The Pentagon’s recent decision to grant

government officials working on the next generation of U.S. polar-orbiting weather satellites an extension on their deadline for completing some key planning documents, has sparked concern among some members of Congress.

The government is trying to wrap up work on a restructured prime contract for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). Doing so with those planning documents still outstanding could result in further disruption for the NPOESS program,

according to David Powner, director of information technology management issues at the Government Accountability Office.

The NPOESS satellites, the first of which is expected to launch in 2013, are intended to replace separate polar-orbiting constellations used today by the military and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The Air Force and the NOAA equally share funding responsibility for the satellites. NOAA has overall program management responsibility and will operate the satellites once they reach orbit, according to the NPOESS program office Web site. The Pentagon is the lead agency for acquisition work, and NASA is in charge of overseeing the development of new technology that could be inserted into the program, according to the Web site.

The documents in question spell out revamped plans for the NPOESS effort, which was restructured in

June 2006.

The program was restructured after the estimated cost to complete the satellites had grown more than 25 percent above the previous estimate of $8.4 billion.

The restructured program

has a price tag currently estimated at $12.5 billion. The restructuring also reduced the number of NPOESS satellites from

six to four

and eliminated plans for

several instruments that were designed to do

climate monitoring.

The government is currently trying to develop a strategy for replacing the data that those instruments were expected to gather. The solutions under consideration include the launch of free-flying satellites that could host some of those instruments.

Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., is the prime contractor for the program. Air Force Brig. Gen. Susan Mashiko, who left her position as NPOESS program executive officer

July 9, had expected to complete the restructuring of the company’s contract for the program on her last day on the job, but did not do so, according to a government source, who said the contract should be finished soon.

Mashiko’s departure to take over as the commander of the military satellite communications systems wing was a

disappointment to

Powner and Reps. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) and Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Science and Technology energy and environment subcommittee,


praised her efforts to correct the problems with the

NPOESS program during a June 7 hearing.

Powner, Lampson and Inglis

worry about the effect of a change in leadership at this juncture.


documents that

still have not been delivered

to the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics are listed in a June 7 memorandum from Kenneth Krieg, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, who retired from the position

July 20.

Krieg’s memorandum lists 13

documents, 10 of which were due in 2006. Program officials were granted extensions of at least a year on the filing

for n

early all of those 13



e documents cover planning for program management, the schedule, contract award fees, systems engineering

and other issues. Three documents given a one-year extension past their original deadline of September 2006 are listed in a separate government document dated July 9 as being in progress but behind their revised schedules.

The three are an acquisition strategy report, a logistics plan

and a memorandum of agreement among

the government


Powner expressed concern during a July 11 hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee about having key planning documents still under development even after the Northrop Grumman contract is expected to be restructured.

“We’re getting ready to make a new contract on NPOESS, and some of those documents include an integrated master schedule, an integrated testing plan – those are types of things you want solidified before you enter into a new contract, because what does that mean?” Powner said. “It means that there’s likely contract [modifications]

, and that typically equates to cost increases.”

However, U.S. Air Force Col. Dan Stockton, the service’s NPOESS

program director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,


the planning documents are focused on government management rather than contractor activities, and

the delays in their delivery will not affect the value of the NPOESS contract.

During the July 11 hearing, Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and

Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) expressed concern

that delivery of several of the

documents has fallen

behind even the

revised schedules.

“There’s just something striking about the fact that we are less than 30 days from when the plan was made originally, and we’re already submitting date changes to that plan,” Cantwell said. “It says to me the original plan and proposal wasn’t accurate or thought out in the details.”