GAO Still Worried About JWST

GAO Still Worried About JWST

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its most recent report on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) today.  Though it found that the program is “generally” conforming to the revised baseline plan announced in September 2011, the congressional watchdog agency warns about difficult times ahead.

Today’s report found that although data from prime contractor Northrop Grumman indicated that the program is proceeding on the cost and schedule outlined in the 2011 revision, “monthly performance declined in fiscal year 2013.”    While the project has “a significant amount of cost reserves,” GAO said, “low levels of near-term cost reserves could limit [NASA’s] ability to continue to meet future cost and schedule commitments.”  GAO added that its analysis of the schedules for three subsystems “determined that the reliability of the project’s integrated master schedule … is questionable.”

JWST has experienced substantial cost growth and schedule slippage since it began.  There are several different accounts of the original cost estimate, with some reports that it was $1 billion, but in any case, by 2005, NASA’s estimate was $4.5 billion with launch in 2013.   In 2010, an independent review led to a new baseline for the program.  In 2011, Congress emplaced a cost cap of $8 billion for development with launch in October 2018.  The life cycle cost estimate, including operations, was set at $8.8 billion.  Congress directed GAO to keep track of the program.

GAO recommended in today’s report that NASA perform an “updated integrated cost/schedule risk analysis” and “address issues related to low cost reserves and perform schedule risk analyses” on the three subsystems GAO studied.  NASA concurred with those recommendations according to GAO.


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