National Weather Service Bans Mobile App Development

The agency will rely on private apps developed using National Weather Service data rather than developing apps itself, but weather service union is calling the move tantamount to privatization.

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

January 10, 2012

3 Min Read

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14 Most Popular Government Mobile Apps

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The National Weather Service has put a hold on the use of internal resources to develop device-specific mobile application for iPhones, Androids, or iPads, and the federal agency's union is not happy about it.

Although numerous federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the White House, have jumped into mobile application development with apps for Android and Apple iOS, others, including the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and now the National Weather Service, are holding off, deciding instead to allow the private sector to develop apps for the public that are powered by agency data. Some open-government advocates also have questioned whether agencies should be developing apps or just enabling the private sector to do it.

However, the agency's union, the National Weather Service Employees Organization, has raised concerns that the new policy is akin to privatization of the National Weather Service, which the union has been fighting for years, and counter to the wider policy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, of which the National Weather Service is a part.

Despite these concerns, National Weather Service data already powers countless mobile apps, including one from the Weather Channel, and is used by other popular apps such as WeatherBug, Radar Now, and an app from Weather Underground.

"There are thousands of weather applications available," National Weather Service deputy director Laura Furgione wrote in a memo to weather service employees on Dec. 21. "Many of them are provided at little or no cost. Many of them use National Weather Service products and some explicitly identify NWS as the source of their information. Given this market, NWS is declaring a hold on use of any NWS resources to develop such applications."

The memo doesn't rule out the possibility that the NWS might develop such an app in the future, and instead says that the move is intended partially to "give NWS time to carefully evaluate our appropriate role."

In response, the weather service's union called the memo "demoraliz[ing]," and asked NOAA administrator Jan Lubchenco to direct Furgione to rescind the memo. "In this fast moving world, the only way for NOAA and its line 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," union president Dan Sobien wrote. "Tying our members' hands is counterproductive."

The National Weather Service did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication. InformationWeek is conducting our third annual State of Enterprise Storage survey on data management technologies and strategies. Upon completion, you will be eligible to enter a drawing to receive an Apple 32-GB iPod Touch. Take our Enterprise Storage Survey now. Survey ends Jan. 13.

About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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