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Press Releases :: June 19, 2008

GAO Report Reveals Continuing Problems With NPOESS

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee continued its oversight of the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). 

“This program is vital to our daily lives,” said Subcommittee Chairman Nick Lampson (D-TX).  “When launched, NPOESS will be the primary source of information the National Weather Service uses to make its long-range forecasts, and the military will need NPOESS data to plan operations around the globe.”

However, the program continues to experience management and technical problems.  Mr. Dave Powner of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified on the latest report concerning the troubled weather satellite program, and the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Conrad Lautenbacher, responded.  Recent events have once more raised questions about the stability of the program, including a new threat to the most critical instrument.  Key documents have still not been finalized and approved by the Executive Committee, the tri-agency body that oversees the NPOESS program.  GAO testified that this is unacceptable.  This continued delay in decision-making may create new management risks, and Mr. Lampson expressed concern that such delays stored up more trouble for the future.

Costs increases persist in the program.  Testimony from GAO indicates that the likely lifetime cost has grown to between $13.5 - $14 billion, at least a billion dollars over the $12.5 billion estimated for the recertified program in 2006.  GAO states that the increases come from the costs needed to correct instrument problems over the last year, the possible cost of upgrading computer security standards for the ground network, and a better estimate of the cost of running the system until its scheduled end in 2026.

Technical questions continue to arise about the primary instrument, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS).  NOAA had announced week that screw heads were found to be sheared off and that it might be necessary to replace all screw assemblies, once again delaying delivery of the sensor and launch of the precursor satellite, the NPOESS Preparatory Project mission.  This came just after VIIRS had caused an 8-month launch delay to resolve an earlier problem with its cooling radiator.  NOAA Administrator Lautenbacher testified that updated information now indicates the problem may not involve the entire instrument and that delays can be avoided.

"This is not the situation we hoped to be in at this point in time,” said Lampson. “The risk of a data gap is growing along with the cost of this program.  We need to know how these problems are going to be resolved and when we can expect some good news.”

Please visit the Committee’s website for more information about the hearing. 

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