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Weather Satellite Cost Taxpayers $6B, Has Yet to Launch

An artist's rendering of NOAA's existing Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (NOAA)(WASHINGTON) -- While most Americans spent the week fearing a rogue satellite falling out of the sky, perhaps they should have spent a little more time considering the $6 billion the U.S. government spent on satellites that have yet to get off the ground.

After 17 years, more than $6 billion in taxpayer money and three complete project overhauls, a program that was originally intended to launch six weather-tracking satellites before 2018 has yet to put the first test satellite into orbit.

“This is the poster child of a runaway government program that is over-promised, over-budget and, honestly, under-performed,” Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Andy Harris, R- Md., said Friday at a House hearing on the program.

The Joint Polar Satellite System run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will now create two satellites, one that’s set to launch Oct. 25 and another that won’t hit the skies until 2017. By that time the total price tag is expected to balloon to more than $17 billion.

David A. Powner, the director of Information Technology Management Issues at the Government Accountability Office, said at least some of the blame should fall on Congress, which has failed to pass a year-long budget bill since 1997. Because Congress has appropriated funds in short spurts through continuing resolutions, the project has not been able to work off of a steady baseline of funding, he said.

“One of most difficult things for a project manager is uncertainty,” Powner said. “The more re-plannings we have to do, the more uncertainty there is, the more difficult it is for us to accomplish our goals.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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