Status Report

NASA OIG: NASA’s Management Of Space Parts For Its Flight Projects

By SpaceRef Editor
October 5, 2017
Filed under , ,

Full report


Spare parts are critical to developing and maintaining NASA systems including aircraft, launch vehicles, spacecraft, satellites, ground communications, and ground support. These parts are used not just as replacements, but also as test articles and building blocks for possible follow-on missions. For example, NASA’s next robotic rover mission to Mars – known as Mars 2020 – is leveraging heritage technology and using spare parts worth about $180 million left over from the Mars Science Laboratory, the Agency’s most recent Mars rover mission launched in 2011.

As part of their duties, NASA program managers are responsible for ensuring adequate spare parts are available to support the full life cycle of their projects. In addition, each NASA Center has a Logistics Division responsible for managing Center assets, and this office is required to maintain comprehensive records of spare parts to help reduce costs by minimizing duplicate inventory. Moreover, NASA policy requires all assets be properly secured to protect from loss, theft, waste, and abuse.

In this audit, we assessed NASA’s management of its spare parts inventory for flight projects and its efforts to reduce costs and leverage resources. Specifically, we evaluated whether NASA (1) has an effective process for procuring inventory for its flight missions, (2) properly accounts for and safeguards its inventory, (3) effectively leverages existing spare parts inventory to address the needs of new and ongoing missions, and (4) effectively identifies and disposes of spare parts when deemed unusable or when they reach the end of their service life. To complete this work, we visited Goddard Space Flight Center (Goddard), the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Kennedy Space Center (Kennedy), and Marshall Space Flight Center (Marshall) to gain an understanding of their processes, controls, and systems for managing and physically securing flight inventory, including their use of NASA’s Supply Management System (SMS) and Online Supply Catalog and Reservations (OSCAR) system. We also surveyed Centers we did not visit about their use of SMS and OSCAR, met with NASA Headquarters’ Logistics Management Division personnel, and examined applicable documents related to spare parts management.


While NASA Centers are required to use SMS to track their supply and material inventory, we found that five of nine are instead using stand-alone inventory control systems or other NASA systems to manage their flight inventory, including spare parts. These non-SMS systems contain over $252 million worth of flight inventory. As a result, Headquarters’ Logistics Management Division’s visibility into flight assets across the Agency and its ability to accurately account for flight inventory Agency-wide is limited and inconsistent.

In addition, NASA policy requires the use of existing resources when available, including flight spare parts, rather than acquiring new parts from vendors outside the Agency. When supply inventory is put into SMS, it automatically populates in OSCAR, a database personnel searching for potentially available flight inventory from their Center and other NASA locations should review before purchasing new items. However, most Center officials were either unaware of OSCAR or chose not to use it as a procurement source for flight inventory because of a lack of a standardized  cataloging process when inputting parts into SMS, the ability to procure parts through other systems, and an incorrect assumption that OSCAR was only available to Centers using SMS. Addressing these issues should enhance the Agency’s efforts to effectively manage project costs and reduce the size of its spare parts inventory.

NASA policy also requires Centers to conduct periodic physical inventories to assess the accuracy of their flight inventory records and, at least every 5 years, a wall-to-wall inventory. While logistics officials at the four Centers we visited maintained and properly secured their flight inventory, Goddard and Kennedy did not consistently conduct complete reviews of their flight inventory due to ineffective oversight and communication by Headquarters’ Logistics Management Division and failures by Center personnel to follow Agency requirements. Effectively procuring, accounting for, and managing flight inventory, including spare parts, could save money by using existing resources and providing personnel more accurate information to make prudent procurement decisions.

Finally, spare parts disposal practices need improvement at three of the four Centers we visited. NASA policy requires Centers to review assigned property, including flight spare parts, to identify items for retention or disposal and to provide applicable documentation for disposed inventory to Property Disposal Officers (PDO). We found Goddard did not make timely determinations to retain or dispose of some flight inventory; however, during the course of our review, Center officials started using a new flight supply inventory form to address these issues. Kennedy and Marshall did not consistently provide pertinent information to their PDOs for disposed inventory. Because of these factors, flight spare parts may be retained years after projects end, adding to NASA’s excess inventory and impeding the potential use of these parts for other missions. In addition, failing to provide all applicable information for excessed flight spare parts could hinder NASA’s efforts to obtain fair proceeds from selling these parts to outside entities.


To increase accountability for and accuracy of NASA’s flight spare parts inventory, we recommended the Assistant Administrator for Strategic Infrastructure (1) review each Center’s SMS, stand-alone, and alternative inventory systems to reconcile differences and establish a methodology to ensure implementation of best practices and requirements regarding the procurement, use, storage, and disposal of flight spare parts; (2) work with the Centers not using SMS to develop a transition plan to bring the Center into compliance or submit waivers explaining why they should not be required to use the system; (3) develop a standardized cataloging process for OSCAR; (4) develop outreach tools to promote the benefits of using OSCAR; (5) develop alternative approaches to ensure Centers can meet the requirement to conduct complete reviews of spare parts inventories every 5 years; (6) develop a standardized Agency-wide form to identify parts for disposal or retention; and (7) develop procedures to ensure program and project officials provide all applicable documentation for disposed inventory.

In response to a draft of this report, NASA management concurred with our recommendations and described its planned actions. We consider management’s comments responsive; therefore, the recommendations are resolved and will be closed upon verification and completion of the proposed actions.

SpaceRef staff editor.