described a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report reviewing
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope project. Another recent GAO report
addressing NASA's plans to "down-select" to a single contractor
to develop its shuttle replacement vehicle, the Crew Exploration Vehicle
(CEV), is highlighted in this FYI, as is a June hearing exploring NASA's
future workforce needs.
GAO REPORT ON NASA PLANS FOR CEV CONTRACTOR:
In July, the GAO issued a report warning that NASA's future budgets
might be inadequate for implementation of President Bush's Vision for
Space Exploration, and criticizing NASA's plans to "down-select"
to a single contractor for its Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) as early
as September of this year. In the face of NASA's opposition to GAO's
recommendations, the GAO report suggested that Congress might want to
consider limiting the space agency's near-term appropriations for the
The report, "NASA: Long-Term Commitment to and Investment in Space
Exploration Program Requires More Knowledge" (GAO-06-817R), states
that "NASA will be challenged to implement the architecture"
for its exploration initiative "within its projected budget."
Based on the agency's projections of future budgets, the GAO says, "there
are years when NASA does not have sufficient funding to implement the
architecture...while in other years the funding available exceeds needed
Because of funding concerns and the decision to implement the Vision
through a "go as you can afford to pay" approach, GAO notes
that it would be "prudent for NASA to establish a program that
reduces the risk that significant additional funding...will be required."
However, regarding the CEV program, it finds that "although NASA
is committing to a long-term contract [in September 2006], it will not
have the elements of a sound business case in place until the project
level PDR [preliminary design review] in fiscal year 2008." This
approach, it says, "increases the risk that the project will encounter
significant cost overruns, schedule delays, and decreased capability."
The GAO report therefore recommends "that the NASA Administrator
modify the current CEV acquisition strategy to ensure that the agency
does not commit itself...to a long-term contractual obligation prior
to establishing a sound business case at the project's preliminary design
review." Based on NASA's "nonconcurrence" in response
to this recommendation, the report further states that "we are
including as a matter for congressional consideration that the Congress
should consider restricting NASA's appropriations and obligations for
the CEV program to only the amount of funding necessary to successfully
complete the project's preliminary design review."
In a July 6 letter to the GAO (included with the report), Deputy NASA
Administrator Shana Dale wrote that "NASA has the appropriate level
of knowledge to proceed with its knowledge- and performance-based acquisition
plan to down-select' a single Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) prime
contractor in September 2006." The letter adds that, having such
knowledge, "NASA perceives no benefit in retaining two prime contractors
through Preliminary Design Review (PDR) at an estimated cost of $1 billion
House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) commented
that the GAO report "raises legitimate concerns about NASA's approach"
and expressed his intention of holding hearings on the subject this
fall, while Ranking Minority Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) said, "the
issues raised by the GAO are troubling.... We are already seeing important
projects in science and aeronautics cancelled or delayed as a result
of the Administration's decision to undertake an ambitious new Moon-Mars
initiative without providing a budget for NASA equal to all the tasks
it's been given. GAO's report indicates that if uncorrected, NASA's
current approach to carrying out the initiative could lead to cost growth
in the exploration program that will result in even further pressure
on NASA's other core missions."
The full report is available at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06817r.pdf
HEARING ON FUTURE NASA WORKFORCE:
More than thirty percent of current NASA employees are eligible for
retirement, and less than 20 percent of the space agency's workforce
is under 40 years old. At the same time, the agency estimates that it
has over 800 employees that are not now being utilized to their full
capacity. With an approaching "retirement bulge" in its workforce,
the ramping up of the exploration initiative, and the need to transition
emphasis from the shuttle program to the CEV, there is concern on Capitol
Hill and within the agency about how to ensure NASA's future workforce
is appropriate for its needs. At a June 13 hearing of the House Science
Committee's Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, Chairman Ken Calvert
(R-CA) inquired, "Does NASA have the right strategy and policies
to retain and build the workforce it will need?"
"When you refocus work, when you redirect programs, you will have
a certain skill set that you don't need any longer, and NASA does have
that issue," Toni Dawsey, NASA's Assistant Administrator for Human
Capital Management, testified. She added that the agency is exploring
ways to retrain parts of its workforce, including rotational experiences,
on the job training plans, mentoring and coaching programs.
NASA released a workforce strategy plan in April which is currently
being reviewed by a National Research Council (NRC) committee. According
to the NRC committee co-chair David Black, "Our committee's initial
reaction to NASA's work done so far is that it is incomplete and reflects
a top down view of what skill mixes are needed." Non-NASA witnesses
urged the agency to maintain robust research programs in space and Earth
science and aeronautics, saying that project delays and cancellations
deterred young scientists and engineers from wanting to join the NASA
workforce. "NASA will need to make decisions regarding how it can
provide...a sense of hope and promise to potential future members of
the agency's workforce," Black said. "Twenty years ago...the
mere mention of NASA was an attractor. It had vocational pizzazz. That
is no longer the case." He noted that NASA's unstable commitment
to projects may already be leading university communities to steer students
toward other career paths.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) argued that the excess workforce capacity NASA
currently has on hand is a direct result of not fully funding its ongoing
programs. "In other words," he said, the problem "is
not because the skills of those employees are no longer needed. Rather,
it appears to be the direct result of the administration's unwillingness
to propose a NASA budget level sufficient to fund the additional demands
imposed by the president's exploration initiative on NASA." Lee
Stone of NASA's Ames Research Center said he "would fundamentally
agree with [Honda's] assessment, that this is not a workforce crisis
but a budget crisis."