Status Report

NASA OIG: Audit of NASA’s Facilities Maintenance

By SpaceRef Editor
March 3, 2011
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NASA OIG: Audit of NASA’s Facilities Maintenance

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) examined NASA’s facilities maintenance program to evaluate the Agency’s efforts to prioritize and fund maintenance activities, including whether NASA accurately captured costs associated with its maintenance and repair activities in a consistent manner and reported such costs to NASA management and relevant Federal agencies. We also reviewed internal controls as they related to the overall objective. The details of our scope and methodology are set forth in the enclosure.

Many of NASA’s facilities are in degraded condition and its maintenance backlog continues to grow each year. NASA’s deferred maintenance estimate for all its facilities increased from $1.90 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2005 to $2.55 billion in FY 2010. Continued deferral of facility maintenance could result in unsafe working conditions and higher annual maintenance costs. From FY 2005 through FY 2009, deferred maintenance as a percentage of current replacement value increased, indicating that NASA’s facilities were deteriorating. Although the overall deferred maintenance estimate in FY 2010 increased by approximately $6 million, deferred maintenance as a percentage of current replacement value decreased, indicating a slight improvement in the condition of NASA’s facilities. This occurred due to NASA’s efforts to replace or refurbish aged facilities.

Problems associated with NASA’s ability to maintain its facilities and associated infrastructure have been widely reported for more than 2 decades. In 1990, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that many of NASA’s facilities were in degraded condition and had not been adequately maintained.

GAO found that Centers had not based their maintenance budgets on actual needs or accurately accounted for all maintenance expenditures because NASA had not previously required Centers to report all maintenance costs or conduct regular assessments of the condition of its facilities to develop their total maintenance needs. In 2008, GAO issued a report on deferred maintenance at six Federal Agencies, including NASA, and found that all six agencies periodically assess the condition of their assets to identify needed repairs. However, the agencies use different methods to define and estimate their repairs and maintenance backlogs.

More recently, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) expressed concern about the safety of NASA’s infrastructure. ASAP’s Annual Report for 2010 stated that “(a)lthough the Field Centers appear to be doing a good job in identifying facilities that have deficiencies that could pose a safety risk to employees or missions, the Agency still has not presented a systematic approach to prioritizing facilities and laboratories requiring safety-related repairs and harmonizing funding across the Agency to facilitate those repairs in the most effective manner.” In addition, a 2010 National Research Council assessment reported that NASA must invest more in maintaining and upgrading its basic research laboratories if it wants to meet major mission goals.

Based on our work for this audit, we believe that the OIG needs to review additional aspects of NASA’s efforts to reduce deferred maintenance and manage its real property. For example, during the course of our audit, we found that much of NASA’s construction of facilities (CoF) funding is for major repair work. This could indicate that maintenance and repair funding is insufficient at the Centers. However, we did not assess CoF funding as a part of this review. Further, the 2008 NASA Authorization Act included a directive requiring the Agency to develop a plan that would reduce its deferred maintenance by 50 percent over the next 5 years. Following the completion of our fieldwork, NASA submitted its plan to reduce deferred maintenance to Congress. Congress subsequently passed the FY 2010 Authorization Act that called for NASA to rescope its facilities and, as appropriate, downsize to fit current and future missions and expected funding levels. Specifically, the Act directs the Administrator to undertake a comprehensive study that carefully examines NASA’s institutional assets and pays particular attention to identifying and removing unneeded or duplicative infrastructure. Given these factors and in lieu of issuing a report detailing the full extent of our work to date, we are expanding our efforts in the area of NASA’s facilities and infrastructure management and plan to conduct a series of in-depth reviews, including reviews of facility utilization and the management of CoF funding.

In light of our planned work and the requirement that NASA report to Congress regarding its facilities utilization, we are issuing this memorandum to summarize our concerns regarding NASA’s ability to plan and budget for maintenance and repair needs. In short, we found that because maintenance requirements were not fully communicated to Headquarters during the budgeting process, it has been difficult for NASA to make informed budgeting decisions regarding Agency-wide facility maintenance needs.

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SpaceRef staff editor.