Stimulus Bill Includes Millions for Satellite Program

Here's a troubling one from Taxpayer's For Common Sense:

Spending on the National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System, a program to generate weather and climate data, has doubled over the last 14 years to $12.5 billion -- even though none of the satellites have been launched.

The taxpayer group is highlighting the program as part of its oversight of the Obama administration's stimulus package. Here's what they had to say in a recent blog:

"Despite energetic lobbying by the defense industry (and some lawmakers) the $825 billion stimulus bill now emerging from committee markups seems free of handouts for Air Force jets and other military hardware. But DOD will benefit from hundreds of millions going to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for a fancy satellite program called the National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS).

"A tri-agency project that will circle the globe picking up weather and climate data, NPOESS was intended to save money by replacing two similar systems operated separately by the Air Force and NOAA. Unfortunately, construction and testing bungles slowed things down so that 14 years later, the cost of the...program has doubled from $6.5 to $12.5 billion for four instead of six satellites. And the first bird has yet to make its maiden voyage."

We're going to be hearing a lot about stimulus money. It's going to flow bigtime. If you hear it's not going to the right people, places or things, please let us know.


Dear Readers: an earlier version of this post described the program cited above as partly run by Lockheed. A Lockheed official called to say that is not so. We trimmed the reference.

Alas, there's more on this front: A Northrop "senior communications manager" alerted us that they have Web pages devoted to the satellite program. There was a hint (but no detail) that the taxpayer group's posting was somehow not fully accurate. Was it the part about the assertion that $12.5 billion has been spent -- the taxpayer group says that's almost twice the original budget -- but there's still no satellite in orbit for the program? We'll soon find out and let you know.

For now, please see the links the Northrop official sent along. Here's a second link.

OK. Here a note that Northrop's communications manager sent along, including added detail. She said "the taxpayer's group material was misleading on a number of points."

"For example:
- NPOESS is the next-generation, low-Earth orbiting, weather and environmental satellite system.
- NPOESS will deliver higher resolution and more accurate data than existing systems, and will support improved accuracy in short-term weather forecasts and severe storm warnings.
- The improved coverage provided by NPOESS will allow the National Weather Service to substantially increase lead times on storm warnings and flooding with direct impacts on lives, property and the economy. Air travelers, farmers, emergyency preparedness and response organization, public health officials and water managers - just to name a few - will benefit from NPOESS data.
- The $12.5 billion represents the life cycle cost of NPOESS through 2026. That includes satellites, sensors, production, launch and operations."

Government Inc. believes that, apart from mixing up the prime contractors, the item by Taxpayer's For Common Sense was on point. In short, the program is way over the original budget and significantly delayed from its original timeline. That's according to a GAO report.

Anyway, enough. Thank you, Northrop, for the input. The rest of you? We're listening.

By Robert O'Harrow |  January 27, 2009; 6:09 AM ET stimulus
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Comments

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How's that any more troubling than the rest of the stuff in this bill? It's a farce to say it'll be earmark free, the bill is an earmark heaven. They're not being called earmarks because they got in the first couple of drafts.

Also the commentary on NPOESS is very harsh. 'bungles'? How's that professional. There have been issues with this program, starting with that they're trying to replace a neglected 30 year old program and bit off more than they could chew.

There very well should be money for NPOESS and other programs that are worthy, but you're right in trying to keep a lookout for spending in this bill that won't be 'stimulus'. I'd start at line 1.

Posted by: kolbkl | January 27, 2009 9:25 AM

Over the course of 14 years, a doubling of budget represents 5% annual growth. Is that really that bad, given that it keeps up with inflation? Perhaps a treatment of inflation adjusted cost would put this program's growth in perspective.

It would be interesting to see, for comparision, how the Washington Post newsstand price has grown over the past 14 years.

Posted by: mconcha1 | January 27, 2009 12:48 PM

If the Wahington Post had not delivered a paper in 14 years that comparison would be accurate.

As it is I would like to see some progress before we throw some more money at it.

Posted by: stnmsn8 | January 27, 2009 1:37 PM

There's been plenty of progress, both in terms of hardware and management.

Add to that the simple fact that we NEED this program. NOAA is going to launch the last of the current satellites in a week or so. It's designed for a three year mission. We need two of these to have accurate weather forecasting, the previous one was launched in 2005.

Fact is, though, this program needs to be in an honest and clear bill, not some mish-mash of projects.

Posted by: kolbkl | January 27, 2009 2:01 PM

Earth to the Washington Post --- Lockheed Martin LOST this competition to Raytheon (errr not Raythen). LM has nothing to do with it.....

Posted by: launchdirector | January 27, 2009 2:56 PM

At 62, I'm surrounded by friends who worked hard and saved, lived within their means and were planning to 'retire' soon.
Not so fast...we've all lost 30-35% of our well earned retirement savings. But the government is buying satellites to tell us tomorrow's weather, contraceptives, jets (?), and resodding parks with the money that is supposed to help people stay in their homes, find and/or keep their jobs, feed their kids. You know, the boring stuff that doesn't dazzle the world.
I had hoped that Obama would really mean change; he's just more of the same old same old. George Bush never listened to anyone and insisted on getting his way.
Both he and Obama have something in common: arrogance. And life goes on...Carol Hitchie, Chicago

Posted by: carolhitchie | January 27, 2009 6:09 PM

This is a long and complicated story of mismanagement by both the govt and the contractor. It is not possible to go back in time and undo those mistakes; it is not possible to fix them for $0 starting now. We cannot expect to "see some progress before we throw some more money at it." With no money, there will be no progress.

It is true that the US people need this satellite system, i.e. the govt cannot just drop the idea. And the govt will have to add money to allow it to move forward. The question is only HOW -- how to find the money, how to allocate it, who's responsible for it. It may be sensible to eject Raytheon and re-bid the contract; that's for the agencies to decide. They will need adult supervision and direction from above as they try to straighten the wheels, decide what to do about the contractual problems, and get moving again in the least expensive way. (If you have doubts about the Obama Administration's ability to give "adult supervision" that means you're pessimistic about the final cost and schedule.) I'm hopeful that the agencies will at least start moving and making decisions again.

Posted by: dada_lope | January 27, 2009 7:20 PM

NPOESS rocks! And if you think it's too expensive, consider the net worth of your family's life when the storm of the century comes to town and the government doesn't know how to act.

And actually, designing and building satellites that tell us tomorrow's weather does help people find and keep their jobs. They're called technical jobs.

Don't tke rr jobs!

Posted by: hallbatross | January 27, 2009 8:17 PM

I really don't understand how such a large majority of people can oppose the inclusion of earmarks and excessive "Pork" and all of the politicians just ignore us. I guess that is because we keep voting in the same people who fail all of the time. This is an excellent reason for term limits. Even though I approve of almost all of the space program and what they are doing it should not be included here.

Does anyone know where we can write, post, call or whatever to get these people to listen to us?
Thanks

Posted by: Torrington1952 | January 28, 2009 10:45 AM

"....A Lockheed official called to say that is not so. We trimmed the reference..."

Geeez how about admitting you screwed-up big time? Northrup Grumman is the prime, with Raytheon & Ball as subs. Did you get anything right? I'd check better sources before believing a word of this....

Posted by: launchdirector | January 28, 2009 10:51 AM

Any "stimulus package" must be able to perform, either directly, or with clarity of indirect perfromance, in promptly increasing our annual GDP. Our current problem is that money that should be moving is tied up in non-productive assets such as "gas-hog" automobiles waiting to be sold, real estate that is not being paid for, money locked into unmoving local, state and federal projects, etc. If the stimulus package is to work, it must make money move (that is what Gross Domestic Product is) and it must have a growth factor built in. Money moving that creates more money movement. We are in the financial situation now due to the unwise placing of money in a dead-end or non-moving status. A positive example is when money was moving as builders and workers got paid and spent their money on money movers like food, and fuel to get to work and get paid, etc. Ultimately, too much of that money wound up in too many non-moving assets such as a quarter-million dollar homes sitting unsold or in foreclosure. That is a dead end and does nothing for the GDP. We need to have active watch-dogs on the stimulus package to insure that it does, in fact, move money that will perpetuate money movement. That should not be too difficult for any financial expert to understand. Even a President can, I hope, understand that simple aspect of "stimulus."
Smokey in Kansas City.

Posted by: nucon2004kc | January 28, 2009 12:45 PM

At least this part will keep people working

Posted by: mglanning | January 29, 2009 5:17 PM

I love all the "pie in the sky" projects...as the US went to the moon. What is different? Was there a deadline? Was there oversight - not just a talking head speaking in a language that would befuddle everyone to whom they were reporting? Please, not another oversight committee of congress - but hire some independent(?) consultants to really look at cost/benefit. Why are not there penalties to these companies that fail to deliver as promised? It just seems that it is time to shut of the source of "free money" for projects that just go on and on and on.... with no output!
As a believer in science and technology advancement, I support useful endeavors, but eliminating the Fermi Lab funding and continuing this seems reprehensible.

Posted by: axf56730 | February 2, 2009 9:55 AM

Pork is Pork! When will the President and the Congress listen to the voters? They all just go on trying to pass bills without thinking anything about the financial crisis we have been put into, by their spending. The politicians like to blame the Wall Street and big business CEO's, what about Barney Franks, Chris Dodd, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Charles Rangle? They helped get us into this mess but the media gives them a pass. Some Republicans, Charles Boehner also dug into Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae's funds along with Barack Obama, the media overlooked them also! It seems as though, one prerequisite is being a tax cheat to get a cabinet post with Obama. Welcome to the Change

Posted by: jjhan2 | February 2, 2009 9:59 AM

Carol Hitchie has right! If anyone had wondered what an Obama Administation would look like had only to examine Chicago. We have moved many politicians and Chicago insiders to Wahington D.C.. It is not a great surprise to see some of the deception,untruthfullness an stealth spending in the "Stimulus" package. It ahs become a guise for promoting greater government control of the private sector in many different areas that have no relevance to relieving the economic turmoil we now face as a Nation. It is only another step to incrementally control our freedoms.

Unless the voting population takes heed of what is happening and begins to make a mark at the ballot box we will be in for rough times. The more we become dependent on government the harder it will be to enjoy true change.

Posted by: observerveteran | February 2, 2009 2:51 PM

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