path of the proposed new National Weather Service policy introduces greater risk for the private sector, not less. It can negatively impact job growth and corporate stability in the Commercial Weather Industry and it will disadvantage the American public.
    (Comment #1227)

    The final policy language is changed from the proposal to clarify NOAA's recognition of the vital part all sectors play in the nation's environmental information enterprise and the special role of the broadcast community. The final language with respect to consideration of capabilities of external parties follows:

    4. NOAA recognizes the public interest is served by the ability of private sector entities and the academic and research community to provide diverse services to meet the varied needs of specific individuals, organizations, and economic entities. The nation benefits from government information disseminated both by Federal agencies and by diverse nonfederal parties, including commercial and not-for-profit entities. NOAA will give due consideration to these abilities, and consider the effects of decisions on the activities of these entities, in accordance with its responsibilities as an agency of the US government, to serve the public interest and advance the nation's environmental information enterprise as a whole.

    NOAA intends this clear statement to allay fears that it will haphazardly institute significant changes in existing information dissemination activities, or introduce new services without first carefully considering the full range of views and capabilities of all parties as well as the public's interest in the environmental information enterprise. This "background" to the policy also addresses these concerns. However, the basic focus of the policy on improving processes and institutions for dialogue and consultation, rather than enumerating roles, is not changed.

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