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Highlights

In the 8 years since a contract was awarded, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS)--a tri-agency program managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)--has experienced escalating costs, schedule delays, and ineffective interagency management. The launch date for a demonstration satellite has been delayed by over 5 years and the cost estimate for the program has more than doubled--to about $15 billion. In February 2010, a Presidential task force decided to disband NPOESS and, instead, have the agencies undertake separate acquisitions. GAO was asked to (1) assess efforts to establish separate satellite programs; (2) evaluate the status and risks of the NPOESS components still under development; and (3) evaluate the implications of using the demonstration satellite's data operationally. To do so, GAO analyzed program management and cost data, attended program reviews, and interviewed agency officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce In order to ensure that the transition from NPOESS to its successor programs is efficiently and effectively managed, the Secretaries of Defense and Commerce should direct their respective NPOESS follow-on programs to expedite decisions on the expected cost, schedule, and capabilities of their planned programs.
Closed - Implemented
The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) has transitioned from the NPOESS program to the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program. In July 2013, JPSS established its cost, schedule, and technical baselines for the program.
Department of Defense In order to ensure that the transition from NPOESS to its successor programs is efficiently and effectively managed, the Secretaries of Defense and Commerce should direct NOAA and DOD officials to develop time frames for making key decisions on--or accepting the risks related to--the timeliness of NPP's data.
Closed - Implemented
As noted in our report issued in June 2012, the NPOESS Preparatory Project's (NPP) satellite was launched in October 2011. The satellite was subsequently activated and all of the instruments were commissioned; this process ended in March 2012. Although calibration and validation of the satellite will not be completed until October 2013, DOD's users have already begun using NPP's data. Thus, the agency has accepted the risks related to the timeliness of NPP's data.
Department of Defense In order to ensure that the transition from NPOESS to its successor programs is efficiently and effectively managed, the Secretaries of Defense and Commerce should direct their respective NPOESS follow-on programs to expedite decisions on the expected cost, schedule, and capabilities of their planned programs.
Closed - Not Implemented
The Department of Defense (DOD) has cancelled its follow-on program to NPOESS. The agency is developing an analysis of alternatives to meet its environmental satellite requirements. However, as of July 2014 there is no program of record for the follow-on to NPOESS.
Department of Commerce In order to ensure that the transition from NPOESS to its successor programs is efficiently and effectively managed, the Secretaries of Defense and Commerce should direct NOAA and DOD officials to develop time frames for making key decisions on--or accepting the risks related to--the timeliness of NPP's data.
Closed - Implemented
As noted in our report issued in June 2012, the NPOESS Preparatory Project's (NPP) satellite was launched in October 2011. The satellite was subsequently activated and all of the instruments were commissioned; this process ended in March 2012. Although calibration and validation of the satellite will not be completed until October 2013, NOAA's users have already begun using NPP's data. Thus, the agency has accepted the risks related to the timeliness of NPP's data.
Department of Defense In order to ensure that the transition from NPOESS to its successor programs is efficiently and effectively managed, the Secretaries of Defense and Commerce should direct their respective NPOESS follow-on programs to develop plans to address key transition risks, including the loss of skilled staff, delays in contract negotiations and setting up new program offices, loss of support for the other agency's requirements, and oversight of new program management.
Closed - Not Implemented
The Department of Defense (DOD) has cancelled its follow-on program to NPOESS. The agency is developing an analysis of alternatives to meet its environmental satellite requirements. However, as of July 2014 there is no program of record for the follow-on to NPOESS.
Department of Commerce In order to ensure that the transition from NPOESS to its successor programs is efficiently and effectively managed, the Secretaries of Defense and Commerce should direct the NPOESS program office to develop priorities for work slowdown and stoppage to allow the activities that are most important to maintaining launch schedules to continue.
Closed - Implemented
The agencies established priorities for slowing and/or stopping work activities in fiscal year 2010. Specifically, the agencies agreed to continue work on the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Preparatory Project (NPP), and slow work on other contracts, in order to ensure that NPP launched on time. NPP launched successfully in October 2011.
Department of Commerce In order to ensure that the transition from NPOESS to its successor programs is efficiently and effectively managed, the Secretaries of Defense and Commerce should direct their respective NPOESS follow-on programs to develop plans to address key transition risks, including the loss of skilled staff, delays in contract negotiations and setting up new program offices, loss of support for the other agency's requirements, and oversight of new program management.
Closed - Implemented
As noted in our report issued in June 2012, NOAA and NASA has developed a risk management process for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), which includes a documented risk management strategy and a program to identify, track, and mitigate risks. As part of this process, NOAA is tracking staffing as a risk; it presents the status each month during program management council meetings; and it has a plan for staffing key positions. In addition, the JPSS program office has identified data delivery to DOD's users as a key risk. The program office also presents the status of this risk in monthly meetings and has a mitigation plan in place.
Department of Defense In order to ensure that the transition from NPOESS to its successor programs is efficiently and effectively managed, the Secretaries of Defense and Commerce should direct the NPOESS program office to develop priorities for work slowdown and stoppage to allow the activities that are most important to maintaining launch schedules to continue.
Closed - Implemented
The agencies established priorities for slowing and/or stopping work activities in fiscal year 2010. Specifically, the agencies agreed to continue work on the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Preparatory Project (NPP), and slow work on other contracts, in order to ensure that NPP launched on time. NPP launched successfully in October 2011.

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