Mitigation of gaps in meteorological satellite data

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Why the high risk zone is removed

In our 2017 High Risk Report, we reported that NOAA has fully implemented the criteria associated with demonstrating leadership commitment, the ability to address risks, and tracking progress.

We also reported that NOAA has partially implemented the criteria for establishing an action plan and demonstrating progress. Additionally, our 2017 report noted DOD’s slow progress in establishing plans for its tracking weather satellite program and determining how it would meet other in-orbit early morning weather requirements.

Since then, (1) NOAA has fully implemented actions in response to the two remaining criteria that had been partially implemented previously and (2) the DOD, in accordance with the statutes and accompanying congressional guidelines, has established and began to implement plans both for its follow-on meteorological satellite program and to meet major requirements that were not included in this satellite program. Therefore, we are removing the need to mitigate weather satellite data gaps from our high risk list.


DOD Supply Chain Management

NOAA’s polar-orbiting weather satellites

Since our last high-risk update in 2017, NOAA continues to meet the Leadership Commitment, Capability, and Oversight criteria and now also meets the Action Plan and Demonstrated Progress criteria.

Management commitment: respected. NOAA program officials met the Leadership Commitment Criteria in 2015 and have continued to maintain strong leadership commitment to mitigate potential satellite data gaps since then. For example, NOAA has published and frequently updated its Polar Satellite Gap Mitigation Plan, which identifies specific technical, programmatic, and managerial steps the agency is taking to ensure that satellites are viable. In addition, NOAA leaders continue to oversee the acquisition of polar-orbiting satellites through monthly briefings on cost, schedule, and risks affecting satellite development.

Capacity: Satisfied. NOAA continues to meet the criterion of improving its ability to address the risk of missing satellite data. In December 2014, we recommended that NOAA explore ways to prioritize gap-mitigation projects with the greatest potential benefit to weather forecasting, such as improving its high-performance computing capability. NOAA accepted this recommendation and implemented it. For example, NOAA upgraded its high-performance computers, which allowed the agency to move forward on several other mitigation activities, including experimenting with other data sources and assimilating that data into its models. meteorological.

Action plan: achieved. NOAA now meets the criterion of having a plan to address the risk of a gap in polar satellite data, which is an increase from its rating in 2017. In June 2012, we reported that although NOAA officials had communicated publicly and often about the risk of a lack of polar satellite data, the agency had not established plans to mitigate the discrepancy. We recommended that NOAA establish a gap mitigation plan, and the agency did so in February 2014. However, in December 2014, we recommended that NOAA revise its plan to address gaps, including (1 ) adding recovery time objectives for key products, (2) identifying opportunities to accelerate the calibration and validation of satellite data products, (3) providing an assessment of available alternatives based on their costs and impacts, and (4) establish a schedule with meaningful timelines and linkages between mitigation activities.

The agency accepted the recommendation and then processed it. Specifically, NOAA released three updates to its gap mitigation plan between January 2016 and February 2017. With the latest of the updates, the agency addressed the deficiencies we had identified.

Supervision: satisfied. NOAA met this criterion in 2017, and continues to do so now, by implementing our recommendations to more consistently and comprehensively monitor its progress in gap mitigation activities. For example, NOAA’s three organizations responsible for gap mitigation projects regularly update senior management on their progress.

Progress demonstrated: achieved. NOAA now meets the demonstrated progress criterion, which is an increase from its previous rating. In our 2017 High Risk Report, we noted that NOAA had identified 35 different gap-mitigation projects and was progressing with their implementation. These projects fell into three general categories: (1) understanding the likelihood and impact of a deviation, (2) reducing the likelihood of a deviation, and (3) reducing the impact of a deviation. Nevertheless, one of the most important steps to reduce the likelihood of a deviation – keeping the launch of the next polar satellite on schedule – had run into problems. Specifically, agency officials decided to delay the launch due to difficulties with developing the ground system and a critical instrument on the spacecraft. This delay exacerbated the likelihood of a lack of satellite data.

More recently, however, NOAA was able to demonstrate progress by successfully launching the satellite in November 2017. This satellite, now called NOAA-20, is currently operational and is being used to provide advanced weather data and forecasts. Additionally, the agency is also working to build and launch the next satellites of the Polar Satellite Program.


DOD Supply Chain Management

DOD polar-orbiting weather satellites

As of our last high-risk update in 2017, DOD now meets all five high-risk criteria.

Management commitment: respected. With strong congressional oversight, the DOD now meets that test. Pursuant to the enactment of the Carl Levin and Howard P. ‘Buck’ McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015 (NDAA for fiscal year 2015), the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (NDAA for Fiscal Year 2016) and Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, DOD management is committed to developing and implementing plans to meet its weather satellite requirements. For example, in late 2017, the ministry awarded a contract for its Weather System Follow-on—Microwave satellite to meet key weather requirements.

Capacity: Satisfied. With strong congressional oversight, the DOD now meets the capacity test. Specifically, the NDAA for fiscal year 2015 limited the availability of 50% of authorized fiscal year 2015 funds for the Weather Satellite Tracking System (now called the Microwave Weather System Tracking Satellite Program) until for the DOD to submit to congressional defense committees a plan to meet weather monitoring data collection requirements. Additionally, the explanatory statement that accompanied the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 recommended that the Air Force focus on ensuring the next generation of weather satellites meet all requirements and work with stakeholders. to take advantage of appropriate civil or international meteorological resources.

As required by law and the explanatory memorandum, DOD has established plans to meet weather monitoring data collection needs, including acquiring satellites as part of a family of systems to replace its weather satellites. aging.

Additionally, the DOD has officially coordinated with NOAA on weather monitoring data collection efforts. In January 2017, the Air Force and NOAA signed a memorandum of understanding, and in November 2017 signed an annex to that agreement, to enable information exchange and collaboration on a collection plan weather monitoring data. The Air Force and NOAA are currently developing plans to move a residual NOAA satellite over the Indian Ocean, an area of ​​concern for cloud characterization and weather-specific weather imagery coverage. The area.

Action plan: achieved. In our 2017 High Risk Report, we reported that the DOD was slow to establish plans for its microwave weather system monitoring program and had made little progress in determining how it would meet satellite requirements. meteorological for cloud characterization and area-specific weather imagery. . In accordance with the NDAA for fiscal year 2015, the NDAA for fiscal year 2016, and the explanatory statement that accompanied the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, the department has developed and begun to implement plans to meet its meteorological satellite requirements. As mentioned above, in late 2017, the ministry awarded a contract for its Weather System Follow-on–Microwave satellite to meet key weather requirements. Under this program, the ministry could launch a demonstration satellite in 2021 and plans to launch an operational satellite in 2022.

The DOD has also developed plans to deliver its two highest priority capabilities – cloud characterization and area-specific weather imagery data collection – which will not be covered by the Weather System Follow-on satellite program. -Microwave. The ministry is planning a longer-term solution, called the Electro-Optical/Infrared Weather Systems Program, to meet these needs, with a satellite launch scheduled for 2024.

Supervision: satisfied. The DOD now meets the monitoring criterion, as evidenced by its actions to launch a major acquisition program, the Weather System Follow-on–Microwave, and to award a contract for the first satellite. In addition, program officials said they plan to monitor the program’s progress toward meeting critical needs and assess its operating and sustaining costs.

Progress demonstrated: achieved. The DOD now meets the criterion of demonstrated progress as it has developed plans and taken action to address weather data gaps through its plans to launch the Weather System Follow-on–Microwave satellite in 2022. The department also plans to start the electro-optical/infrared system. Satellite Weather Systems in 2024. By developing these plans, the DOD reduced the risk of data gaps in weather satellites and addressed concerns about lack of planning that we identified in our 2017 High Risk Report. Effective implementation of its plans by the DOD will be essential to further reduce the risk of weather satellite data gaps in the future.

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