The Obama administration plans to spend an additional $100 million on a weather satellite program that a congressional watchdog agency says has been beset by mismanagement, delays and cost overruns. The satellites are at least $8 billion over budget and the launch of the first satellite will be at least five years late, reports USA Today.
The NPOES satellite project is “a poster child for mismanagement,” says David Powner, author of a Government Accountability Office report issued June 17 (pdf). “It’s clearly up there as one of the most troubled programs that we’ve looked at.”
“This Committee has devoted years of oversight to NPOESS,” said Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC). “Despite our pressure to get this program under control, we are again facing cost overruns and slipping schedules. At the current pace, we won’t see a NPOESS launch until 2039. That is obviously unacceptable.”
“You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that our national polar satellite program is on a disastrous path, and unless we make changes immediately, the program will fail,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the satellite program.
The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, was begun 15 years ago to save money and avoid duplicate military and civilian weather satellites. NPOES program would be a joint venture, replacing both the DOD’s DMSP weather satellite and the NOAA Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES). NPOES would integrate both systems.
The NPOES program is run and financed by both the Defense Department and NOAA. But red tape, infighting and a huge $8 billion cost overrun made the system an albatross for the federal government.
In March 2005, NPOESS was budgeted at $6.8 billion, but current cost estimates have ballooned to $13.8 billion. NOAA’s entire annual budget is $4 billion. NPOESS is now 5 years behind its targeted year for becoming operational.
Gaps in coverage are possible during that time, if enough older satellites fail. Long range weather forecasting could be in jeopardy.
The GAO Director of Information Technology Management Issues, told Congress: “NPOESS is a program in crisis”. A Nunn-McCurdy review that studies the continuation of a program can be triggered by: importance to national security, absence of an equivalent capability at a lower cost, a reliable current cost estimate, and confidence that the management structure for the program can keep its cost under control.
Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), the committee’s ranking minority member, and Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) ranking member on the environment technology and standards subcommittee, said NOAA’s Administrator, and Gen. John J. Kelly Jr., Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, should be fired.
“Until I am provided sufficient information, I can’t trust that the budget and leadership problems of the past will go away,” said Rep. Wu. “We must find a way forward that maintains the quality and continuity of our weather forecasting system. Billions of taxpayer dollars are tied to those forecasts, and not only quality of life, but actual American lives can hang in the balance. We can’t afford to get this wrong.”