From: NASA Office of Inspector General
Posted: Tuesday, October 27, 2020
WHY WE PERFORMED THIS AUDIT
NASA uses contracts, cooperative agreements, and grants to fund research and development and purchase services, supplies, and equipment to support every facet of its operations. In fiscal year 2019, NASA spent approximately $19.5 billion or 91 percent of its $21.5 billion in available resources on procurements. This amount is expected to increase in fiscal year 2021 given the Agency's request for additional resources to support the Administration's mandate to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024—4 years ahead of NASA's original schedule. The accelerated timetable will likely result in accelerated acquisition decisions, increasing the risk of inefficient and ineffective contracting practices as well as the potential for fraud.
NASA's challenges with contracting and acquisition oversight are long-standing. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) first designated NASA's acquisition management as high risk in 1990 due to the Agency's history of persistent cost growth and schedule delays in most of its major projects. Similarly, for the past 13 years the NASA Office of Inspector General has consistently reported on a variety of acquisition issues in our annual report to Congress on the top management and performance challenges facing the Agency. Moreover, in November 2019, we designated "attracting and retaining a highly skilled workforce" as a new top management challenge facing NASA. Given the tens of billions of dollars devoted to procuring goods and services and the recent decision to accelerate plans for a Lunar landing, it is essential that NASA maintain a highly skilled acquisition workforce. This workforce must be capable of efficiently and effectively utilizing taxpayer funds, as well as responsive and agile enough to achieve NASA's ambitious portfolio of missions in creative yet appropriate ways.
Our objective in this audit was to examine the readiness of NASA's acquisition workforce to respond to current and future contracting needs. Specifically, we examined the extent to which NASA's acquisition workforce is (1) aligned with current and future contracting needs and (2) trained and certified in accordance with federal and NASA requirements. To conduct this work, we spoke with relevant Agency personnel about strategic workforce planning, training, and certification requirements. We also interviewed a selection of contracting personnel and program/project managers to obtain their viewpoints on the acquisition process, its strengths, and areas for improvement. Further, we reviewed key documents addressing the restructuring of the Office of Procurement and analyzed its training and policy handbooks.
WHAT WE FOUND
NASA is working to develop an agile and mission-driven acquisition workforce to address major mission needs in the coming years, including the plan to return astronauts to the Moon 4 years ahead of the Agency's original schedule. In October 2019, NASA's Office of Procurement began implementing its enterprise-wide workforce transition—referred to as the Mission Support Future Architecture Program (MAP)—and developed its Strategic Workforce Plan to anticipate and meet future acquisition needs, mitigate the risks of a changing workforce, and more efficiently manage the acquisition workload. Overall, while these plans appear to follow the GAO's best practices for acquisition management, additional data and performance metrics could improve data validity, help the Office of Procurement accurately assess capabilities of their staff and resources, increase visibility of workforce staffing needs and skill gaps, and inform management reporting.
We also found that NASA policy generally aligns with federal requirements for certification and training of the acquisition workforce. In addition, 95 percent of NASA's certified acquisition workforce met continuous learning requirements needed to maintain their certification in the reporting periods we evaluated. However, the Agency's migration to the Federal Acquisition Institute Training Application System (FAITAS), the official system of record for acquisition programs, is incomplete. As such, NASA relies on multiple systems and stakeholders to manage these certification programs, reducing the Agency's ability to fully validate the accuracy and completeness of workforce certification and training data. As a result, NASA failed to detect about 200 Contracting Officer's Representatives (COR)—the individuals responsible for monitoring and administering contracts—who did not meet their required training in the reporting period, 24 of whom continued to work on contract actions during the time of our review.
WHAT WE RECOMMENDED
To help ensure the success of the MAP transformation, we recommended the Assistant Administrator for Procurement (1) finalize and implement the performance metrics dashboard to measure acquisition performance, and (2) document contract assignments in a centralized system. To comply with federal requirements to manage acquisition related training and certifications and to streamline the process of monitoring and reporting learning for Federal Acquisition Certificate holders, we recommended the Chief Financial Officer (3) ensure all certified contracting and COR program participants utilize FAITAS to record their certifications and continuous learning requirements by an established deadline. To ensure that CORs performing on contracts have active certifications, we recommended the Assistant Administrator for Procurement (4) take action to ensure that active CORs who have not met continuous learning requirements are removed from their COR positions in a timely manner.
We provided a draft of this report to NASA management, who concurred or partially concurred with our recommendations. We consider management's comments responsive to Recommendations 1, 3, and 4; therefore, those recommendations are resolved and will be closed upon verification and completion of the proposed corrective actions. Management partially concurred with Recommendation 2, stating that it cannot link program/project managers to their contract assignments because the Office of Procurement lacks an existing data source. Nonetheless, we believe that the ability to link contract assignments to acquisition workforce personnel is essential to the Office of Procurement's efforts to monitor and measure workforce performance and establish a baseline for operations at an enterprise level. As such, this recommendation will remain unresolved pending further discussions with Agency officials.
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