OIG Report On NASA Challenges

NASA OIG: 2019 Report on NASA's Top Management and Performance Challenges

Excerpts

"Achieving the ambitious goals of landing humans on the Moon by 2024 and Mars in the 2030s will require strong, consistent, and sustained leadership by the President, Congress, and NASA. For its part, NASA must determine the long-term costs, set realistic schedules, define system requirements and mission planning, form or firm up international partnerships, and leverage commercial space capabilities. To this end, our oversight work has found NASA consistently struggling over the past decade to set realistic program cost and schedule goals. Therefore, the accelerated timetable for a lunar landing set out in the Artemis program further increases the risk of inefficient development programs or contract awards with increased costs due to limited competition or unstable program requirements. Although NASA has made significant progress on several fronts to further its human exploration efforts, many questions remain about the total costs, schedule, and scope of the Agency's Moon and Mars ambitions.

Cost increases and schedule delays are long-standing challenges for the Agency. Since its first annual assessment in 2009, GAO has consistently reported on cost growth and schedule delays in the Agency's major projects. For example, in its 2019 assessment GAO found that cost and schedule performance of major projects had deteriorated over the prior year with 9 of 17 projects in development reporting an average cost growth of 27.6 percent over the Agency Baseline Commitment and average launch delays of approximately 13 months. GAO noted the deterioration in cost and schedule performance was largely due to integration and test challenges on JWST and continued production challenges for the SLS.

The success of NASA's many projects relies on the Agency attracting and retaining a highly skilled workforce with a diverse set of technical and management capabilities. NASA continues to rank as one of the top places to work in the federal government, a reputation that helps retain highly qualified individuals who are motivated by the Agency's mission. Despite this, NASA faces significant workforce challenges that can hinder its ability to deliver projects in a cost effective and timely manner.

The feasibility of increased commercial activity in low Earth orbit in the short or medium term poses another significant challenge to NASA's plans for increasing commercialization in low Earth orbit. In prior reports, we found that the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, Inc. (CASIS) has had limited success in fostering commercial interest in ISS-based research, recruiting users for the ISS National Laboratory, and accomplishing tasks important to building a commercial space economy in low Earth orbit. In addition, we found that NASA failed to oversee CASIS's technical performance which contributed to the organization's inability to meet expectations. In August 2019, NASA announced an independent review of CASIS to ensure its activities are in line with the Agency's research.

NASA's challenges with contracting and acquisition oversight are long-standing. GAO first designated the Agency's acquisition management as high risk in 1990 given its history of persistent cost growth and schedule delays in the majority of its major projects. ... NASA's poor contract management practices also contributed to the SLS Program's 21⁄2-years of schedule slippage and approximately $4 billion over cost estimates. ... NASA's contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements are also at risk of fraud and misconduct. In particular, the Agency's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer programs are a long-standing OIG concern. ... Collectively, our audit and investigative work has consistently shown that NASA's poor management and oversight of contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements has resulted in inappropriate expenditures, wasted taxpayer dollars, and negatively impacted the Agency's mission.

For more than two decades NASA's Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) has struggled to implement an effective IT governance structure that aligns authority and responsibility commensurate with the Agency's overall mission. Specifically, the Agency Chief Information Officer (CIO) and IT security officials have limited oversight and influence over IT purchases and security decisions within Mission Directorates and at NASA Centers.

Primary among NASA's challenges is that over 83 percent of the Agency's facilities are beyond their original design life. While NASA strives to keep these facilities operational, the Agency faces a deferred maintenance backlog of $2.65 billion as of 2019. This has resulted in unscheduled maintenance rather than scheduled maintenance costing up to three times more to repair or replace equipment after it has failed."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on November 13, 2019 12:41 PM.

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