Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites:

Progress Has Been Made, but Improvements Are Needed to Effectively Manage Risks

GAO-08-18: Published: Oct 23, 2007. Publicly Released: Oct 23, 2007.

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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 Satellites-R series (GOES-R). 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) assess the status and plans for GOES-R, and (2) evaluate whether NOAA is adequately mitigating key technical and programmatic risks. To do so, GAO analyzed contractor and program data and interviewed officials from NOAA and NASA.

NOAA has made progress in planning its GOES-R procurement--which is estimated to cost $7 billion and scheduled to have the first satellite ready for launch in 2014--but cost and schedules are likely to grow. Specifically, the agency completed preliminary design studies of GOES-R and recently decided to separate the space and ground elements of the program into two separate development contracts. However, this change in the GOES-R acquisition strategy has delayed a decision to proceed with the acquisition. Further, independent estimates are higher than the program's current cost estimate and convey a low level of confidence in the program's schedule. Independent studies show that the estimated program could cost about $2 billion more, and the first satellite launch could be delayed by 2 years. As NOAA works to reconcile the independent estimate with its own program office estimate, costs are likely to grow and schedules are likely to be delayed. To address cost, schedule, and technical risks, the GOES-R program has established a risk management program and has taken steps to mitigate selected risks. For example, as of July 2007, the program office identified the lack of an integrated master schedule to be its highest priority risk and established plans to bring this risk to closure. However, more remains to be done to fully address GOES-R risks. Specifically, the program has multiple risk watchlists that are not always consistent and key risks are missing from the watchlists, including risks associated with unfilled executive positions, limitations in NOAA's insight into NASA's deliverables, and insufficient funds for unexpected costs--called management reserves. As a result, the GOES-R program is at risk that problems will not be identified or mitigated in a timely manner and could lead to program cost overruns and schedule delays.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The GOES-R program has developed and is maintaining a program-level risk list that includes risks from its flight and ground projects. Additionally, the GOES-R System Program Director reports on program-level risks and mitigation efforts during monthly program management reviews.

    Recommendation: To improve NOAA's ability to effectively manage the procurement of the GOES-R system, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere to ensure that the GOES-R program office manages, mitigates, and reports on risks using a program-level risk list that is reconciled with and includes risks from its flight and operations project offices that could impact the overall program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NOAA has not added the risks we identified to its risk lists, but has taken steps to mitigate the risks. Specifically, NOAA has filled key positions on the GOES-R program, added earned value management analysts to increase the agency's ability to oversee contract performance, and has allocated sufficient management reserves.

    Recommendation: To improve NOAA's ability to effectively manage the procurement of the GOES-R system, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere to include the following risks on the programwide risk list, develop plans to mitigate them, and report to senior executives on progress in mitigating them: (1) unfilled or temporary GOES-R program leadership positions,(2) insufficient program insight on NASA contract performance, and (3) insufficient management reserve on the critical Advanced Baseline Imager instrument and at the GOES-R program level.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce


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