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Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites: Changing Requirements, Technical Issues, and Looming Data Gaps Require Focused Attention

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Citation Edit

Government Accountability Office, Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites: Changing Requirements, Technical Issues, and Looming Data Gaps Require Focused Attention (GAO-12-604) (June 15, 2012) (full-text).

Overview Edit

Environmental satellites provide critical data used in forecasting weather and measuring variations in climate over time. NPOESS — a program managed by NOAA, DOD, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration — was planned to replace two existing polar-orbiting environmental satellite systems. However, 8 years after a development contract for the NPOESS program was awarded in 2002, the cost estimate had more than doubled — to about $15 billion, launch dates had been delayed by over 5 years, significant functionality had been removed from the program, and the program’s tri-agency management structure had proven to be ineffective. In February 2010, a presidential task force decided to disband NPOESS and, instead, to have NOAA and DOD undertake separate acquisitions.

The GAO was asked to evaluate (1) efforts to transfer responsibilities from the NPOESS program to the separate NOAA and DOD programs, (2) NOAA's progress in developing its satellite system, and (3) NOAA's efforts to mitigate key project risks. To do so, GAO analyzed program management, contract, cost, and risk data, attended executive program reviews, and interviewed agency and contractor officials.

GAO recommended that the NOAA to establish mitigation plans to address the risk of satellite data gaps. NOAA agreed with GAO's recommendation and noted that the agency is developing a report to address the risk of data gaps.

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