Environmental Satellites: Focused Attention Needed to Mitigate Program Risks

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-06-27.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                            United States Government Accountability Office

GAO                         Testimony
                            Before the Subcommittee on Energy and
                            Environment and Investigations and
                            Oversight, House Committee on Science,
                            Space, and Technology
For Release on Delivery
Expected at 2:00 p.m. EDT
Wednesday, June 27, 2012

                            Focused Attention Needed
                            to Mitigate Program Risks
                            Statement of David A. Powner, Director
                            Information Technology Management Issues

             Chairman Broun, Chairman Harris, Ranking Member Tonko, Ranking
             Member Miller, and Members of the Subcommittees:

             Thank you for the opportunity to participate in today’s hearing on two
             satellite acquisition programs within the Department of Commerce’s
             National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Joint
             Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational
             Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) programs are meant to replace
             current operational satellites, and both are considered critical to the
             United States’ ability to maintain the continuity of data required for
             weather forecasting.

             As requested, this statement summarizes our two reports being released
             today on (1) the status, plans, and risks for JPSS and (2) the status,
             schedule management process, and risk management process within the
             GOES-R program. 1 In preparing this testimony, we relied on the work
             supporting those reports. They each contain a detailed overview of our
             scope and methodology, including the steps we took to assess the
             reliability of cost and schedule data. As noted in those reports, we found
             that the JPSS cost and GOES-R contractor cost data were sufficiently
             reliable for our purposes. Further, while we found that the GOES-R
             schedule and management reserve data were not sufficiently reliable, we
             reported on the data’s shortcomings in our report. All of our work for the
             reports was performed in accordance with generally accepted
             government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan
             and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide
             a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit
             objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable
             basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

             Since the 1960s, the United States has used both polar-orbiting and
Background   geostationary satellites to observe the earth and its land, oceans,
             atmosphere, and space environments. Polar-orbiting satellites constantly
             circle the earth in an almost north-south orbit, providing global coverage

              GAO, Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites: Changing Requirements, Technical
             Issues, and Looming Data Gaps Require Focused Attention, GAO-12-604 (Washington,
             D.C.: June 15, 2012), and Geostationary Weather Satellites: Design Progress Made, but
             Schedule Uncertainty Needs to be Addressed, GAO-12-576 (Washington, D.C.: June 26,

             Page 1                                                                    GAO-12-841T
                             of conditions that affect the weather and climate. As the earth rotates
                             beneath it, each polar-orbiting satellite views the entire earth’s surface
                             twice a day. In contrast, geostationary satellites maintain a fixed position
                             relative to the earth from a high orbit of about 22,300 miles in space.

                             Both types of satellites provide a valuable perspective of the environment
                             and allow observations in areas that may be otherwise unreachable.
                             Used in combination with ground, sea, and airborne observing systems,
                             satellites have become an indispensable part of monitoring and
                             forecasting weather and climate. For example, polar-orbiting satellites
                             provide the data that go into numerical weather prediction models, which
                             are a primary tool for forecasting weather days in advance—including
                             forecasting the path and intensity of hurricanes, and geostationary
                             satellites provide the graphical images used to identify current weather
                             patterns. These weather products and models are used to predict the
                             potential impact of severe weather so that communities and emergency
                             managers can help mitigate its effects. Polar satellites also provide data
                             used to monitor environmental phenomena, such as ozone depletion and
                             drought conditions, as well as long-term data sets that are used by
                             researchers to monitor climate change.

Events Leading to the JPSS   For over forty years, the United States has operated two separate
Program                      operational polar-orbiting meteorological satellite systems: the Polar-
                             orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite series, which is managed by
                             NOAA, and the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, which is
                             managed by the Air Force. 2 Currently, there is one operational Polar-
                             orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite and two operational Defense
                             Meteorological Satellite Program satellites that are positioned so that they
                             cross the equator in the early morning, midmorning, and early afternoon.
                             In addition, the government is also relying on data from a European
                             satellite, called the Meteorological Operational (MetOp) satellite
                             program. 3

                              NOAA provides command and control for both the Polar-orbiting Operational
                             Environmental Satellite and Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellites after they
                             are in orbit.
                              The European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites’ MetOp
                             program is a series of three polar-orbiting satellites dedicated to operational meteorology.
                             These satellites are planned to be launched sequentially over 14 years. The first of these
                             satellites was launched in 2006 and is currently operational.

                             Page 2                                                                          GAO-12-841T
With the expectation that combining the Polar-orbiting Operational
Environmental Satellite program and the Defense Meteorological Satellite
Program would reduce duplication and result in sizable cost savings, a
May 1994 Presidential Decision Directive 4 required NOAA and DOD to
converge the two satellite programs into a single satellite program—the
National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System
(NPOESS)—capable of satisfying both civilian and military requirements.
However, in the years after the program was initiated, NPOESS
encountered significant technical challenges in sensor development,
program cost growth, and schedule delays. Specifically, within 8 years of
the contract’s award, program costs grew by over $8 billion, and launch
schedules were delayed by over 5 years. In addition, as a result of a 2006
restructuring of the program, the agencies reduced the program’s
functionality by decreasing the number of originally planned satellites,
orbits, and instruments.

Even after this restructuring, however, the program continued to
encounter technical issues, management challenges, schedule delays,
and further cost increases. Therefore, in August 2009, the Executive
Office of the President formed a task force, led by the Office of Science
and Technology Policy, to investigate the management and acquisition
options that would improve the program. As a result of this review, the
Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy announced in
February 2010 that NOAA and DOD would no longer jointly acquire
NPOESS; instead, each agency would plan and acquire its own satellite
system. Specifically, NOAA and NASA would be responsible for the
afternoon orbit, and DOD would be responsible for the early morning
orbit. The partnership with the European satellite agencies for the
midmorning orbit would continue as planned.

When this decision was announced, NOAA immediately began planning
for a new satellite program in the afternoon orbit—called JPSS—and
DOD began planning for a new satellite program in the morning orbit—
called the Defense Weather Satellite System. NOAA transferred
management responsibilities to its new satellite program, defined its
requirements, and transferred contracts to the new program. Specifically,
NOAA established a program office to guide the development and launch

Presidential Decision Directive NSTC-2, May 5, 1994.

Page 3                                                          GAO-12-841T
                       of the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) 5—a demonstration satellite
                       that was developed under NPOESS and managed by the National
                       Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)—as well as the two
                       planned JPSS satellites, known as JPSS-1 and JPSS-2. NOAA also
                       worked with NASA to establish its program office to oversee the
                       acquisition, system engineering, and integration of the satellite program.
                       By 2011, the two agencies had established separate—but co-located—
                       JPSS program offices, each with different roles and responsibilities.

                       In addition, DOD established its Defense Weather Satellite System
                       program office, started defining its requirements, and modified contracts
                       to reflect the new program. These efforts, however, have been halted. In
                       early 2012, in response to congressional direction, DOD decided to
                       terminate the program because it still has two satellites to launch within
                       its legacy Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. DOD is currently
                       identifying alternative means to fulfill its future environmental satellite

                       We have issued a series of reports on the NPOESS program—and the
                       transition to JPSS—highlighting technical issues, cost growth, key
                       management challenges, and key risks of transitioning from NPOESS to
                       JPSS. 6 In these reports, we made multiple recommendations to, among
                       other things, improve executive-level oversight and develop realistic time
                       frames for revising cost and schedule baselines. NOAA has taken steps
                       to address our recommendations, including taking action to improve
                       executive-level oversight, but as we note in our report being released
                       today, the agency is still working to establish cost and schedule

Overview of the GOES   In addition to polar-orbiting satellites, NOAA operates GOES as a two-
Program                satellite geostationary satellite system that is primarily focused on the
                       United States. The GOES-R series is the next generation of satellites that

                        In January 2012, the name of the satellite was changed to the Suomi National Polar-
                       orbiting Partnership satellite. The NPP acronym remained the same.
                        See, for example, GAO, Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites: Agencies Must Act
                       Quickly to Address Risks That Jeopardize the Continuity of Weather and Climate Data,
                       GAO-10-558 (Washington, D.C.: May 27, 2010). Our report being released today on polar-
                       orbiting satellites includes a full list of related GAO products.

                       Page 4                                                                      GAO-12-841T
NOAA is planning; the satellites are planned to replace existing weather
satellites that will likely reach the end of their useful lives in about 2015.

NOAA is responsible for overall mission success for the GOES-R
program. The NOAA Program Management Council, which is chaired by
NOAA’s Deputy Undersecretary, is the oversight body for the GOES-R
program. However, since it relies on NASA’s acquisition experience and
technical expertise to help ensure the success of its programs, NOAA
implemented an integrated program management structure with NASA for
GOES-R. Within the program office, two project offices manage key
components of the GOES-R system. NOAA has entered into an
agreement with NASA to manage the Flight Project Office, including
awarding and managing the spacecraft contract and delivering flight-
ready instruments to the spacecraft. The Ground Project Office, managed
by NOAA, oversees the Core Ground System contract and satellite data
product development and distribution.

NOAA has made a number of changes to the program since 2006,
including the removal of certain satellite data products and a critical
instrument (the Hyperspectral Environmental Suite), and a reduction in
the number of satellites from four to two. NOAA originally decided to
reduce the scope and technical complexity of the GOES-R program
because of the expectation that total costs, which were estimated to be
$6.2 billion, could reach $11.4 billion. Recently, NOAA restored two
satellites to the program’s baseline, making GOES-R a four-satellite
program once again. In February 2011, as part of its fiscal year 2012
budget request, NOAA requested funding to begin development for two
additional satellites in the GOES-R series. The program estimates that
the development for all four satellites in the GOES-R series is to cost
$10.9 billion through 2036. The current anticipated launch date for the
first GOES-R satellite is planned to be in October 2015, with the last
satellite in the series planned for launch in calendar year 2024.

In September 2010, we reported that as a result of delays to planned
launch dates for the first two satellites in the GOES-R series, NOAA might
not be able to meet its policy of having a backup satellite in orbit at all
times, which could lead to a gap in satellite coverage if an existing

Page 5                                                               GAO-12-841T
                         satellite failed prematurely. 7 We recommended that NOAA develop and
                         document plans for the operation of geostationary satellites that included
                         the implementation procedures, resources, staff roles, and time tables
                         needed to transition to a single satellite, an international satellite, or other

                         NOAA has since developed a continuity plan that generally includes the
                         key elements we recommended. As a result, NOAA has improved its
                         ability to fully meet its mission-essential function of providing continuous
                         satellite imagery in support of weather forecasting.

                         NOAA and NASA have made progress on the JPSS program since it was
The JPSS Program         first formed in 2010, but are modifying requirements to limit program
Has Made Progress,       costs. After establishing a JPSS program office and transferring contracts
                         to NASA, the program successfully launched the NPP satellite on October
but Faces Changing       28, 2011. After this launch, NASA began the process of activating the
Requirements, Critical   satellite and commissioning the instruments, a process that was
Steps in Sensor          completed in March 2012. NOAA is receiving data from the five sensors
                         on the NPP satellite, and has begun calibration and validation. NOAA’s
Development, and         satellite data users began to use validated products from one sensor in
Looming Data Gaps        May 2012, and NOAA expects that they will increase the amount and
                         types of data they use in the following months. In addition, NOAA
                         established initial requirements for the JPSS program in September 2011.
                         Key components include acquiring and launching JPSS-1 and JPSS-2,
                         developing and integrating five sensors on the two satellites, finding
                         alternate host satellites for selected instruments that would not be
                         accommodated on the JPSS satellites, and providing ground system

                         NOAA also developed a cost estimate for the JPSS program, which it
                         reconciled with an independent cost estimate. Specifically, from January
                         to December 2011, the agency went through a cost estimating exercise
                         for the JPSS program. At the end of this exercise, NOAA validated that
                         the cost of the full set of JPSS functions from fiscal year 2012 through
                         fiscal year 2028 would be $11.3 billion. After adding the agency’s sunk
                         costs of $3.3 billion, the program’s life cycle cost estimate totaled $14.6

                          GAO, Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites: Improvements Needed in
                         Continuity Planning and Involvement of Key Users, GAO-10-799 (Washington, D.C., Sept.

                         Page 6                                                                   GAO-12-841T
billion. 8 This amount is $2.7 billion higher than the $11.9 billion estimate
for JPSS when NPOESS was disbanded in 2010. 9

Although NOAA has established initial requirements for the program,
these requirements could—and likely will—change in the near future, in
order to limit program costs. In working with the Office of Management
and Budget to develop the president’s fiscal year 2013 budget request,
NOAA officials stated that they agreed to fund JPSS at roughly $900
million per year through 2017, to merge funding for two climate sensors
into the JPSS budget, and to cap the JPSS life cycle cost at $12.9 billion
through 2028. Because this cap is $1.7 billion below the expected $14.6
billion life cycle cost of the full program, our report being released today
discusses NOAA’s plans to remove selected elements from the satellite
program. These included NOAA potentially discontinuing the
development of certain sensors, plans for a network of ground-based
receptor stations, planned improvements in the time it takes to obtain
satellite data from JPSS-2, 10 and plans to install a data processing
system at two Navy locations. Recently, NOAA briefed us on updated
plans to address this cost cap by changing the way the agency
approached operations and sustainment, and restructuring the free-flyers

The removal of these elements from the JPSS program will affect both
civilian and military satellite data users. The loss of certain sensors could
cause a break in the over 30-year history of satellite data and would
hinder the efforts of climatologists and meteorologists focusing on
understanding changes in the earth’s ozone coverage and radiation
budget. 11 The loss of ground-based receptor stations means that NOAA
may not be able to improve the timeliness of JPSS-2 satellite data from

 NOAA’s $3.3 billion sunk costs included $2.9 billion through fiscal year 2010 and about
$400 million in fiscal year 2011.
  According to NOAA officials, this increase is primarily due to a 4-year extension of the
program from 2024 to 2028, the addition of previously unbudgeted items such as the free
flyers, cost growth associated with transitioning contracts from DOD to NOAA, and the
program’s decision to slow down work on lower-priority elements because of budget
constraints in 2011.
  The requirement was to provide data in 30 minutes; instead, the requirement will remain
at the JPSS-1 level of 80 minutes.
  The radiation budget is the amount of the solar energy entering and leaving the earth’s

Page 7                                                                        GAO-12-841T
                             80 minutes to the current 30 minute requirement, and as a result, weather
                             forecasters will not be able to update their weather models using the most
                             recent satellite observations. Further, the loss of the data processing
                             systems at the two Navy locations means that NOAA and the Navy will
                             need to establish an alternative way to provide data to the Navy.

Development of the First     The major components of the JPSS program are at different stages of
JPSS Satellite Has Begun,    development, and important decisions and program milestones lie ahead.
but Critical Steps Remain    NASA’s JPSS program office organized its responsibilities into three
                             separate projects: (1) the flight project, which includes sensors,
                             spacecraft, and launch vehicles; (2) the ground project, which includes
                             ground-based data processing and command and control systems, and
                             (3) the free-flyer project, which involves developing and launching the
                             instruments that are not going to be included on the JPSS satellites
                             (including a data collection system used to transmit ground-based
                             observations from remote locations, such as ocean-based buoys; a
                             search and rescue system, and a total solar irradiance sensor).

                             Within the flight project, development of the sensors for the first JPSS
                             satellite is well under way; however, selected sensors are experiencing
                             technical issues and the impact of these issues has not yet been
                             determined. For example, the program plans to address communication
                             issues that could affect a key sensor’s ability to provide data in every
                             orbit, but they have not identified the potential cost and schedule impact
                             of this issue. The ground project is currently in operation supporting NPP,
                             and NOAA is planning to upgrade selected parts of the ground systems to
                             increase security and reliability. The free-flyer project is still in a planning
                             stage because NOAA has not yet decided which satellites will host the
                             instruments or when these satellites will launch. One of these projects
                             has recently completed a major milestone and one project has its next
                             milestone approaching. Specifically, the flight project completed a
                             separate system requirements review in April 2012, while the ground
                             project’s system requirements review is scheduled for August 2012.

NOAA Has Not Established     Since its inception, NPOESS was seen as a constellation of satellites
Plans to Mitigate the Risk   providing observations in the early morning, midmorning, and afternoon
that the Polar Satellite     orbits. Having satellites in each of these orbits ensures that satellite
                             observations covering the entire globe are no more than 6 hours old,
Constellation Is Becoming    thereby allowing for more accurate weather predictions. Even after the
Increasingly Unreliable      program was restructured in 2006 and eventually terminated in 2010,
                             program officials and the administration planned to ensure coverage in

                             Page 8                                                              GAO-12-841T
the early morning, midmorning, and afternoon orbits by relying on DOD
satellites for the early morning orbit, the European satellite program for
the midmorning, and NOAA’s JPSS program for the afternoon orbit.

However, recent events have made the future of the polar satellite
constellation uncertain:

•   Early morning orbit—As discussed earlier in this statement, in early
    fiscal year 2012, DOD terminated its Defense Weather Satellite
    System program. While the agency has two more Defense
    Meteorological Satellite Program satellites—called DMSP-19 and
    DMSP-20—to launch and is working to develop alternative plans for a
    follow-on satellite program, there are considerable challenges in
    ensuring that a new program is in place and integrated with existing
    ground systems and data networks in time to avoid a gap in this orbit.

•   DOD officials stated that they plan to launch DMSP-19 in 2014 and
    DMSP-20 when it is needed. If DMSP-19 lasts 6 years, there is a
    chance that DMSP-20 will not be launched until 2020. Thus, in a best-
    case scenario, satellites from the follow-on program will not need to
    be launched until roughly 2026. However, civilian and military satellite
    experts have expressed concern that the Defense Meteorological
    Satellite Program satellites are quite old and may not work as
    intended. If they do not perform well, DOD could be facing a satellite
    data gap in the early morning orbit as early as 2014.

•   Midmorning orbit—The European satellite organization plans to
    continue to launch MetOp satellites that will provide observations in
    the midmorning orbit through October 2021. The organization is also
    working to define and gain support for the follow-on program, called
    the Eumetsat Polar System-2nd Generation program. However, in
    2011, NOAA alerted European officials that, because of the
    constrained budgetary environment, they will no longer be able to
    provide sensors for the follow-on program. Due to the uncertainty
    surrounding the program, there is a chance that the first European
    follow-on satellite will not be ready in time to replace the final MetOp
    satellite at the end of its expected life. In that case, this orbit, too,
    would be in jeopardy.

•   Afternoon orbit—There is likely to be a gap in satellite observations
    in the afternoon orbit that could last well over one year. According to
    our analysis, this gap could span from 17 months to 3 years or more.
    In one scenario, NPP would last its full expected 5-year life (to
    October 2016), and JPSS-1 would launch as soon as possible (in

Page 9                                                             GAO-12-841T
    March 2017) and undergo on-orbit checkout for a year (until March
    2018). In that case, the data gap would extend 17 months. In another
    scenario, NPP would last only 3 years as noted by NASA managers
    concerned with the workmanship of selected NPP sensors. Assuming
    that the JPSS-1 launch occurred, as currently scheduled, in March
    2017 and the satellite data was certified for official use by March
    2018, this gap would extend for 41 months. Of course, any problems
    with JPSS-1 development could delay the launch date and extend the
    gap period. Given the history of technical issues and delays in the
    development of the NPP sensors and the current technical issues on
    the sensors, it is likely that the launch of JPSS-1 will be delayed.
    While the scenarios in our analysis demonstrated gaps lasting
    between 17 and 53 months, NOAA program officials believe that the
    most likely scenario involves a gap lasting 18 to 24 months.

Figure 1 depicts the polar satellite constellation and the uncertain future
coverage in selected orbits.

Page 10                                                           GAO-12-841T
Figure 1: The Polar Satellite Constellation

                                              Note: “On-orbit checkout” refers to the accuracy check that scientists perform after a satellite has
                                              been launched. This checkout verifies that sensors accurately report ground and atmospheric
                                              conditions and ensure that satellite data products are ready for operational use.

                                              According to NOAA, a data gap would lead to less accurate and timely
                                              weather prediction models used to support weather forecasting, and
                                              advanced warning of extreme events—such as hurricanes, storm surges,
                                              and floods—would be diminished. To illustrate this, the National Weather
                                              Service performed several case studies to demonstrate how its weather
                                              forecasts would have been affected if there were no polar satellite data in
                                              the afternoon orbit. For example, when the polar satellite data were not
                                              used to predict the “Snowmaggedon” winter storm that hit the Mid-Atlantic
                                              coast in February 2010, weather forecasts predicted a less intense storm,
                                              slightly further east, and producing half of the precipitation at 3, 4, and 5
                                              days before the event. Specifically, weather prediction models under-
                                              forecasted the amount of snow by at least 10 inches. The agency noted
                                              that this level of degradation in weather forecasts could place lives,
                                              property, and critical infrastructure in danger.

                                              Page 11                                                                                   GAO-12-841T
                      The NOAA Administrator and other senior executives acknowledge the
                      risk of a data gap in each of the orbits of the polar satellite constellation
                      and are working with European and DOD counterparts to coordinate their
                      respective requirements and plans; however, they have not established
                      plans for mitigating risks to the polar satellite constellation. NOAA plans to
                      use older polar satellites to provide some of the necessary data for the
                      other orbits. However, it is also possible that other governmental,
                      commercial, or international satellites could supplement the data in each
                      of the three orbits. For example, foreign nations continue to launch polar-
                      orbiting weather satellites to acquire data such as sea surface
                      temperatures, sea surface winds, and water vapor. Also, over the next
                      few years, NASA plans to launch satellites that will collect information on
                      precipitation and soil moisture. 12 If there are viable options from external
                      sources, it could take time to adapt NOAA systems to receive, process,
                      and disseminate the data to its satellite data users. Until NOAA identifies
                      these options and establishes mitigation plans, it may miss opportunities
                      to leverage alternative satellite data sources.

                      While the GOES-R program has made progress in completing its design,
GOES-R Has            many key milestones were completed later than planned. The program
Completed Early       demonstrated progress towards completing its design in part by
                      completing its set of preliminary design reviews, which indicated
Milestones, but       readiness to proceed with detailed design activities. The program and its
Delays and Schedule   projects are also making progress towards the final design for the entire
Weaknesses Increase   GOES-R system, which is expected to be completed at the program’s
                      critical design review planned for August 2012. However, many key
Uncertainty for       design milestones were completed later than the dates established for
Remaining             them in December 2007 (when the flight and ground project plans were
                      established, prior to entering the program’s development phase), and
Development and       were also later than the dates established following award of the
Launch Date           contracts for the instruments, spacecraft, and ground system
                      components. For example, the program’s preliminary design review was
                      completed 19 months later than planned, and its critical design review is
                      expected to be completed 13 months later than planned.

                        NASA plans to launch the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission satellite by June
                      2014 and the Soil Moisture Active and Passive satellite by January 2015.

                      Page 12                                                                    GAO-12-841T
                                       The program has also revised planned milestone dates for certain
                                       components by at least 3 months—and up to 2 years—since its originally
                                       estimated dates. Changes in planned completion dates have occurred for
                                       all five flight project instruments, as well as in major components of the
                                       ground project. Figure 2 summarizes these changes in planned
                                       completion dates.

Figure 2: Changes in Planned Completion Dates for Key Milestones in the GOES-R Flight and Ground Projects

                                       Note: The spacecraft represents the overall schedule for the flight project and includes five flight
                                       instruments—the Advanced Baseline Imager, Space Environmental In-Situ Suite, Extreme
                                       Ultraviolet/X-Ray Irradiance Sensor, Solar Ultraviolet Imager, and Geostationary Lightning Mapper.
                                       The Core Ground System represents the overall schedule for the ground project and includes the
                                       Antennas and GOES-R Access Subsystem.
                                       This chart shows estimated timing of GOES-R milestones based on NOAA’s initial 2007 estimate and
                                       monthly program status reports from 2010 and 2012. Antenna and the GOES-R Access Subsystem
                                       dates were not listed in the 2007 estimates.

                                       GOES-R has also encountered a number of technical challenges, some
                                       of which remain to be fully addressed. For example, in early 2011 the
                                       program discovered that the ground project development schedule
                                       included software deliveries from flight project instruments that were not
                                       properly integrated—they had not yet been defined or could not be met.
                                       To address these problems and avoid potential slippages to GOES-R’s
                                       launch date, project officials decided to switch to an approach where
                                       software capabilities could be delivered incrementally. While the revised

                                       Page 13                                                                                 GAO-12-841T
plan was to reduce schedule risk with greater schedule flexibility, the plan
was also expected to cost an additional $85 million and introduce other
risks associated with the incremental development such as additional
contractor staff and software development and verification activities that
require government oversight and continuous monitoring.

So far, NOAA has been able to address certain delays and technical
challenges with an available contingency reserve, in which a portion of
the program’s budget is allocated to mitigate risks and manage problems
as they surface during development, and has not changed its 2007 cost
estimates for the development of the first two program satellites.
However, contractors’ cost estimates for major project components have
increased by $757 million, or 32 percent, between January 2010 and
January 2012. Given the recent increases in contract costs, the program
plans to determine how to cover these increased costs by reducing
resources applied to other areas of program development and support,
delaying scheduled work, or absorbing additional life cycle costs.
Furthermore, as a result of changes in budget reserve allocations and
reserve commitments, the program’s reserves have declined in recent
years from $1.7 billion to $1.2 billion. Between January 2009 and January
2012, the program reported that its reserves fell from 42 percent of
remaining development costs to 29 percent.

NOAA’s ability to effectively limit milestone delays and component cost
increases depends in part on having an integrated and reliable
programwide schedule—called an integrated master schedule—that
defines, among other things, necessary detailed tasks, when work
activities and milestone events will occur, how resources will be applied,
how long activities will take, and how activities are related to one another.
GOES-R has a programwide integrated master schedule that is created
manually once a month directly from at least nine subordinate contractor
schedules. 13

  The subordinate schedules used in creating the integrated master schedule each
contain detailed activities for discrete segments of the GOES-R program, such as
instruments, which are assigned to a specific contractor. We did not analyze the
programwide schedule itself due to the limitations inherent in manual creation of this
schedule. However, conclusions drawn from analysis of contractors’ schedules that feed
directly into the programwide schedule can therefore be applied to the program’s schedule
as well.

Page 14                                                                     GAO-12-841T
                                                 We analyzed four of these subordinate contractor schedules and
                                                 discovered instances where certain best practices had been implemented
                                                 in the schedules, as well as weaknesses in each schedule when
                                                 compared to nine scheduling best practices. 14 When viewed in
                                                 conjunction with manual program-level updates, we concluded that the
                                                 program-level schedule may not be fully reliable. A full set of analysis
                                                 results is listed in table 1.

Table 1: Practices Utilized in Selected GOES-R Schedules

                                                                           Geostationary   Advanced                                                      Core Ground
                                                                           Lightning       Baseline Imager Spacecraft                                    System
Scheduling best practice                                                   Mapper schedule schedule        schedule                                      schedule
Best practice 1: Capturing all activities                                  ●                           ◕                          ◕                      ◑
Best practice 2: Sequencing all activities                                 ◕                           ◑                          ◑                      ◑
Best practice 3: Assigning resources to all activities                     ◔                           ◕                          ◔                      ◑
Best practice 4: Establishing the duration of all activities               ◕                           ◑                          ◕                      ◕
Best practice 5: Integrating schedule activities horizontally              ◑                           ◑                          ◕                      ◑
and vertically
Best practice 6: Establishing the critical path for all activities         ◕                           ◑                          ◕                      ◔
Best practice 7: Identifying float on activities and paths                 ◕                           ◑                          ◑                      ◔
Best practice 8: Conducting a schedule risk analysis                       ◔                           ◔                          ◔                      ◔
Best practice 9: Updating the schedule using logic and                     ●                           ●                          ●                      ◕
durations to determine the dates
                                                 Source: GAO analysis of schedules provided by GOES-R, documents and information received from GOES-R officials.

                                                 ● = The agency/contractor has fully met the criteria for this best practice
                                                 ◕ = The agency/contractor has substantially met the criteria for this best practice
                                                 ◑ = The agency/contractor has partially met the criteria for this best practice
                                                 ◔ = The agency/contractor has minimally met the criteria for this best practice
                                                 ○ = The agency/contractor has not met the criteria for this best practice

                                                 Selected schedule weaknesses existed across each of the four schedules
                                                 analyzed. For example, each of the contractor schedules either did not
                                                 include information on allocation of resources or allocated too much work
                                                 to many of its resources. In addition, none of the contractors had

                                                   These practices were based on GAO, GAO Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide:
                                                 Best Practices for Developing and Managing Capital Program Costs, GAO-09-3SP
                                                 (Washington, D.C.: March 2009).

                                                 Page 15                                                                                                      GAO-12-841T
completed usable schedule risk analyses that included risk simulations.
Particularly important is the absence of a valid critical path 15 throughout
all the schedules. Establishing a valid program-level critical path depends
on the resolution of issues with the respective critical paths for the
spacecraft and Core Ground System components. Without a valid critical
path, management cannot determine which delayed tasks will have
detrimental effects on the project finish date.

The program office has taken specific positive actions that address two of
the scheduling weaknesses we identified. First, the program implemented
a tool that tracks deliverables between the flight and ground projects. This
initiative is intended to address a program-recognized need for better
integration among the program components. Second, the program
conducted a schedule risk analysis designed to identify the probability of
completing a program on its target date. This initiative, while not
addressing risk analyses for component schedules, is intended to
address a program-recognized need to conduct a schedule risk analysis.
In addition, GOES-R officials also stated that they are in the process of
creating an automated process for updating their integrated master
schedule sometime in 2012 and our analysis did find improvements
between July 2011 and December 2011 to weaknesses in each of the
four contractors’ schedules.

While the program has taken positive steps to improve its scheduling,
weaknesses that have the potential to cause delays nonetheless still exist
as the instruments, spacecraft, and ground project components complete
their design and testing phases. For example, according to program
officials, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper shipment date remains at
risk of a potential slip due to redesign efforts. The current projected
delivery for this instrument is August 2013, leaving only 1 month before it
is on the critical path for GOES-R’s launch readiness date. As another
example, the schedule reserve for the first satellite in the GOES-R series
is being counted on to complete activities for the second satellite in the
series. As a result, delays to certain program schedule targets for the first
satellite could impact milestone commitments for the second satellite.

  The critical path represents the chain of dependent activities with the longest total
duration in the schedule.

Page 16                                                                          GAO-12-841T
                       The schedule risk analysis conducted by the program indicated that there
                       is a 48 percent confidence level that the program will meet its current
                       launch readiness date of October 2015. Program officials plan to consult
                       with the NOAA Program Management Council to determine the
                       advisability of moving the launch readiness date to a 70 percent
                       confidence level for February 2016. Even these confidence levels may
                       not be reliable, since the establishment of accurate confidence estimates
                       depends on reliable data that, in turn, results from the implementation of a
                       full set of scheduling best practices not yet in place in the program.

                       Delays in GOES-R’s launch date could impact the continuity of GOES
                       satellite coverage and could produce milestone delays for subsequent
                       satellites in the series. Program documentation indicates that there is a
                       37 percent chance of a gap in the availability of two operational GOES-
                       series satellites at any one time given the current October 2015 launch
                       readiness date and an orbital testing period, assuming a normal lifespan
                       for the satellites currently on-orbit. Any delays in the launch readiness
                       date for GOES-R, which is already at risk due to increasing development
                       costs and use of program reserves, would further increase the probability
                       of a gap in satellite continuity. This could result in the need for NOAA to
                       rely on older satellites that are not fully functional.

                       Both the JPSS and GOES-R programs face risks going forward during
Implementation of      their development; implementing the recommendations in our
Recommendations        accompanying reports should help mitigate those risks. In the JPSS
                       report being released today, we recommend that NOAA establish
Should Help Mitigate   mitigation plans for risks associated with pending satellite data gaps in
Risks of the Two       the afternoon orbit as well as potential gaps in the morning and
Programs               midmorning orbits. NOAA agreed with our recommendation and noted
                       that the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service—
                       a NOAA component agency—has performed analyses on how to mitigate
                       potential gaps in satellite data, but has not yet compiled this information
                       into a report. The agency plans to provide a report to NOAA by August

                       To improve NOAA’s ability to execute GOES-R’s remaining planned
                       development with appropriate reserves, improve the reliability of its
                       schedules, and address identified program risks, we are recommending in
                       our report being released today that NOAA

                       Page 17                                                          GAO-12-841T
•     Assess and report to the NOAA Program Management Council the
      reserves needed for completing remaining development for each
      satellite in the series.
•     Assess shortfalls in schedule management practices, including
      creating a realistic allocation of resources and ensuring an unbroken
      critical path from the current date to the final satellite launch.
•     Execute the program’s risk management policies and procedures to
      provide more timely and adequate evaluations and reviews of newly
      identified risks, and provide more information, including documented
      handling strategies, for all ongoing and newly-identified risks in the
      risk register.
•     Add to the program’s critical risk list the risk that GOES-S
      milestones 16 may be affected by GOES-R development, and ensure
      that this risk and the program-identified funding stability risk are
      adequately monitored and mitigated.

In commenting on a draft of our GOES-R report, NOAA agreed with three
of our four recommendations. It partially concurred with the fourth
recommendation to fully further execute the program’s risk management
policies and procedures and to include timely review and disposition of
candidate risks. NOAA stated that it did not consider the “concerns” listed
in its risk database to be risks or candidate risks and that the risk
management board actively determines whether recorded concerns
should be elevated to a risk. However, the GOES-R program is not
treating concerns in accordance with its risk management plan, which
considers these to be “candidate risks” and requires their timely review
and disposition, as evidenced by the many concerns in the database that
were more than 3 months old and had not been assessed or
dispositioned. Unless NOAA follows its risk management plan by
promptly evaluating “concerns,” it cannot ensure that it is adequately
managing the full set of risks that could impact the program.

In summary, after spending about $3.3 billion on the now-defunct
NPOESS program, NOAA officials have established a $12.9-billion JPSS
program and made progress in launching NPP, establishing contracts for
the first JPSS satellite, and enhancing the ground systems controlling the
satellites and processing the satellite data. In the coming months,

    GOES-S is the second of four planned satellites in the GOES-R series.

Page 18                                                                     GAO-12-841T
                  program officials face changing requirements, technical issues on
                  individual sensors, key milestones in developing the JPSS satellite, and
                  important decisions on the spacecraft, launch vehicles, and instruments
                  that are not included on the JPSS satellite. In addition, NOAA has not
                  established plans to mitigate the almost certain satellite data gaps in the
                  afternoon orbit or the potential gaps in the early and mid-morning orbits.
                  These gaps will likely affect the accuracy and timeliness of weather
                  predictions and forecasts and could affect lives, property, military
                  operations, and commerce. Until NOAA identifies its mitigation options, it
                  may miss opportunities to leverage alternative satellite data sources.

                  Completing many of GOES-R’s early design activities is an
                  accomplishment for this complex program, but this accomplishment has
                  been accompanied by milestone delays and increased contractor cost
                  estimates for GOES-R’s components. The unreliability of GOES-R’s
                  schedules adds further uncertainty as to whether the program will meet its
                  commitments. NOAA has taken steps to improve schedule reliability, but
                  until the program implements and uses a full set of schedule best
                  practices throughout the life of the program, further delays to program
                  milestones may occur. Moreover, until all contractor and subcontractor
                  information is included in the program’s integrated master schedule and
                  regular schedule risk assessments are conducted, program management
                  may not have timely and relevant information at its disposal for decision
                  making, undercutting the ability of the program office to manage this high-
                  risk program.

                  Chairman Broun, Chairman Harris, Ranking Member Tonko, Ranking
                  Member Miller, and Members of the Subcommittees, this completes my
                  prepared statement. I would be pleased to respond to any questions that
                  you may have at this time.

                  If you have any questions on matters discussed in this testimony, please
GAO Contact and   contact David A. Powner at (202) 512-9286 or at pownerd@gao.gov.
Staff             Other key contributors include Colleen Phillips (Assistant Director), Paula
                  Moore (Assistant Director), Shaun Byrnes, Kate Feild, Nancy Glover,
Acknowledgments   Franklin Jackson, Fatima Jahan, and Josh Leiling.

                  Page 19                                                          GAO-12-841T
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