Report: NASA Needs to Improve Management of Major Projects

An artist’s concept of the 2012 Mars Curiosity Landing. Mars 2020 will use a nearly identical landing system, but with added precision from the Lander Vision System. (Credits: NASA Image /JPL-Caltech)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s culture of excessive optimism and its tendency to underestimate technical challenges combine with funding instability to cause cost overruns and schedule delays, according to a new report from the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The document identified NASA’s management of major projects as one of the space agency’s top seven performance challenges. [Full Report]

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NASA Has Long Way to Go to Improve IT Management, Security

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

If NASA could land a man on the moon, why can’t it manage information technology (IT) effectively?

That is the basic question NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) raised in a recent report that identified IT management and cyber security as one of the top seven challenges faced by the space agency. [Full Report]

“Our concerns with NASA’s IT governance and security are long-standing and reoccurring,” the report stated. “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.”

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NASA Struggles with Shortage of Skilled Workers

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is already hampered by a shortfall of skilled workers, a problem that will be exacerbated as the space agency gears up to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 in the Artemis program.

That is the conclusion of a new report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The review identified attracting and retaining a highly-skilled workforce as one of the space agency’s seven biggest management and performance challenges. [Full Report]

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NASA Faces Billions in Deferred Maintenance & Repairs

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Although NASA has made some progress in repairing and rebuilding its aging infrastructure, the space agency faces a deferred maintenance backlog of $2.65 billion, according to a new report by the Office of Inspector General (IG).

NASA is one of the biggest managers of property in the federal government, with 5,000 buildings and structures in 14 states. More than 83 percent of the structures are beyond their original design life, the review found.

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Boeing Fires Back at Critical NASA IG Report on Starliner

A look at the Starliner that will soon fly the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test soon after the dome mate activities at the Boeing Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. (Credits: Boeing)

ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 18, 2019 (Boeing PR) – In response to the Nov. 14 Office of the Inspector General report titled “NASA’s Management of Crew Transportation to the International Space Station,” Boeing today issued the following statement:

“We strongly disagree with the report’s conclusions about CST-100 Starliner pricing and readiness, and we owe it to the space community and the American public to share the facts the Inspector General [IG] missed,” said Jim Chilton, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space and Launch. “Each member of the Boeing team has a personal stake in the safety, quality and integrity of what we offer our customers, and since Day One, the Starliner team has approached this program with a commitment to design, develop and launch a vehicle that we and NASA can be proud of.”

Specifically, Boeing offers the following responses to the main assertions:

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OIG Audit: NASA Failing to Properly Manage Reimbursable Agreements

Despite years of being criticized for its shortcomings, NASA is still not doing a very good job managing the reimbursable agreements it has with outside organizations, according to a new audit from the Office of Inspector General.

“Over the last 7 years, the NASA Office of Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, and an independent accounting firm have each issued reports identifying deficiencies in NASA’s management of reimbursable agreements, including incomplete and inaccurate agreement information, insufficient polices, failure to identify costs incurred, and an inability to separate reimbursable billings and collections,” the audit stated. “Since 2013, members of Congress also have expressed concern regarding the Agency’s management of reimbursable agreements.”

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Cruz, Nelson Criticize Plan to End Direct ISS Funding in 2025

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Sharply conflicting opinions about the future of the International Space Station (ISS) and America’s path forward in space were on view last week in a Senate hearing room turned boxing ring.

In one corner was NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenamier, representing a Trump Administration that wants to end direct federal funding for ISS in 2025 in order to pursue an aggressive campaign of sending astronauts back to the moon. NASA would maintain a presence in Earth orbit, becoming one of multiple users aboard a privatized ISS or privately-owned stations.

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Mars Needs Women — NASA Needs Everybody

Credit: American International Television

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In the 1967 film, Mars Needs Women, a team of martians invades Earth to kidnap women to help repopulate their dying species. Shot over two weeks on a minuscule budget and padded out with stock footage, the movie obtained cult status as one of those cinematic disasters that was so bad it was unintentionally hilarious.

A half century later, NASA finds itself in a not entirely dissimilar situation. Only this problem is not nearly as funny.

The space agency lacks sufficient personnel with the proper skill sets to undertake its complex missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. A number of key programs have been affected by the shortfall already.

NASA’s workforce is also aging. More than half the agency’s employees are 50 years and older, with one-fifth  currently eligible for retirement. Finding replacement workers with the right mix of skills is not always easy as NASA faces increased competition from a growing commercial space sector.

The space agency is addressing these challenges, but it’s too early to tell how successful these efforts will be, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

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NASA Audit Says CASIS Under Performing on Key ISS Research Tasks

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The organization NASA hired to manage research aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has seriously under performed on the majority of its tasks, a new  audit from space agency’s Inspector General finds.

“Of the nine performance categories we assessed, CASIS met expectations in only two: research pathways and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education,” the report states. “For example, the STEM education performance category required CASIS to increase interest in using the National Lab as a platform for STEM education. CASIS met expectations for this performance category by funding 14 STEM education programs in FY 2016 with more than 325,000 participants.”

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NASA Faces Serious Challenges With Aging Facilities

NASA’s aging infrastructure (Credit: NASA OIG)

A recent Inspector General report, NASA’s 2017 Top Management and Performance Challenges, finds the space agency is facing serious challenges in maintaining and upgrading aging buildings and test facilities at its far flung network of centers.  The following excerpt from the report shows the difficulties NASA has had in consolidating or eliminating unnecessary facilities.

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Bridenstine’s ASRA Bill Proposed Radical Changes in NASA’s Goals, Structure

NASA LOGORepublished from April 25, 2016

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would be given a mandate to pioneer the development and settlement of space and a commission dominated by Congressional appointees to oversee those efforts under a bill proposed by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).

The measure’s basic premise is that NASA’s problems stem from unstable presidential commitments to space exploration as opposed to Congress’ tendency to support expensive programs that bring funding into particular states and districts.

“Over the past twenty years, 27 NASA programs have been cancelled at a cost of over $20 billion to the taxpayer,” according to a statement on a website devoted to the measure. “Many of these have come as a result of changes in presidential administrations.

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Trump Eyes Half Billion Dollar Cut in NASA’s Budget

President Donald Trump would cut $561 million from NASA’s budget for fiscal year 2018 under a spending plan set for release next week, according to a leaked budget document.

NASA would see its budget reduced from $19.6 billion this year to just below $19.1 billion. The space agency received just under $19.3 billion in fiscal year 2016.

The total budget is close to the $19.1 billion contained in a budget blueprint the Trump Administration released in March. The blue print provided guidance for the formal budget proposal to be released next week.

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Another Orion Worry: Spacesuits

Spacewalker Kate Rubins works outside the International Space Station with the SpaceX Dragon space freighter just below her. (Credit: NASA TV)

The NASA Office of Inspector General has published another audit of the agency’s human spaceflight effort, and  the watchdog has found yet another area of concern: spacesuits being developed for Orion deep-space missions and the aging ones on the International Space Station.

“Despite spending nearly $200 million on NASA’s next-generation spacesuit technologies, the Agency remains years away from having a flight-ready spacesuit capable of replacing the EMU or suitable for use on future exploration missions,” the audit states. “As different missions require different designs, the lack of a formal plan and specific destinations for future missions has complicated spacesuit development. Moreover, the Agency has reduced the funding dedicated to spacesuit development in favor of other priorities such as an in-space habitat….

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NASA’s Efforts to Shrink Agency Lagging

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.

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NASA Will Take 2 Years to Complete Investigation into 2015 Falcon 9 Failure

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

NASA’s investigation into the Falcon 9 launch failure that destroyed a Dragon cargo ship in June 2015 keeps getting more and more interesting.

I checked in again last week with the space agency about when it would be releasing a public report on the 18-month old accident. This is what a NASA spokesperson told me (emphasis mine):

NASA’s final report on the SpaceX CRS-7 mishap is still in work. While the report is important in providing NASA historical data of the mishap, the accident involved a version of the Falcon 9 rocket that is no longer in use. Furthermore, while the public summary itself may only be a few pages, the complete report is expected to exceed several hundred pages of highly detailed and technical information restricted by U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations and company-sensitive proprietary information. As a result, NASA anticipates its internal report and public summary will be finalized in the summer 2017.

That is a rather long time, even for a sometimes pokey government agency investigating the failure of a booster variant no longer in use.
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