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GAO: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Still Faces “Considerable Challenges”

Jul 13, 2006
Press Release

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released a report on its review of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) program.  Development of the JWST was cited as the highest priority in astronomy and astrophysics in the National Academies’ 2000 Decadal Survey, with the goal of allowing astronomers "to peer into the distant past and see, for the first time, the birth of the modern universe."

Since its inception, the JWST program has undergone significant cost growth (about $1 billion) and schedule slippage (of nearly two years to approximately June 2013).  Recently, the program’s acquisition strategy was adjusted to conform to revised NASA policy.

The GAO report identifies a number of concerns with NASA’s current strategy for acquiring the JWST:

  • "…the maturity of key technologies may not be adequately tested prior to program start."
  • "…it appears the program will not have sufficient funding resources to ensure the program’s success."

Overall, the GAO report finds that NASA’s current plan for JWST does not fully incorporate an approach that would insure "resources match requirements in terms of knowledge, time, and money before program start" - a factor that GAO believes is needed to reduce the risk of further cost and schedule growth.

Commenting on the GAO report, House Science Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) stated, "We are indebted to the GAO for its self-initiated review of the JWST project.  It has uncovered a number of areas of concern that NASA itself agrees are valid.  JWST will be an invaluable research tool when completed, but we owe it to the American taxpayers to ensure that the resources invested in it are responsibly managed.  This report will be a valuable oversight tool."

Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) added, "I am encouraged that NASA has concurred with the GAO’s findings and recommendations and intends to address them.  JWST has the potential to continue the revolution in astronomy begun by the Hubble Space Telescope.  Yet, we need to make sure that JWST is developed as efficiently as possible so that it doesn’t adversely impact other important astronomy and astrophysics projects at NASA."

The GAO report – NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope: Knowledge-Based Acquisition Approach Key to Addressing Program Challenges may be viewed online at the Science Democrats’ website or by visiting GAO’s website.

109th Congress