NOAA Claims $735 Million in Savings on Polar Follow-On Satellite Program

NOAA has reported that it has found $735 million in savings in the Polar Follow-on (PFO) weather satellite program.

In a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), NOAA Acting Administrator Neil Jacobs said the program life cycle cost (LCC) has been reduced from $7.57 billion to $6.84 billion for fiscal years 2016 through 2038.

“The PFO Program has performed exceptionally well and the new LCC has sufficient cost and schedule margin to mitigate risk due to the improved posture,” Jacobs wrote.

“The JPSS Program Office – which manages both the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and PFO programs within the Polar Weather Satellites (PWS) portfolio – has launched and placed into operations the first of the four satellites in the series and continues on schedule the acquisition and development of the remaining three satellites, including preparing the second satellite (JPSS-2) for launch in 2022,” he added.

Jacobs said the $735 million reduction is traceable to:

  • “Excellent program management performance;
  • Synergy from common engineering and program support leveraged across PWS portfolio
  • (Program of Record (or POR) + PFO) program elements;
  • A more competitive launch services market lowering procurement costs;
  • Positive instrument development and testing progress, resulting in greater confidence and
  • improved risk posture; and
  • Reduced cost reserves requirements due to staff efficiencies and lower technical risk posture.”

Jacobs’ letter to Shelby was supported by memorandum confirming the savings from Deputy Secretary of Commerce Karen Dunn Kelley. NOAA is part of the Commerce Department.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Texas), ranking member of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, praised Jacobs and NOAA in a press release.

“I want to applaud NOAA, NESDIS, and the JPSS Program Office for their tremendous work to deliver critical long-term weather and climate observations. I also want to thank Dr. Neil Jacobs for his leadership during this time. Not only are Dr. Jacobs and NOAA producing high-quality data and forecasts, but they are also doing it in a cost-effective manner and saving taxpayers $735 million dollars. With an above-average Atlantic hurricane season projected this year, I am thankful NOAA has world-class satellites providing data for their models.”

The news came at a good time for Jacobs, whose nomination to serve as NOAA’s permanent administrator is now before the full Senate for confirmation.

Last week, a report from an outside review board said Jacobs had twice violated NOAA’s Scientific Integrity Policy when he released an statement supporting President Donald Trump’s claim that hurricane Dorian would impact Alabama as it approached the U.S. mainland in September 2019.

Trump was infuriated when his tweet was contradicted by the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Ala. The weather service is part of NOAA.

Jacobs released the statement, which criticized the Birmingham office, under pressure from Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. NOAA is part of the Commerce Department.

Jacobs has been serving as NOAA’s acting administrator in his role of the agency’s Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction.

NOAA has not had a Senate approved administrator since the Obama Administration ended in January 2017.