Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites:

Acquisition Is Under Way, but Improvements Needed in Management and Oversight

GAO-09-323: Published: Apr 2, 2009. Publicly Released: Apr 23, 2009.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

David A. Powner
(202) 512-3000
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with the aid of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), plans to procure the next generation of geostationary operational environmental satellites, called the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series (GOES-R). GOES-R is to replace the current series of satellites, which will likely begin to reach the end of their useful lives in approximately 2014. This series is considered critical to the United States' ability to maintain the continuity of data required for weather forecasting through the year 2028. GAO was asked to (1) determine the status of the GOES-R program, (2) evaluate whether plans for the acquisition address problems experienced on similar programs, and (3) determine whether NOAA's plan will be adequate to support current data requirements. To do so, GAO analyzed contractor and program data and interviewed officials from NOAA and NASA.

NOAA has made progress on the GOES-R acquisition, but the program's cost, schedule, and scope have changed. The GOES-R program has moved into the development phase of its acquisition life cycle. It has awarded development contracts for the instruments and plans to award contracts for the spacecraft and ground segments by mid-2009. However, after reconciling program and independent cost estimates, the program established a new cost estimate of $7.67 billion--a $670 million increase from the prior $7 billion estimate. The program also reduced the number of products the satellites will produce from 81 to 34 and slowed the delivery of these products in order to reduce costs. More recently, the program also delayed key milestones, including the launch of the first satellite, which was delayed from December 2014 to April 2015. Such delays could lead to gaps in satellite coverage if NOAA experiences problems with its current operational satellites before a backup satellite is in orbit. GOES-R has taken steps to address lessons from other satellite programs, but important actions remain to be completed. NOAA has made progress in its efforts to address prior lessons by taking steps to ensure technical readiness on key components, using an acceptable cost estimating approach, implementing techniques to enhance contractor oversight, and regularly briefing agency executives. However, technical challenges remain on both the ground segment and the instruments. In addition, the program did not perform a comprehensive review after rebaselining a critical instrument, and it has not documented all of the reasons for cost overruns. Until these issues are addressed, NOAA faces an increased risk that the GOES-Rprogram will repeat the same mistakes that have plagued other satellite programs. NOAA has a plan to meet some, but not all, data requirements. An instrument that was originally planned as part of the GOES-R satellite was to meet requirements for 15 products that are currently produced, as well as 11 new, technically advanced, products. When NOAA removed this instrument from the GOES-R satellite program, it arranged to obtain the current products from another instrument. However, the agency has not developed plans or a timeline to address the requirements for the new products. Doing so would include justifying the funding for any new initiatives within the agency's investment decision process. Until a decision is made on whether and how to proceed in providing the advanced products, key system users, such as weather forecasters, will not be able to meet their goals for improving the accuracy of severe weather warnings. Further, climate research organizations will not obtain the data they need to enhance the science of climate, environmental, and oceanic observations.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve NOAA's ability to effectively manage the GOES-R program, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the NOAA Administrator to, as part of any effort to rebaseline the cost and schedule of the Advanced Baseline Imager, perform an integrated baseline review and ensure that the review includes an assessment of key schedule milestones, the adequacy of resources, task and technical planning, and management processes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency agreed with our recommendation. In September 2009, the GOES-R program performed a comprehensive integrated baseline review of the Advanced Baseline Imager, which included an assessment of key schedule milestones, the adequacy of resources, task and technical planning, and management processes.

    Recommendation: To improve NOAA's ability to effectively manage the GOES-R program, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the NOAA Administrator to improve the agency's ability to oversee contractor performance by ensuring that the reasons for cost and schedule variances are fully disclosed and documented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency agreed with this recommendation. Since our report was issued, the agency has discussed and documented the reasons for cost and schedule variances during its meetings with the contractor.

    Recommendation: To improve NOAA's ability to effectively manage the GOES-R program, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the NOAA Administrator to, if feasible and justified, develop a plan and timeline for recovering the advanced capabilities that were removed from the program when the Hyperspectral Environmental Suite was cancelled.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NOAA agreed with this recommendation and took actions to determine whether the recovery of HES functions were feasible and justified. Specifically, in June 2009, NOAA awarded several contracts to evaluate the feasibility of acquiring atmospheric sounding data and ocean color imaging from a commercial vendor. Based on these evaluations, NOAA determined that it was not feasible or justified to acquire these advanced capabilities. However, the agency continued to search for options that did not involve acquiring new sensors or satellites. In April 2010, NOAA documented options and timelines for obtaining ocean color observations. These plans included, among other things, establishing an arrangement with the Indian Space Research Organization's to access ocean color data from its OceanSat-2 satellite, as well as establishing and funding an ocean color data processing system capability at NOAA by 2012.

    Jul 23, 2014

    Jul 16, 2014

    Jun 20, 2014

    May 15, 2014

    May 8, 2014

    Apr 15, 2014

    Mar 12, 2014

    Feb 4, 2014

    Jan 13, 2014

    Jan 8, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here