GAO-10-799 September 2010 Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites:
Improvements Needed in Continuity Planning and Involvement of Key Users


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Over the last few years, the GOES-R program has continued to make progress on key development efforts, but much work remains to be completed. While the GOES-R program has awarded most development contracts, two instruments have experienced technical challenges that led to contract cost increases, and significant work remains on the program's flight and ground projects. In addition, continued delays in the launch date of the first two satellites in the GOES-R series have endangered satellite continuity because these delays extend the time in which there will not be a backup satellite in orbit. Any further delays in the launch of the first satellite in the GOES-R program increases the risk of a gap in satellite coverage.

The risk of a gap in coverage is further exacerbated because NOAA has not established adequate continuity plans. While NOAA plans to reduce to a single satellite and, if available, rely on an international satellite, these plans have weaknesses, including a lack of continuity plans needed to support geostationary satellite operations during an emergency. Until these weaknesses are addressed, NOAA faces a potential 12-month gap where it may not be able to provide critical geostationary data needed for predicting global and local weather events in the event of a satellite failure.

Finally, NOAA has taken steps to identify GOES data users, prioritize their data needs, and communicate program changes, but has not adequately involved or communicated with key external users. For example, while NOAA involved internal users in its process for defining and prioritizing the GOES-R requirements, improvements are needed in these processes to ensure that other federal agencies that rely on GOES data have a means to provide documented input to the requirements and the prioritization of those requirements. Further, while NOAA has taken steps to communicate with GOES data users, it has not established processes to notify other federal agencies of GOES-R program status and significant changes. Until these improvements are made, important GOES users may lose access to critical data products and future GOES acquisitions may not meet the mission requirements of these users.