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NASA OIG: 2019 Report on NASA's Top Management and Performance Challenges

Status Report From: NASA Office of Inspector General
Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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Throughout its 60-year history, NASA has stood at the forefront of aeronautics, science, and space exploration, responsible for numerous scientific discoveries and technological innovations. In NASA’s first half century, long-term space flight priorities such as Apollo, the Space Shuttle Program, and the International Space Station (ISS or Station) progressed through formulation, development, and operation over the course of decades and multiple presidential administrations and congresses. However, over the past 10 years the Agency's space exploration priorities have shifted from the Constellation Program’s lunar ambitions to an asteroid retrieval effort focused on developing technologies to enable a human mission to Mars and then back to a planned but recently expedited crewed return to the Moon.

While human exploration of Mars has remained a consensus long-term exploration goal throughout the past decade, the lack of stable mid-term human exploration priorities has left NASA lurching from major program to major program, expending time and resources to plan and replan instead of focusing on a clear, unified, and sustaining vision. Consequently, achieving a constancy of purpose is perhaps the greatest overall challenge facing NASA.

As required by the Reports Consolidation Act of 2000, this report presents the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) independent assessment of the top management and performance challenges facing NASA. Looking to 2020, we identified seven challenges and linked each challenge to one of NASA’s strategic objectives (see Table 1)

In deciding whether to identify an issue as a “top challenge,” we considered its significance in relation to NASA’s mission; whether its underlying causes are systemic in nature; and its susceptibility to fraud, waste, and abuse. Identification of an issue as a top challenge does not necessarily denote significant deficiencies or lack of attention on NASA’s part. Rather, all of these issues are long-standing and inherently difficult challenges central to the Agency’s mission and, as such, will likely remain challenges for many years. Consequently, these issues require consistent, focused attention from NASA management and ongoing engagement on the part of Congress, the public, and other stakeholders.

Not surprisingly, given the importance and scope of the issues, this year’s list includes many of the same themes discussed in previous reports. However, for this report we updated our approach to presenting the challenges to highlight progress NASA has made in addressing these issues and the work the Agency still needs to complete. To further aid the Agency, we have also linked each challenge to a NASA strategic objective, as noted above in Table 1.

In this report and in all its undertakings, the OIG is committed to providing independent, aggressive, and objective oversight of NASA programs and projects with the singular goal of improving the Agency. To that end, we plan to conduct audits and investigations in the coming year that focus on NASA’s continuing efforts to meet these and other challenges.


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