GAO: NOAA must do more to mitigate satellite coverage gap

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association hasn't done enough to mitigate the risk of a likely 17- to 53-month satellite coverage gap in polar-orbiting weather satellites, finds a Government Accountability Office report (.pdf) dated June 15, but not published until June 28.

"Until these risks are mitigated and resolved, civilian and military satellite data users may not have the information they need for timely weather forecasting, thereby risking lives, property, and commerce," say report authors.

The report attributes NOAA's lack of focus on the fact that the Joint Polar Satellite System program office has yet to set cost and schedule baselines, or become fully staffed.

Agency officials say they plan to:

  • Redefine program requirement suited to the expected budget by October 2012;
  • Revise contracts to reflect requirement changes by September 2012; and
  • Set a program baseline by Dec. 1, 2012.

The agency also says it will "fill most of the positions, including that of the technical director, by July 2012," add report authors.

Although NOAA is addressing some of the risks associated with the impending gap, it has yet to set strategies around others. For example, NOAA has no mitigation plan for the possible gap in the afternoon orbit or potential gaps arising from diminished DoD and European satellite coverage that currently provides supplementary data to NOAA.

"Because it could take time to adapt grounds systems to receive alternative satellites' data, delays in establishing mitigation plans could leave the agency little time to leverage its alternatives," says the report.  

In all, 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. In response to GAO's recommendation that NOAA establish more complete mitigation plans, the agency told report authors it is developing a report to address the risk of data gaps.

For more:
- download the report, GAO-12-604 (.pdf)

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