NASA’S Efforts to “Rightsize” its Workforce, Facilities,
and Other Supporting Assets
[Full Report — PDF]
Office of Inspector General
March 21, 2017
Why We Performed This Audit
To accomplish its diverse scientific and space exploration missions, NASA relies on specialized facilities and infrastructure, unique equipment and tools, and a highly skilled civil servant and contractor workforce. These assets, collectively known as technical capabilities, are spread across NASA’s 10 Centers and include more than 5,000 buildings and other structures, 17,000 civil servants, and tens of thousands of contractors. Over the years, striking the right balance among these various assets has been a top management challenge, with the Agency making a number of mostly unsuccessful attempts at “rightsizing” its technical capabilities.
In June 2012, NASA established the Technical Capabilities Assessment Team (TCAT) to identify and assess Agency technical capabilities and make recommendations for investing in, consolidating, or eliminating capabilities based on mission requirements. To institutionalize capability management into its annual planning and budgeting processes, NASA replaced TCAT with the Capability Leadership Model (CLM) in 2015. CLM is designed to advance NASA’s technical capabilities to meet long-term missions, optimize deployment of capabilities across its major facilities, and transition capabilities no longer needed.
In this audit, we assessed NASA’s ongoing efforts to strategically manage its technical capabilities to ensure the Agency is prepared for current and future missions. Our work included reviewing Agency guidance, analyzing selected technical capability assessments, comparing the TCAT and CLM processes to best practices drawn from successful rightsizing initiatives, and interviewing Agency officials.
What We Found
Through the TCAT and CLM processes, NASA has established a framework that should improve the Agency’s ability to manage its technical capabilities and help make the difficult decisions regarding infrastructure and personnel required to optimally position itself for current and future missions. However, after more than 4 years, the Agency has yet to make many concrete decisions about its technical capabilities – for example, to consolidate or dispose of assets. Rather, most decisions have been iterative steps on the path to making actual determinations about technical capabilities, leaving us concerned that the Agency’s efforts have been slow to produce meaningful results.
Moreover, NASA’s assessments of its capabilities did not consistently include information needed to make informed decisions, including mission needs or facility usage data, analyses to determine gaps or overlaps, or recommendations to achieve cost savings. In addition, NASA did not incorporate in its process the best practices we identified from other successful rightsizing efforts, including following standardized guidance, incorporating independent analysis and cost-benefit rationales, and setting firm timeframes for completing actions. Finally, NASA continues to face the long-standing challenges of its federated governance model, uncertainty about its direction and future missions, political influence, and the lack of institutionalized processes that have hindered past Agency efforts to strategically align its technical capabilities.
We believe NASA must continue to press forward with CLM and that Agency leaders should work to further institutionalize the process, continue their efforts to promote the process both inside and outside the Agency, and take steps to ensure best practices are incorporated in future assessments. Ultimately, Agency leaders must be willing to make difficult decisions to invest, divest, or consolidate unneeded infrastructure; effectively communicate those decisions to stakeholders; and withstand the inevitable pressures from Federal, state, and local officials. Failure to do so increases the risk the Agency will continue to spend valuable resources on unneeded technical capabilities and be unable to deliver the technical capabilities required for future missions.
What We Recommended
To ensure NASA’s efforts to evaluate technical capabilities are institutionalized and sustained over time, we recommended the Associate Administrator (1) create standardized guidance for performing annual capability assessments; (2) evaluate CLM assessments and teams to better ensure independence; (3) develop and institute training, communications, or other measures to ensure capability assessments are complete, thorough, and include expected goals and results; and (4) revise the CLM decision process to include implementation timeframes for dispositioning agreed upon actions.
NASA concurred with and described planned actions to address our recommendations. We consider the actions responsive and will close the recommendations upon verification of their completion.