NASA OIG: NASA Could Improve Analyses and Coordination in Support of the Joint Planning and Development Office to Develop the Next Generation Air Tran

Status Report From: NASA Office of Inspector General
Posted: Tuesday, August 4, 2009

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Overall, we determined that NASA had taken some actions to work effectively with JPDO to accomplish NextGen development. NASA implemented an organizational structure to support JPDO R&D activities, assigning responsibility to accomplish NextGen R&D activities to ARMD. ARMD reformulated programs and projects to execute its NextGen responsibilities, developed program and project plans that support JPDO's plans, assigned responsibility and defined supervisory positions to support the accomplishment of those plans, and established project plan milestones and schedules to ensure progress toward NextGen objectives.

However, concurrent with those actions in support of NextGen, when faced with impending budget reductions, ARMD eliminated or reduced three aeronautics research capabilities that JPDO and NRC had identified as critical for achieving NextGen goals. This resulted in delayed or canceled milestones in two NASA-led projects and affected FAA's development of critical NextGen technologies. ARMD may have been able to minimize the impact on NextGen development, had it conducted benefit-cost analyses and coordinated more effectively with JPDO and FAA on the consequences of its decisions. Processes implemented by JPDO in 2008--research transition teams and a Web-based Joint Planning Environment--

NASA's Participation in JPDO Processes. In 2008, JPDO implemented two processes--an analysis of R&D activities and research transition teams--that allow JPDO to manage the work scope and risk of R&D activities. In March and April 2008, NASA researchers participated in the analysis of R&D activities with JPDO. The analysis identified the scope of work for each R&D activity and allowed the partners to address areas that were not included in NASA or FAA project plans. NASA personnel also serve on the research transition teams with JPDO and FAA personnel. The teams include researchers, planners, and implementers that work to effectively transfer research products from NASA to FAA. Effective transfer of research products lowers the risk that NASA research products will not meet FAA's technical or schedule needs. In May 2008, JPDO implemented a Web-based application, the Joint Planning Environment, that allows JPDO to communicate planning information to NextGen partners, to integrate research products from the partners, and to manage NextGen technical and schedule risks.

NASA's participation with JPDO on the NextGen Senior Policy Committee, the analysis of R&D activities, the research transition teams, and the Joint Planning Environment application provided adequate control over and accountability for the NASA-led OVERVIEW REPORT NO. IG-09-019 iii
NextGen R&D activities. Therefore, additional control and accountability for NASA-led R&D activities were not needed within ARMD.

ARMD Reduced Aeronautics Research Capabilities without Adequate Analyses or Coordination. We found that NASA's decision to eliminate or reduce certain aeronautics research capabilities resulted in delayed or canceled milestones in two NASA projects and affected FAA's development of critical NextGen technologies.

In 2006, ARMD senior management began reevaluating the Directorate's priorities and restructured ARMD's programs and projects to focus on long-term, cutting-edge research (i.e., fundamental research) in anticipation of severe budget reductions. The ARMD budget decreased from $673 million in FY 2006 to $447 million in FY 2009, a 34 percent decrease.

At the same time that ARMD was reevaluating its priorities, JPDO and the National Research Council (NRC) identified three specific research capabilities as critical for achieving NextGen goals: (1) a Boeing 757 (B-757) aircraft and flight test components of the Simulation-to-Flight Program, (2) wake turbulence research, and (3) the Future Flight Central (FFC). ARMD management recommended, and NASA approved, eliminating the B-757 flight test capability by October 2006, reducing wake turbulence research, and placing the FFC in standby status. However, we found that ARMD did not conduct adequate analyses prior to recommending the changes, despite JPDO and NRC identifying the capabilities as critical for achieving NextGen goals. In light of the competing priorities--NASA's and NextGen's--ARMD officials should have conducted a benefit-cost analysis to support their recommendation and should have coordinated more effectively with JPDO and FAA in order to minimize the impact on NextGen development. The research transition teams implemented by JPDO in 2008 are intended to facilitate more effective coordination and management of technical and schedule risks.

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