Fiscal year (FY) 2012 ended on a high note for NASA with the successful landing of the rover Curiosity on the surface of Mars in August. Over the next several years, Curiosity will explore the Red Planet in an effort to determine if it has ever been able to support life.
Earlier in the year, NASA achieved a major milestone toward its goal of fostering the development of a commercial space transportation capability to low Earth orbit with the successful test flight of the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), followed in October by the first actual commercial resupply mission.
The year was not without challenges, however. For example, due to cost overruns in the James Webb Space Telescope and other projects, NASA had to reprogram funds away from several Agency initiatives. This resulted in developmental delays in some ongoing projects and cancellation of other planned projects, including the ExoMars/Trace Gas Orbiter missions to Mars.
Moreover, the congressional decision to provide NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) with less than half the funding requested by the President in FY 2012 extended to 2017 the earliest date that NASA expects to obtain commercial crew transportation services to the ISS, which is significant if NASA is unable to maintain and utilize the Station beyond its currently scheduled retirement date of 2020.
In addition, as a result of the lower-than-expected funding level, the Agency delayed its planned transition from using Space Act Agreements to using Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)-based contracts for developing these systems. This decision heightened concern in some quarters about the ultimate ability of the commercial companies to meet NASA safety requirements.
Finally, declining budgets and fiscal uncertainties remained at the forefront of the Agency's decision-making processes this past year. Like the rest of the Federal Government, NASA began FY 2013 under a 6-month continuing resolution (CR) that funds the Agency at FY 2012 levels. Overshadowing the effects of the CR, however, is the possibility of an early January 2013 sequestration that would reduce NASA's anticipated budget by approximately $1.5 billion. Even if this looming cut is averted, NASA is likely to face constrained budgets for the foreseeable future.
Against this rather bleak budgetary backdrop, we have identified five overarching issues we believe pose the top management and performance challenges to NASA leadership:
* Future of U.S. Human Space Flight
* Project Management
* Infrastructure and Facilities Management
* Acquisition and Contract Management
* Information Technology Security and Governance
In deciding whether to identify an issue as a top challenge, we considered the significance of the issue in relation to the Agency's mission; its susceptibility to fraud, waste, and abuse; whether the underlying causes are systemic in nature; and the Agency's progress in addressing the challenge. Several of these challenges - specifically project management, infrastructure and facilities management, and acquisition and contract management - are long-standing concerns likely to remain top challenges for the foreseeable future. However, with focused and sustained efforts we believe that NASA can make significant strides in addressing all of the challenges we have identified.