NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin released a report evaluating NASA’s program pursuant to which software engineers other than the original developers assess whether software associated with Agency science and spaceflight activities will meet program, cost, schedule, and safety requirements. Because complex computer software is integral to the operation of major NASA systems such as the International Space Station and the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes, the Agency’s Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Program is a critical part of its overall quality control process.
Each year NASA’s Office of the Chief Engineer selects for IV&V the Agency software projects with the greatest likelihood and worst potential consequences of failure. Most years NASA does not have sufficient funds to finance IV&V for all selected projects. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, NASA identified 17 projects for IV&V but was able to fund only 13, leaving the remaining projects to either accept software-related risks or find other ways to mitigate them.
Programs that did not receive IV&V services in FY 2014 due to lack of funding include:
Soil Moisture Active and Passive (SMAP);
Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite 2 (ICESat 2);
Gravity Recovery and Cloud Experiment Follow On (GRACE-FO); and
Tracking and Data Relay Satellite L (TDRS L).
More than 20 years ago, NASA was directed in appropriations legislation to send $10 million to West Virginia University to establish an IV&V facility. Consequently, in January 1992 NASA awarded the West Virginia University Research Corporation (Corporation) a $10 million grant, which the Corporation used to build a computer operations and research facility near the University’s campus. According to the grant, upon completion of construction the Corporation would take title to the facility and become responsible for associated operations and maintenance (O&M) expenses. Nevertheless, NASA has continued to pay the facility’s O&M costs, which over the last 20 years have amounted to more than $82 million. Moreover, although NASA does not own the facility, the IV&V Program paid the Corporation $993,000 in 2010 to replace its roof.
We found that by continuing to occupy and maintain the West Virginia facility, NASA is paying more than necessary in O&M expenses, which leaves the Agency with less funding to perform actual IV&V services on NASA software projects. We estimated the Agency could save as much as $9.7 million between FYs 2015 and 2018 if the IV&V Program took steps to reduce costs associated with the facility.
In order to make additional funds available for review of mission-critical software, we recommended NASA analyze alternatives for reducing occupancy costs associated with the facility, including abandoning the facility and moving staff to an existing NASA Center or relocating the staff to a nearby office building that would cost significantly less.
We determined that NASA was not legally obligated to pay O&M expenses associated with the building it currently occupies, but rather has chosen to pay these expenses over the last 20 years. In our judgment, continuing this arrangement does not make fiscal sense for NASA, particularly when the Agency has more projects needing IV&V services than the current budget can accommodate.
The full report is available on the OIG’s website at http://oig.nasa.gov/ under “Reading Room” or at http://oig.nasa.gov/audits/reports/FY14/IG-14-024.pdf
For more information or media inquiries, please contact Renee Juhans at Renee.N.Juhans@nasa.gov or at (202) 358-1220.