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NASA OIG: NASA's Most Serious Management and Performance Challenges FY 2009

Status Report From: NASA Office of Inspector General
Posted: Monday, November 16, 2009

image November 13, 2009

TO: Administrator

FROM: Acting Inspector General

SUBJECT: NASA's Most Serious Management and Performance Challenges

As required by the Reports Consolidation Act of 2000, this memorandum provides our
views of the most serious management and performance challenges facing NASA and is
to be included in the Agency's Performance and Accountability Report for fiscal year
2009.

In determining whether to report an issue as a challenge, we consider the significance of
the issue in relation to the Agency's mission; its susceptibility to fraud, waste, and abuse;
whether the underlying problems are systemic; and the Agency's progress in addressing
the issue. We provided a draft copy of our views to Agency officials and considered all
comments received.

Through various Agency initiatives and by implementing recommendations made by the
Office of Inspector General (OIG) and other evaluative bodies, such as the Government
Accountability Office, NASA is working to improve Agency programs and operations.
However, challenges remain in the following areas:

* Transitioning from the Space Shuttle to the Next Generation of Space Vehicles
* Managing Risk to People, Equipment, and Mission
* Financial Management
* Acquisition and Contracting Processes
* Information Technology Security

During FY 2010, the OIG will continue to conduct work that focuses on NASA's efforts
to meet these challenges as part of our overall mission to promote the economy and
efficiency of the Agency and to root out fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.

We hope that you find our views helpful. Please contact me if you have questions.

signed
Thomas J. Howard

Enclosure:

Full report

NASA's Most Serious Management and Performance Challenges

Transitioning from the Space Shuttle to the Next Generation of Vehicles

NASA's greatest challenge continues to be maintaining the critical skills and capabilities
required to safely and effectively fly the Space Shuttle until its retirement while transitioning to
the next generation of space vehicles. In 2004, the "President's Vision for U.S. Space
Exploration" caused a substantive reorganization of NASA's strategic priorities, established a
timeline for the retirement of the Space Shuttle, established the completion date for the
International Space Station (ISS), and set the goals of returning to the Moon and reaching Mars.
However, fiscal realities and technical challenges have hampered NASA's efforts to effectively
implement the Vision.

Space Shuttle Program. The primary mission focus of the Space Shuttle Program between now
and retirement is to launch and assemble U.S. and international components for the ISS while
sustaining logistics and science support to ISS crews. Successful completion of the Space
Shuttle Program's planned manifest, currently scheduled for completion by the end of fiscal year
(FY) 2010, is key to meeting NASA's strategic goals of supporting the safe operation of the
Space Shuttle to complete assembly of the ISS by the Space Shuttle's planned retirement.

NASA continues to fund and plan for completion of the remaining Space Shuttle flight manifest,
which is required to complete the ISS, by September 30, 2010. However, indications from
historical flight rates, the presidentially directed Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans
Committee (the Augustine Committee), internal NASA evaluations, and work by the NASA
Office of Inspector General (OIG) show that this goal is not likely to be achieved by the end of
FY 2010. If NASA is required to extend the Shuttle's flight schedule, the Agency will need to
reevaluate the adequacy of funding and plans for the sustainability of the Shuttle's workforce and
infrastructure while preserving the robust process for voicing safety and engineering concerns.

Constellation Program. NASA began the Constellation Program in 2005 to facilitate the
President's Vision for return to the Moon and the human exploration of Mars. However, reviews
of various components of the Program have concluded that allotted resources are not sufficient
for stated requirements.

The largest expenditure of funds within the Constellation Program--$10 billion--has been for
the development of the Ares I crew launch vehicle and the Orion crew exploration vehicle. Yet,
according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), NASA cannot confidently determine
total costs until technical challenges have been overcome. Engineers working on the Ares I
Project continue their efforts to understand and mitigate the impact of rocket thrust oscillations
that some critics contend could threaten the health of astronauts and survivability of the Orion
vehicle. To improve cost and schedule confidence, NASA has modified Orion's baseline
configuration for initial missions, reducing the number of astronauts the vehicle will transport from six to four. To accommodate the resolution of these and other technical issues, project
milestones have rightfully been delayed. NASA's meticulous application of a disciplined
approach for each life-cycle phase review will help ensure that complete, timely, and essential
information is provided for informed decision making.

Unity of effort is essential for executing a program as complex as Constellation within the fiscal
resources provided while ensuring the safe, efficient, and effective implementation of its
projects, such as Orion. Over the past year, the Constellation Program has been the subject of
multiple studies and analyses. In addition to internal life-cycle reviews associated with standard
program management, reviews conducted by the Agency for the President, OIG, GAO, and the
Augustine Committee have all examined and reported on the progress of various components of
the Constellation Program. Each review noted that allotted resources did not match stated
requirements, which resulted in the modification of requirements and the delay of significant
milestones.

Managing the Transition. NASA faces several transition challenges, among the greatest are
the gap period between the last planned Shuttle flight in 2010 and the first planned Ares I and
Orion flight in 2015, the sustainment of the ISS after the last Space Shuttle mission, and the
effective management of civil service and contractor personnel assigned to the Space Shuttle
Program and the Constellation Program.

Over the past year, at the request of Congress and the Administration, NASA has provided
various options for extending Shuttle operations and closing the gap between the planned
retirement of the Space Shuttle and the first piloted space flight of the Constellation Program's
Orion crew exploration vehicle. While each option is technically feasible, each option results in
a higher cumulative safety risk because each involves an increased number of Space Shuttle
flights, and additional funding would be required to avoid negatively impacting implementation
of the next generation of space vehicles.

Two plans that NASA developed--one for an extension of the Shuttle Program to 2012 and
another for extension to 2015--would cost an estimated $4.7 billion and $14 billion,
respectively. These costs would have to be taken out of other NASA programs unless they were
provided as an addition to the baseline budget. Each plan would require close coordination with
the Constellation Program to avoid negatively impacting the development and implementation of
the Program. In addition, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board recommended in 2003
that, as part of a Service Life Extension Program, NASA should recertify the Shuttle at the
material, component, system, and subsystem levels prior to operations beyond 2010. Additional
challenges to any plan to extend the Shuttle Program include recertifying suppliers who have
already begun retooling efforts and reversing recent contract workforce layoffs.

The Augustine Committee presented eight options to address the gap in U.S. space flight
capability; six of the options included extending ISS operations from 2015 to 2020, potentially
making ISS sustainment more challenging. Providing for the sustainment of ISS is crucial to
realizing the scientific research potential of the ISS and protecting the extensive U.S. and foreign
investments in the ISS. NASA plans to rely on international partners and commercial providers
for logistics support and crew rotation necessary to sustain and operate the ISS during the gap period of 2010 through 2015. However, while viewed by Agency officials as unlikely, there are
various ISS components that can only be carried to orbit by the Space Shuttle should they have
to be replaced. In addition, NASA plans to rely on the commercial sector to develop space
vehicles for the bulk of cargo delivery required to maintain an ISS crew of six. However, a
recent GAO report stated that although the commercial providers have made some progress in
meeting established milestones, demonstration flights of their vehicles have been delayed due to
engine development challenges. Significant delays in the availability of these commercial
vehicles could threaten sustainment of the ISS.

Workforce issues during the gap period of 2010 through 2015 include maintaining the critical
skills now present in the Shuttle workforce throughout the Shuttle's remaining flights while
placing additional emphasis on defining and cultivating the skill sets needed by the Constellation
Program, especially those that will be needed at Kennedy Space Center. Although other NASA
Centers are engaged in development and production activities for the new vehicles, the primary
focus of the Kennedy workforce is launch operations and ground processing--activities that will
not be needed at levels similar to current capacity until the new crew exploration vehicles are
ready for flight. Determining the appropriate balance to operate the Space Shuttle safely and
sustain that program through retirement while incentivizing talented people to prepare for the
future requirements of the Constellation Program demands the optimization of all human
resource management assets.

Recognizing the significance of the transition being properly managed, various NASA councils
(e.g. Program Management Council, Operation Management Council, and Strategic Management
Council) routinely review the Space Shuttle retirement plan and progress, to include transition
metrics, decisions, and impact on facilities. In addition, in July 2009, NASA published the third
edition of the "NASA Workforce Transition Strategy," which detailed civil service and
contractor Shuttle and Constellation workforce projections and requirements at NASA's
individual Centers. As the Shuttle Program is retired and the Constellation Program enters the
implementation phase of development, such efforts should entail greater detail and transparency
to enable informed decision making.

Full report

// end //

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