Weather Service Puts App Development on Hold

Susan Hall

Feeling your work is on the cutting edge can be a big attraction for a job. So it's no wonder the National Weather Service Employees Union is up in arms about a agency directive not to be building weather apps for specific mobile devices.

 

In a Dec. 21 memo, Weather Service Deputy Director Laura K. Furgione called a halt to such app development, citing the numerous inexpensive or free apps created by developers in the private sector, The Washington Post reports. She wrote:

This will avoid using NWS resources to duplicate products readily available in the marketplace and give NWS time to carefully evaluate our appropriate role.

But Employees Union Director Dan Sobien quickly replied that this amounts to privatizing part of the agency's core mission, which is to disseminate the latest weather information to the public. It's been fighting privatization through previous Republican administrations. Said Sobien:

In this fast-moving world, the only way for NOAA [the Weather Service parent agency] and its lines offices to achieve our mission is to grow with changing technology, and because what we offer is a service to the American public, clearly we must be on the cutting edge of communication technology...

 

[This ] has done more to demoralize the NWS work force than anything since the Bush Administration proposed to close Weather Forecast Offices ...

 

All our members want to do is save lives, enhance our nation's economy and do what we can to protect the environment. Tying our members' hands from doing so is counterproductive for them, the NWS and NOAA.

Because the government pays to generate the weather information used in so many of the apps, the union argues that the public should not be forced to pay for an app to receive that information.


 

Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro in email to the Post, pointed out that this only applies to apps for particular devices. The article says the Weather Service does not have its own iPhone or an Android app. The Weather Channel's free iPhone app is the most popular free weather app, according to iTunes.

 

Said Vaccaro:

It's important to maintain the complementary services provided by the commercial weather sector and to ensure the most appropriate and effective use of our internal resources.

But given the government's difficulty in keeping top talent, it needs every opportunity to made government work attractive. Nextgov.com put it like this:

... there's also a question of performance and morale. Can you ask an organization that's used to being on the cutting edge of technology to ignore the biggest new thing in communications technology and expect its other work not to suffer?


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