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Highlights

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) is a triagency acquisition--managed by the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)--that has experienced escalating costs, schedule delays, and technical difficulties. These factors led to a June 2006 decision to restructure the program by reducing the number of satellites and sensors, increasing estimated costs to $12.5 billion, and delaying the first two satellites by 3 to 5 years. Among other objectives, GAO was asked to evaluate progress in restructuring the acquisition, assess the status of key program components and risks, and assess NASA's, NOAA's, and DOD's plans for obtaining the data originally planned to be collected by NPOESS sensors, but eliminated by the restructuring. To do so, GAO analyzed program and contractor data, attended program reviews, and interviewed agency officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
National Aeronautics and Space Administration In order to bring closure to efforts that have been under way for years, the Secretaries of Commerce and Defense and the Administrator of NASA should establish plans on whether and how to restore the climate and space sensors removed from the NPOESS program by June 2009, in cases where the sensors are warranted and justified.
Closed - Implemented
in February 2010, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy announced that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) would no longer jointly procure the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) satellite system; instead, each agency would plan and acquire its own satellite system. NOAA's program, which is to cover the afternoon satellite orbit, is called the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). NASA acts as the acquisition agent for the JPSS program and assists in developing the requirements for the program. In developing its initial requirements document, NOAA and NASA decided to accommodate sensors that were originally planned for the NPOESS program but canceled in 2006. For example, the agencies plan to accomodate two total solar irradiance sensors on free-flyer satellites. In addition, although microwave imager/sounder data was not originally planned for the afternoon orbit, the agencies plan to acquire this data from an international satellite.
Department of Commerce In order to bring closure to efforts that have been under way for years, the Secretaries of Commerce and Defense and the Administrator of NASA should establish plans on whether and how to restore the climate and space sensors removed from the NPOESS program by June 2009, in cases where the sensors are warranted and justified.
Closed - Implemented
in February 2010, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy announced that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) would no longer jointly procure the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) satellite system; instead, each agency would plan and acquire its own satellite system. NOAA's program, which is to cover the afternoon satellite orbit, is called the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). In developing its initial requirements document, NOAA decided to accommodate sensors that were originally planned for the NPOESS program but canceled in 2006. For example, NOAA plans to accommodate two total solar irradiance sensors on free-flyer satellites. In addition, although microwave imager/sounder data was not originally planned for the afternoon orbit, NOAA plans to acquire this data from an international satellite.
Department of Defense In order to bring closure to efforts that have been under way for years, the Secretaries of Commerce and Defense and the Administrator of NASA should establish plans on whether and how to restore the climate and space sensors removed from the NPOESS program by June 2009, in cases where the sensors are warranted and justified.
Closed - Not Implemented
in February 2010, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy announced that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) would no longer jointly procure the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) satellite system; instead, each agency would plan and acquire its own satellite system. DOD's program, called the Defense Weather Satellite System, was to cover the early morning orbit. Although DOD began planning its requirements for the new program, the agency decided to terminate the program in early 2012.

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