NASA OIG Report: NASA's Plan for Space Shuttle Transition Could Be Improved by Following Project Management Guidelines

Status Report From: NASA Office of Inspector General
Posted: Sunday, February 4, 2007

image NASA's Plan for Space Shuttle Transition Could Be Improved by Following Project Management Guidelines.

REPORT No. IG-07-005

Full report

The Issue

In January 2004, the President announced "A Renewed Spirit of Discovery: The President's Vision for U.S. Space Exploration." As part of that Vision, the President directed NASA to retire the Space Shuttle by 2010 and develop new launch vehicles for missions beyond low Earth orbit. To accomplish that requirement, NASA must maintain the assets and capabilities required to fly the Space Shuttle safely and effectively through 2010, while simultaneously transitioning some of those assets and related technologies to the next-generation space vehicles, and in particular, the Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Crew Launch Vehicle. This challenge will involve not only the transition of the Space Shuttle Program's workforce of more than 17,000 employees and property valued at more than $17 billion, but the expenditure of an estimated $2.6 billion to $4.4 billion in Space Shuttle Program transition costs alone1. The NASA Administrator has identified this transition process as NASA's greatest management challenge for the next 5 years.

The overall audit objective was to evaluate NASA's plans for managing the Space Shuttle's retirement and transition to the Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Crew Launch Vehicle and related systems. Because NASA does not have Agency-wide guidance that specifically addresses how to plan, budget for, manage, or measure an activity such as transition, we developed a model to evaluate the Agency's transition plan (see Appendix C). The model was developed using NASA policy and procedures, best practices and lessons learned from benchmarking studies, and recommendations from Government Accountability Office reports. Details of the audit's scope and methodology are in Appendix A.


Our evaluation of NASA's "Human Space Flight Transition Plan" found that it did not comprehensively address certain elements that we believe are essential to management and high-level oversight of an activity of the transition's scope and importance.

1 The estimates were based on potential SSP transition costs only; actual costs could be higher or lower, based on transition requirements and transition costs specific to other NASA programs, such as the International Space Station.

Specifically, the transition plan did not comprehensively address the following elements:

  • A work breakdown structure that divides the transition activities into manageable segments.
  • Detailed cost estimates to support the budget preparation process and facilitate cost control.
  • Metrics for measuring transition progress and success.
  • Periodic milestone reviews.
  • Internal and external communication plans to facilitate an efficient flow of information to the stakeholders.
  • Asset end-state requirements2 and security provisions for Space Shuttle Program property.
  • A centralized data management system to document transition-related recommendations and decisions.
  • Clearly defined responsibilities for the components of the transition governance structure and designation of the component responsible for post-2010 decisions.

NASA acknowledged that its transition plan does not address these elements, given that the plan "serves as initial, top-level strategic guidance and a governance framework for the development of lower-level directorate, program, and project transition planning guidance documents that will comprehensively capture and address all of the elements necessary for efficient and effective execution of. . ." the transition.

Although lower-level transition guidance documents can address these elements, it is our view that comprehensive, centralized controls are needed for the Agency to ensure consistent and well-coordinated implementation across the span of Directorates, programs, Centers, employees, and contractors. For example, while there is Agency guidance on decommissioning and disposal activities, there is no guidance that addresses the unique efforts involved when closing out a program of the Space Shuttle Program's magnitude. Without comprehensive and centralized controls, transition managers may not be able to ensure effective and efficient transition is occurring within lower-level organizations. This is particularly the case where each program and project is expected to focus on the successful accomplishment of its specific mission, with the likelihood that conflicting transition interests will be subordinated.

In order for the Agency to have a comprehensive and integrated understanding of the status of the transition on an ongoing basis, it should address each of the elements that we

2 End-state requirements specify the condition and configuration of assets prior to disposition.

identified in a manner that provides assurance of successful implementation and integration among Directorates, programs, and projects. In this regard, the application of project management guidelines contained in NASA guidance could help address the elements we identified and provide a structured approach for defining and managing transaction activities.

While the Agency has not agreed with all of our recommendations as to what should be included in its transition plan, NASA has substantially mitigated the issues we raised. For example, in connection with the Agency's evolving approach to transition management, NASA is currently taking steps to address the majority of the specific issues we have identified. Therefore, we agree with management's comments on a draft of this report that "Transition Managers have made substantial progress in organizing, consolidating, and addressing many of the specific actions or activities outlined as recommendations in your report."

By comprehensively addressing these issues, NASA should be better able to monitor the progress of transition and initiate corrective action when needed. While we would prefer that these issues be addressed in the overall transition plan, efficiencies will be realized as long as there is a robust integrated and centralized focus on the elements critical to successful transition. Of course, without a sustained integrated and centralized focus, we believe that NASA would have great difficulty managing the transition activity effectively and efficiently.


In a draft of this report, we recommended that the Chief Engineer develop guidance within the NASA Procedural Requirements 7120 series that clearly defines and establishes requirements for managing closeout and transition for programs of the Space Shuttle Program's magnitude. We also recommended that the Associate Administrators for the Space Operations Mission Directorate and the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate revise and implement the Human Space Flight Transition Plan to comply with applicable project management guidelines as stated in NASA Procedural Requirements 7120.5C, "NASA Program and Project Management Processes and Requirements," March 22,2005. Finally, we recommended that the Associate Administrator for Space Operations request that the Operations Management Council recognize and track Space Shuttle Program transition as an Agency management challenge.

Management Action

In response to the draft of this report (see Appendix D, "Management Comments"), the Associate Administrators and the Chief Engineer concurred with the finding that the transition plan did not comprehensively address all elements necessary for transition success. They noted, however, that our views on what the plan should address might be the result of a differing understanding of the purpose of the transition plan. Specifically, NASA intended the plan to provide overarching programmatic transition planning guidance and the framework to develop lower-level transition plans as well as decision-making and evaluation processes. Management stated that it believes the plan is effective in that context and is a foundational element in the broader transition effort. Nevertheless, management stated that our report provided meaningful findings and agreed to update the plan and address seven of the eight elements that we identified as critical to transition success.

Although the Chief Engineer concurred with our recommendation to develop guidance for managing and closing programs of the Space Shuttle Program's magnitude, his comments did not satisfy the intent of our recommendation. Rather than agreeing to develop additional guidance, the Chief Engineer's response concluded that guidance on decommissioning and disposal existed in NASA Procedural Requirements 7120.5D and NASA systems engineering guidance. We were aware of that guidance; the intent of our recommendation was, given the importance and magnitude of the programs involved, that specific and integrated guidance on activities such as transitioning personnel, hardware, and support systems would be helpful in ensuring comprehensive and well-coordinated activities. We request that the Chief Engineer reconsider his response to this recommendation and provide additional comments by February 28,2007.

The Associate Administrators did not concur with our recommendation to manage the transition in accordance with NASA project management guidelines stating that they made a conscious choice not to designate transition as a separate project. However, their comments met the intent of our recommendation in that they agreed to conduct transition activities consistent with the intent of NASA program and project management guidance. The Associate Administrators agreed to finalize the transition plan, which they did on November 13,2006, and update it in response to issues discussed in this report.

In response to our recommendation that transition be monitored by the Operations Management Council as a management challenge, the Associate Administrators stated that they would report transition activities through the Program Management Council as directed by NASA's Strategic Management Council. This meets the intent of our recommendation.

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