Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Hearing - GAO's Report on the Status of NOAA's Geostationary Weather Satellite Program

Subcommittee on Energy | 2318 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 | Oct 23, 2007 2:00pm to 4:00pm

Witnesses

Mr. David Powner, Director, Information Technology Management Issues, Government Accountability Office.

Ms. Mary Ellen Kicza, Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information Services, NOAA.

Press Release

SUBCOMMITTEE CONTINUES OVERSIGHT OF WEATHER SATELLITE PROGRAM

Washington D.C. - October 23, 2007 – Today the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing to continue its rigorous oversight over the development of the next-generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, R series (GOES-R). The next generation satellites are in the development stages, in a joint endeavor between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The Science Committee began closely monitoring the program under Republican leadership in the 109th Congress, in order to assure that these important satellites are launched on time, so that they can continue to provide storm tracking images to the National Weather Service.

At the hearing, Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC) questioned cost and schedule discrepancies between program estimates at NOAA and independent estimates released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which estimates the program could cost about $2 billion more, and the launch could be delayed up to 2 years.

“I’m particularly concerned that possible launch delays will result in discontinuity of valuable forecasting data,” Inglis said. “If GOES-R fails to launch until 2017, and doesn’t come online until 2019, will NASA, NOAA, and weather forecasters lose access to the information they need to accurately predict and observe storms?

“Those of us responsible for this program, Congress, NOAA, and NASA, cannot allow delays and cost overruns. GOES-R today is a $6.9 billion program for two satellites. That is a lot of taxpayer money. We expect that investment to provide a series of weather satellites that are launched on time and provide data to ensure the most accurate possible weather forecasting and modeling.”

GOES satellites orbit above the Earth's equator, where their orbital velocity allows the satellites maintain the same relative position over a particular point on the planet. The current GOES-R development program is the third major procurement for GOES satellites, and was to represent the first major upgrade to the satellite sensors since GOES-8 went into orbit in 1994. As originally planned, NOAA would buy four satellites and intended to spend $6.2 billion. Launch of the first satellite was expected in 2012.

When the Committee met for GAO's first report on the GOES-R program last September, the cost estimate for the original program had risen to $11.4 billion and the agency had subsequently reduced the number of satellites to be purchased from the original four, to two. The first launch was also pushed back to December 2014.

At today’s hearing, responding to the cost overruns forecasted in the latest GAO report, Ms. Mary Ellen Kicza, Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information Services at NOAA, strongly disagreed, saying, “Accurate comparison of the two cost estimates requires an assessment of each estimate’s ground rules and assumptions. Resolution of issues related to instrument design complexity, software scope, and inflation factors can have huge effects on revised estimates.”

Representing GAO at today’s hearing was Mr. David Powner, Director of Information Technology Management Issues.

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