GAO Says Costs and Schedule for NOAA's New Geostationary Weather Satellite Program Present Ongoing Risks

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2009

Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing on the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Geostationary Weather Satellite System. At the hearing Subcommittee Members reviewed the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) latest report, Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES): Acquisitions Has Increased Costs, Reduced Capabilities, and Delayed Schedules, and heard testimony from GAO, NOAA, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

“Every day the GOES system provides us with invaluable information that helps protect people’s lives and property. Today’s testimony shed important light on the future of this program, and why it is important to the American People. However, we need to keep in mind it’s cost, and in these tough economic times, it’s important that we continue the program in a fiscally responsible manner,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA).

The GOES satellites maintain their position in geosynchronous orbit – 22,300 miles about the Earth – travelling at a speed that matches the Earth’s rotation. NOAA depends on its GOES satellites to detect and track weather systems affecting the Western Hemisphere. GOES is used by the Severe Storm Center to track tornadoes, hailstorms, and other weather events threatening life and property on land. The Hurricane Center uses GOES to track developing storms.

Since 1982, when NOAA assumed responsibility for funding its own geostationary operational satellites, the current GOES-R development program is one of the largest procurement for GOES satellites. Originally, NOAA planned to spend $6.2 billion on the GOES-R program, buying them four satellites with a life cycle-period of 2007-2020. Currently, however, the GOES-R program expects to purchase two satellites for $7.6 billion.

The Committee’s concerns regarding the GOES programs arose when NOAA’s other satellite program, the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environment Satellite System (NPOESS), was forced to undergo a Nunn-McCurdy recertification. Today’s report provides GAO’s continuing assessment of NOAA’s management of this critical program.

“While the GOES program has not suffered from the same mismanagement and mistakes that have plagued the polar satellite replacement program, it has not been a model of excellence either,” said Baird. “In our previous hearings we have learned that the preliminary cost estimate for these satellites had doubled and as a result NOAA found it necessary to cut the number of satellites to be ordered in half. Even so, as GAO forecasted, the program cost has again gone up.”

GAO’s report on GOES-R credits the program’s progress in previous areas of concern. The report also discusses areas of risk, such as continuing cost increases, the contract protest creating schedule risk, and reduced numbers of weather products.

For more information or witness testimony, please visit the Committee’s website.

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