Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Galileo "ill-conceived"

To absolutely no surprise – to readers of this blog, at any rate - the European Court of Auditors have condemned the EU's Galileo vanity project as "ill-prepared and badly managed".

"The programme," it says, "lacked a strong strategic sponsor and supervisor: the commission did not proactively direct the programme, leaving it without a helmsman."

The 27 member states also take some stick - for promoting their own industries first and foremost. "Owing to their different programme expectations, member states intervened in the interest of their national industries and held up decisions," complains the court of auditors. "The compromises made led to implementation problems, delays and, in the end, to cost overruns."

The audit examined the factors in the failure of the concession process and for delays and cost overruns of technological development, concluding that the original public-private partnership plan was "inadequately prepared and conceived" not to mention "unrealistic".

The Galileo Joint Undertaking - set up in 2003 and scrapped in 2006, when the commission took over direct management - was given the task of supervising Galileo's technological development activities but "was seriously constrained by governance issues, an incomplete budget, delays and the industrial organisation of the development and validation phase."

If the project is to succeed, says the court, the commission "must considerably strengthen its management of the programmes." And "should the EU resolve to engage in other large infrastructure programmes, the commission must ensure it has access to the appropriate management tools," it added.

A chastened (not) commission spokesman acknowledged that there had been delays and cost overruns – he could hardly do otherwise – and then, in classic bureaucratic style, declared: "In hindsight things could always be done better... but we are happy to accept the recommendations of the court in order to be able to get on with the project."

Needless to say, the commission at this stage cannot even quantify the cost or time overruns, but the spokesman is confident that the first operational satellites should be launched next year. That, according to the court of auditors, makes it something like five years late already.

Interestingly, remarkably few media outlets have carried this story, continuing the silence on the downside of the Galileo project. This contrasts with the huge publicity afforded by the media when the first test satellite was launched. No doubt, when the first satellite staggers into the air, the media will be right there again, and the betting is that you will not hear the word "ill-conceived".