Monday, June 14, 2010

A bureaucratic mistake

All large organizations tend to become top-down driven. Decisions of all sorts get made at some level of administration, sometimes even by relatively minor functionaries within the system, and then are imposed on those who must live with and/or implement those decisions. It takes a huge effort to reverse those decisions, despite the ease with which they get made in the first place. The National Weather Service is, of course, such an organization.

Sometime back, a decision was made, for some reason, to take down the the upper air sounding system at Dodge City, KS in mid-June of this year for some sort of system change. Once that decision was made, no argument was permitted to change the target date, no matter what. The foolishness of this decision is tied to the fact that this date is just past the peak in the severe weather season for the Dodge City area (and surrounding countryside) and those soundings are critical information for forecasting the occurrence of severe weather. The soundings also are important for documenting atmospheric structure, which is an important element in severe weather science (including for the Vortex2 field campaign). The absence of the Dodge City sounding was keenly felt by some of us on 13 June 2010, when supercells, some with tornadoes, occurred in the Oklahoma panhandle - within a huge data void in the operational upper air data created by said absence.

I'm sure that some minor bureaucrat in the NWS hierarchy had a reason for choosing this time to take down the Dodge City sounding system. But I'd be willing to bet that if that same functionary were forecasting the weather in the vicinity of Dodge City, s/he'd be howling bloody murder about the stupidity of this decision. Therein lies the problem, of course. Bureaucrats make decisions, all right, but without any concern for the practical, working-level consequences of those decisions. Why? Because if any of these same system functionaries ever had to do an honest day's work forecasting (which is, after all, the only productive activity of the National Weather Service), they've long ago forgotten what it's like to dirty their hands on the forecasting bench. I've met enough of these administrative coneheads to know that many of them have never been forecasters and so have no idea what impacts their decisions have, and couldn't care less what those impacts are. They're simply selfish careerists who don't give a damn about the productive operations of the agency for which they "work".

So the operational forecasters and the science are made to suffer, simply because some bureaucrat made a stupid, but apparently irrevocable, decision. Oh yeah - top-down bureaucracy at its finest!

1 comment:

Scott said...

It is my guess that we will find the same kind of decision making that resulted in the Deepwater Horizon accident on April 20, 2010. I bet is there was some functionary (middle management, bureaucrat) that made what sounded like to him at the time a series of prudent decisions that inevitably ended in the disaster. But if that person was a worker aboard the oil drilling platform, he would have never made those same decisions. Basically it comes down to tactical level people making decision that should have been made by the operational level people.