Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites:

Further Actions Needed to Effectively Manage Risks

GAO-08-183T: Published: Oct 23, 2007. Publicly Released: Oct 23, 2007.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with the aid of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), plans to procure the next generation of geostationary operational environmental satellites, called the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R series (GOES-R). This new series is considered critical to the United States' ability to maintain the continuity of data required for weather forecasting through the year 2028. GAO was asked to summarize its report on the GOES-R series. This report (1) assesses the status and revised plans for the GOES-R procurement and (2) evaluates whether NOAA is adequately mitigating key technical and programmatic risks facing the program. To conduct this review, GAO analyzed contractor and program data and interviewed officials from NOAA and NASA.

NOAA has made progress in planning its GOES-R procurement--which is estimated to cost $7 billion and scheduled to have the first satellite ready for launch in 2014--but cost and schedules are likely to grow. Specifically, the agency completed preliminary design studies of GOES-R and recently decided to separate the space and ground elements of the program into two separate development contracts. However, this change in strategy has delayed a planned September 2007 decision to proceed with the acquisition. Further, independent estimates are higher than the program's current cost estimate and convey a low level of confidence in the program's schedule. Independent studies show that the estimated program could cost about $2 billion more, and the first satellite launch could be delayed by 2 years. As NOAA works to reconcile the independent estimate with its own program office estimate, costs are likely to grow and schedules are likely to be delayed. To address cost, schedule, and technical risks, the GOES-R program has established a risk management program and has taken steps to mitigate selected risks. For example, as of July 2007, the program office identified the lack of an integrated master schedule to be its highest priority risk and established plans to bring this risk to closure. However, more remains to be done to fully address risks. Specifically, the program has multiple risk watchlists that are not always consistent and key risks are missing from the watchlists, including risks associated with unfilled executive positions, limitations in NOAA's insight into NASA's deliverables, and insufficient funds for unexpected costs--called management reserves. As a result, the GOES-R program is at risk that problems will not be identified or mitigated in a timely manner and could lead to program cost overruns and schedule delays.

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