NASA IG Adds Voice to Chorus that NASA Lacks Adequate Funding

NASA IG Adds Voice to Chorus that NASA Lacks Adequate Funding

Echoing what reports from expert groups have been saying for many years, NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) yesterday warned that the biggest challenge facing NASA is getting the budgets needed to accomplish the programs and tasks the agency has been assigned. 

The report goes into detail about seven “top management and performance challenges,” but the overall theme is the sustainability of NASA’s programs amid budget uncertainty.

“NASA’s ability to sustain its ambitious exploration, science, and aeronautics programs will be driven in large measure by whether the Agency is able to adequately fund such high profile initiatives as its commercial cargo and crew programs, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule, James Webb Space Telescope, Mars 2020 Rover, and the personnel and infrastructure associated with these and other missions.”

Noting that NASA began FY2015 without a full-year appropriation (NASA is operating under a Continuing Resolution through at least December 11), the OIG report also pointed out that projections for NASA’s future funding are flat.  “Accordingly, we believe the principal challenge facing NASA leaders in FY2015 will be to effectively manage the Agency’s varied programs in an uncertain budget environment.”

Having said that, the report identified seven “top challenges,” a number of which have been the subject of earlier OIG studies:

  • Managing NASA’s Human Space Exploration Programs: the International Space Station, Commercial Crew Transportation, and the Space Launch System
  • Managing NASA’s Science Portfolio
  • Ensuring the Continued Efficacy of the Space Communications Networks
  • Overhauling NASA’s Information Technology Governance
  • Ensuring the Security of NASA’s Information Technology Systems
  • Managing NASA’s Infrastructure and Facilities
  • Ensuring the Integrity of the Contracting and Grants Processes and Proper Use of Space Act Agreements

The 41-page report goes into some detail under each of those topics based primarily on previous OIG audits.

Some of the key takeaways include the following:

  • NASA expects to continue spending $3-4 billion per year on the International Space Station, but the OIG judges that estimate to be based on “overly optimistic assumptions and the cost to NASA likely will be higher.”
  • Regarding SLS and Orion, “NASA’s challenge … continues to be managing the concurrent development of a launch system and crew vehicle and modifying the necessary ground systems while also meeting the Administrator’s mandate that exploration systems be affordable, sustainable, and realistic.”
  • Regarding IT, in response to previous OIG recommendations NASA is “eliminating unused and duplicative web applications and moving Agency websites to a public cloud-computing environment” to “counter the threat of cyber attacks.” but the OIG has “found deficiencies in the design and implementation of NASA’s program that leaves the Agency’s publicly accessible web applications at risk of compromise.”  The OIG report also notes that it has conducted more than 110 investigations of IT breaches at NASA and helped get hackers from a wide range of countries convicted and getting over $22 million in restitution.
  • Regarding infrastructure, “The OIG has conducted 12 audits over the past 5 years examining various aspects of NASA’s efforts to manage its aging infrastructure. … NASA has yet to address our recommendations.”

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