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Highlights

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) is a tri-agency 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. As the often-delayed launch of its demonstration satellite draws closer, these problems continue. GAO was asked to (1) identify the status and risks of key program components, (2) assess the NPOESS Executive Committee's ability to fulfill its responsibilities, and (3) evaluate efforts to identify an alternative system integrator for later NPOESS satellites. 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
Department of Defense To improve the timeliness and effectiveness of acquisition decision-making on the NPOESS program, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to attend and participate in NPOESS Executive Committee meetings.
Closed - Implemented
DOD agreed with our recommendation and implemented it. The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics attended and participated in the NPOESS Executive Committee meetings, beginning with their July 2009 meeting. More recently, he participated on the White House task team that decided to disband the NPOESS program and in the on-going transition from NPOESS to two separate programs.
Department of Commerce The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to improve the Committee's efficiency by establishing time frames for escalating risks to the Committee for action so that they do not linger unresolved at the program executive level.
Closed - Implemented
In February 2010, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced its decision to disband the tri-agency NPOESS program. Further, it announced that DOD and NOAA would undertake separate acquisitions to meet their needs in the morning and afternoon orbits, respectively. We consider the decision to be responsive to the many recommendations we made to address a wide array of weaknesses in the executive management structure.
Department of Defense The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to establish a realistic time frame for revising the program's cost and schedule baselines.
Closed - Not Implemented
The Department of Defense (DOD) has cancelled its follow-on program to NPOESS. The agency completed an analysis of alternatives to meet its environmental satellite requirements in August 2013 and this analysis is to be the basis for any future DOD acquisition decision. However, since DOD has not yet made a decision regarding a future environmental satellite acquisition, it has not established time frames for cost and schedule baselines.
Department of Commerce The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to establish a realistic time frame for revising the program's cost and schedule baselines.
Closed - Implemented
In February 2010, the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy made a decision to disband NPOESS--a tri-agency program managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Defense (DOD), and NASA. Instead, NOAA and DOD will develop separate satellite programs, known as the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) respectively. JPSS is a partnership between NOAA and NASA; NOAA has the final decision authority and is responsible for the overall JPSS program, and NASA serves as an acquisition agent. Thus, the two agencies' JPSS program is now responsible for developing the cost and schedule baseline for the polar satellite program. Our report published in June 2012 (GAO-12-604) found that the agencies have established a timeframe for putting an overall program baseline in place, which is by the end of November 2012.
Department of Commerce The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to develop plans to mitigate the risk of gaps in satellite continuity.
Closed - Implemented
In October 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) established a mitigation plan to address the impact of potential gaps in polar afternoon satellite data. This plan identifies alternatives for mitigating the risk of a 14- to 18-month gap in the afternoon orbit beginning in March 2016, between the current polar satellite and the JPSS-1 satellite. Key alternatives include utilizing different satellites as data sources and improving data assimilation in models. NOAA plans to update its plan during 2013 to include additional mitigation alternatives and semi-annually thereafter.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to develop plans to mitigate the risk of gaps in satellite continuity.
Closed - Implemented
NASA and NOAA staff in the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program office worked to develop a mitigation plan to address the impact of potential gaps in polar afternoon satellite data. NOAA approved the plan in October 2012.The program plans to update its plan during 2013 to include additional mitigation alternatives and semi-annually thereafter.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to establish a realistic time frame for revising the program's cost and schedule baselines.
Closed - Implemented
In February 2010, the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy made a decision to disband NPOESS--a tri-agency program managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Defense (DOD), and NASA. Instead, NOAA and DOD will develop separate satellite programs, known as the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) respectively. JPSS is a partnership between NOAA and NASA; NOAA has the final decision authority and is responsible for the overall JPSS program, and NASA serves as an acquisition agent. Thus, the two agencies' JPSS program is now responsible for developing the cost and schedule baseline for the polar satellite program. Our report published in June 2012 (GAO-12-604) found that the agencies have established a timeframe for putting an overall program baseline in place, which is by the end of November 2012.
Department of Defense The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to track the Committee's action items from inception to closure.
Closed - Implemented
The agency agreed with our recommendation and implemented it, beginning in July 2009. On behalf of the NPOESS Executive Committee, the Program Executive Officer for Environmental Satellites began tracking Executive Committee actions. The office also established a secure website to allow EXCOM Principals and their senior staff the ability to access and monitor the status of all action items on a real time basis.
Department of Commerce The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to track the Committee's action items from inception to closure.
Closed - Implemented
The agency agreed with our recommendation and implemented it, beginning in July 2009. On behalf of the NPOESS Executive Committee, the Program Executive Officer for Environmental Satellites began tracking Executive Committee actions. The office also established a secure website to allow EXCOM Principals and their senior staff the ability to access and monitor the status of all action items on a real time basis.
Department of Commerce The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to improve the Committee's ability to achieve successful outcomes by identifying the desired outcome associated with each of the Committee's actions, as well as time frames and responsible parties, when new action items are established.
Closed - Implemented
The agency agreed with our recommendation and implemented it, beginning in July 2009. On behalf of the NPOESS Executive Committee, the Program Executive Officer for Environmental Satellites began tracking action items and identified desired outcomes associated with their directed actions. As part of the action item tracking, the office also ensured that time frames and responsible parties are identified for each action item.
Department of Defense The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to improve the Committee's ability to achieve successful outcomes by identifying the desired outcome associated with each of the Committee's actions, as well as time frames and responsible parties, when new action items are established.
Closed - Implemented
The agency agreed with our recommendation and implemented it, beginning in July 2009. On behalf of the NPOESS Executive Committee, the Program Executive Officer for Environmental Satellites began tracking action items and identified desired outcomes associated with their directed actions. As part of the action item tracking, the office also ensured that time frames and responsible parties are identified for each action item.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to improve the Committee's ability to achieve successful outcomes by identifying the desired outcome associated with each of the Committee's actions, as well as time frames and responsible parties, when new action items are established.
Closed - Implemented
The agency agreed with our recommendation and implemented it, beginning in July 2009. On behalf of the NPOESS Executive Committee, the Program Executive Officer for Environmental Satellites began tracking action items and identified desired outcomes associated with their directed actions. As part of the action item tracking, the office also ensured that time frames and responsible parties are identified for each action item.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to improve the Committee's efficiency by establishing time frames for escalating risks to the Committee for action so that they do not linger unresolved at the program executive level.
Closed - Implemented
In February 2010, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced its decision to disband the tri-agency NPOESS program. Further, it announced that DOD and NOAA would move forward with separate acquisitions to meet their needs in the morning and afternoon orbits, respectively. We consider the decision to be responsive to the many recommendations we made to address a wide array of weaknesses in the executive management structure.
Department of Defense The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to improve the Committee's efficiency by establishing time frames for escalating risks to the Committee for action so that they do not linger unresolved at the program executive level.
Closed - Implemented
In February 2010, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced its decision to disband the tri-agency NPOESS program. Further, it announced that DOD and NOAA would undertake separate acquisitions to meet their needs in the morning and afternoon orbits, respectively. We consider the decision to be responsive to the many recommendations we made to address a wide array of weaknesses in the executive management structure.
Department of Defense The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to develop plans to mitigate the risk of gaps in satellite continuity.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Defense (DOD) has canceled its follow-on program to NPOESS. In order to help mitigate the risk of a gap in the early morning orbit, the agency decided to launch both of its two remaining Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites in the early morning orbit rather than launching one in the early morning and one in the midmorning orbit as originally planned. In addition, DOD is analyzing alternative means to meet its future environmental satellite requirements.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration The Secretaries of Defense and Commerce and the Administrator of NASA should direct the NPOESS Executive Committee to track the Committee's action items from inception to closure.
Closed - Implemented
The agency agreed with our recommendation and implemented it, beginning in July 2009. On behalf of the NPOESS Executive Committee, the Program Executive Officer for Environmental Satellites began tracking Executive Committee actions. The office also established a secure website to allow EXCOM Principals and their senior staff the ability to access and monitor the status of all action items on a real time basis.

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