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NASA OIG Report: NASA's Efforts to Manage its Space Technology Portfolio

Status Report From: NASA Office of Inspector General
Posted: Tuesday, December 15, 2015

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Full report at https://oig.nasa.gov/audits/reports/FY16/IG-16-008.pdf

WHY WE PERFORMED THIS AUDIT

For more than 50 years, NASA has been at the forefront of scientific and technological innovation in the United States. NASA-sponsored technology has enabled groundbreaking space science and exploration missions, contributed to the success of other Federal programs, cultivated commercial aerospace enterprises, and helped foster a technology-based U.S. economy. As NASA sets its sights on increasingly challenging human and robotic missions to deep space destinations, the Agency must continue to identify and mature technologies to make such missions feasible, affordable, and safe.

As of November 2015, the Agency is engaged in 1,400 diverse space technology projects with an annual cost of nearly $1 billion. However, Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Research Council have expressed concern that some NASA space technology projects do not align with Agency mission needs, may be of low priority, or may duplicate other work at NASA, other Federal agencies, or in industry and academia. Moreover, budgetary constraints have made it impossible for the Agency to carry out all of its proposed space technology projects. Nevertheless, NASA has continued to fund a large number of space technology projects, raising concerns about inefficient development as too many projects chase too few dollars.

NASA's portfolio of space technology projects is managed by numerous organizations and individuals at the Council, Mission Directorate, and Center levels. In addition, over the past 5 years NASA appointed a Chief Technologist, established the Space Technology Mission Directorate, and created technology "roadmaps," a Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan, and the TechPort database. The roadmaps outline a range of technology candidates and development pathways over a 20-year period, while the Technology Investment Plan prioritizes technology in light of NASA's planned missions. TechPort is an Agency-wide software system designed to track and manage NASA's portfolio of technology investments. In this audit, we examined NASA's efforts to align and prioritize projects in its space technology portfolio to meet future mission needs. Specifically, we reviewed Federal and NASA policies, regulations, plans, and roadmaps; interviewed NASA officials; and assessed the methods and processes used to initiate, manage, and gauge projects' return on investment. We also profiled the top 15 space technology projects by fiscal year 2015 funding level in the following programs: Technology Demonstration Missions Program, Game Changing Development Program, Advanced Exploration Systems Program, and the Science Mission Directorate's Research Divisions.

WHAT WE FOUND

We found deficiencies in NASA's management processes and controls that may limit the usefulness of the Agency's efforts to better manage its space technology investments. First, although NASA has revised its technology roadmaps to provide additional information regarding how specific technologies will help meet Agency mission objectives, it needs to complete the ongoing revision of its Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan to provide the necessary detail to determine the projects that best support Agency priorities. Second, the information in TechPort remains incomplete and inaccurate, impairing the value of the database as a tool to manage and share information about NASA's space technology portfolio. For example, we selected a sample of 49 active projects and found the database contained no information for 16 (33 percent) of the projects. Third, the Agency's management structure, especially the role of its Technology Executive Council, needs to be clarified to ease efforts to align and prioritize investments. Fourth, while NASA's Mission Directorates and Centers have authority to initiate new space technology projects, the processes for initiating projects need to be better integrated and formalized to ensure cohesion and guard against duplication. Finally, the Agency needs to develop more consistent processes to measure and track return-on-investment for its space technology projects.

We acknowledge that managing space technology projects in a fluctuating budget environment is a significant undertaking. Consequently, adopting management processes that improve NASA's ability to make strategic decisions regarding its space technology portfolio will help the Agency better address this challenge.

WHAT WE RECOMMENDED

To clarify the role and authorities of NASA's Technology Executive Council, we recommended the NASA Administrator: (1) develop a charter outlining the Council's role, responsibilities, authority, and membership. To ensure management processes and controls better align and prioritize NASA's space technology projects with its mission goals, we recommended the Office of the Chief Technologist: (2) further prioritize "core" and "adjacent" technologies in the new Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan and (3) take steps to ensure project managers utilize TechPort as intended. In addition, we recommended the Office of the Chief Engineer update NASA Procedural Requirements 7120.8 to establish policy and procedures for: (4) initiating space technology projects that include Agency-wide awareness and coordination and (5) requiring all concluded technology projects complete closeout reports and technology infusion or transfer data for inclusion in TechPort. In response to a draft of our report, NASA's Deputy Administrator concurred with recommendations 1, 2, and 3 and described corrective actions the Agency has or will take. We consider management's comments to these recommendations responsive and will close the recommendations upon completion and verification of the proposed corrective actions. The Deputy Administrator partially concurred with recommendations 4 and 5, which remain unresolved pending further discussion with the Agency.

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