U.S. satellite program over budget, behind schedule

A new weather satellite system planned to save money and avoid duplication is over budget and behind schedule, Congress was told Thursday.

"Seven months ago we found the problems had worsened, and had not been worked out. And here we are again, now billions over budget, with delays long enough that we are facing large potential gaps in lifesaving satellite data," Congressman Vernon J. Ehlers said in a statement.

"This cannot continue. We must make sure that we have the satellites we need when we need them, and effective management of the procurement and acquisition process is essential to meeting this goal," said Ehlers, chairman of the House Science subcommittee on environment, technology and standards.

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System was announced in 1994, in an effort to combine environmental satellites operated by the Defense Department and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A three-way management system including NASA was established with an expected budget of $6.5 billion and a planned first launch in 2008.

But the Government Accountability Office said in 2005 that that the costs are likely to grow to $9.7 billion and the project is at least 17 months behind schedule.

The Commerce Department's inspector general reported Thursday that delays occurred because of problems with an infrared sensor and said officials either did not adequately monitor development of the instrument or did not bring problems to the attention of senior management.

Only after it became apparent that the problems would delay launch did the executive committee overseeing the project begin investigating and by then it was too late to turn the project around, the report said.

In addition, the report said the contractor received excessive award fees for its work.

While acquisition is handled by the Defense Department, the report focused on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is part of the Commerce Department.

In response, NOAA said the three-agency management team is conducting monthly progress reviews and will seek independent review of the program, reports AP.


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