Status Report

Report: GAO Performance and Accountability Series: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

By SpaceRef Editor
January 31, 2003
Filed under , ,

To download the full report, go to

For more information, contact Allen Li at
(202) 512-4841 or
Highlights of GAO-03-114, a report to
Congress included as part of GAO’s
Performance and Accountability Series

Why GAO did this report

In its 2001 performance and
accountability report on NASA,
GAO identified important
management, oversight, and
workforce issues facing the agency.
The information GAO presents in
this report is intended to help
sustain congressional attention and
an agency focus on continuing to
make progress in addressing these
challenges – and others that have
arisen since 2001 – and ultimately
overcoming them. This report is
part of a special series of reports
on government-wide and agency-specific

To make its improvement
initiatives fully successful, GAO
believes that NASA will need to

  • move to a results-oriented
    culture and provide the
    sustained attention needed
    to make sure human capital
    reforms stay on track;
  • overcome barriers facing
    implementation of its financial
    management system and
    transform its financial
    management organization so
    that it better supports NASA’s
    core mission; and
  • successfully follow through
    on planned oversight
    improvements so that costs
    and scheduling risks can
    be mitigated.

What GAO found

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) continues to
face challenges that threaten its ability to effectively run its largest
programs. NASA is taking steps to address these challenges. But because
they are rooted in NASA’s culture and long-standing ways of doing business,
NASA will need to make a major transformation.

  • Strengthening strategic human capital management. NASA is
    facing shortages in its workforce, which could likely worsen as the
    workforce continues to age and the pipeline of talent shrinks. This
    dilemma is more pronounced among areas crucial to NASA’s ability
    to perform its mission, such as engineering, science, and information
    technology. NASA is addressing this challenge through strategic
    planning, a new workforce planning and analysis system, and requesting
    additional personnel flexibilities, among other initiatives.
  • Controlling International Space Station costs. Development costs
    for this premier project have soared to the point where NASA has had
    to cutback the program substantially, including reducing construction,
    the number of crew members, and scientific research. This has raised
    concern among NASA’s international partners, who have a large stake
    in the scientific research to be performed on the station. NASA is
    instituting management and cost-estimating reforms. But it must still
    reach agreement with its partners on its planned cutbacks.
  • Reducing space launch costs. NASA recognizes the need to reduce
    the costs of space launches and replace its aging space shuttle. The
    administration recently submitted an amendment to NASA’s fiscal year
    2003 budget request, which (1) extends the life of the space shuttle
    and enhances its reliability, (2) funds the development of a new vehicle
    for ferrying crew to and from the space station, and (3) alters the
    time frame for a shuttle replacement. Accomplishing these and other
    goals related to space launches will be difficult and risky in light of the
    technology advances NASA would like to pursue and the high degree
    of communication and coordination required among industry and
    government partners.
  • Improving contract management. NASA spends most of its funds
    on acquisitions. Yet, for many years, it has been unable to oversee
    contracts effectively, principally because it lacked accurate and reliable
    information on contract spending and it placed little emphasis on end
    results, product performance, and cost control. NASA has addressed
    many acquisition-related weaknesses and is beginning to tackle one of its
    most formidable barriers to sound contract management – the lack of a
    modern, integrated financial management system. Considerable work
    remains to be done since NASA is only in the early stages of designing
    and implementing this new system, and NASA reported that it is already
    facing challenges in terms of cost, interoperability, and security.

SpaceRef staff editor.