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Highlights

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) is a tri-agency acquisition--managed by the Departments of Commerce and Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration--which experienced escalating costs, schedule delays, and technical difficulties. These factors led to a June 2006 decision to restructure the program thereby decreasing the program's complexity, increasing its estimated cost to $12.5 billion, and delaying the first two satellites by 3 to 5 years. GAO was asked to (1) assess progress in restructuring the acquisition, (2) evaluate progress in establishing an effective management structure, (3) assess the reliability of the cost and schedule estimate, and (4) identify the status and key risks facing the program's major segments. To do so, GAO analyzed program and contractor data, attended program reviews, and interviewed program officials

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce Because of the importance of effectively managing the NPOESS program to ensure that there are no gaps in the continuity of critical weather and environmental observations, the Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) should ensure that the responsible executives within their respective organizations approve key acquisition documents, including the memorandum of agreement among the three agencies, the system engineering plan, the test and evaluation master plan, and the acquisition strategy, as quickly as possible but no later than April 30, 2007.
Closed - Implemented
The agency did not meet our recommended date, but did complete the recommended action. The Department of Defense extended the deadlines for many of the key acquisition documents. Subsequently, the appropriate agency officials approved all of the acquisition documents. The final document was approved in December 2008.
Department of Defense Because of the importance of effectively managing the NPOESS program to ensure that there are no gaps in the continuity of critical weather and environmental observations, the Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) should ensure that the responsible executives within their respective organizations approve key acquisition documents, including the memorandum of agreement among the three agencies, the system engineering plan, the test and evaluation master plan, and the acquisition strategy, as quickly as possible but no later than April 30, 2007.
Closed - Implemented
The agency did not meet our recommended date, but did complete the recommended action. Specifically, the Department extended the deadlines for many of the key acquisition documents. Subsequently, the appropriate agency officials approved all of the acquisition documents. The final document was approved in December 2008.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Because of the importance of effectively managing the NPOESS program to ensure that there are no gaps in the continuity of critical weather and environmental observations, the Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) should ensure that the responsible executives within their respective organizations approve key acquisition documents, including the memorandum of agreement among the three agencies, the system engineering plan, the test and evaluation master plan, and the acquisition strategy, as quickly as possible but no later than April 30, 2007.
Closed - Implemented
The agency did not meet our recommended date, but did complete the recommended action. The Department of Defense extended the deadlines for many of the key acquisition documents. Subsequently, the appropriate agency officials approved all of the acquisition documents. The final document was approved in December 2008.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should direct the Air Force to delay reassigning the recently appointed Program Executive Officer until all sensors have been delivered to the NPOESS Preparatory Program; these deliveries are currently scheduled to occur by July 2008.
Closed - Not Implemented
The Air Force recently transferred the Program Executive Officer to another program, noting that the System Program Director directly responsible for the satellite acquisition program was assigned to the program for a four year tour of duty, which includes the delivery of the sensors for the NPOESS Preparatory Program satellite.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere to ensure that NPOESS program authorities develop and implement a written process for identifying and addressing human capital needs and for streamlining how the program handles the three different agencies' administrative procedures.
Closed - Implemented
The agency agreed with our recommendation and developed a Human Capital Management Plan for the NPOESS program. This plan identifies the program's human capital needs and streamlines how the program handles the three different agencies' administrative procedures. Specifically, the plan streamlines the hiring process by clarifying the three agencies policies and identifying a single point of responsibility for its hiring program. The program has since filled many of its staffing needs.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should establish a plan for immediately filling needed positions.
Closed - Implemented
The agency agreed with our recommendation and has taken action to ensure that filling open positions is its highest priority. By July 2, 2007, program officials reported that the many of the positions open at the time of our recommendation had been filled, and they changed the risk level for its staffing from medium to low risk. Subsequently, the program office maintained its staffing level as a low risk issue.

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