NASA OIG: NASA's Efforts to Reduce Unneeded Infrastructure and Facilities

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NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin today released a report evaluating NASA's efforts to reduce unneeded Agency infrastructure. NASA is the ninth largest Federal Government real property holder, with over 124,000 acres and 4,900 buildings and other structures that have a replacement value of more than $30 billion. Primarily located at 10 Centers in Alabama, California, Florida, Maryland, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia, this property includes such technical facilities as wind tunnels, rocket test stands, and launch complexes and such non-technical facilities as office buildings, roads, fences, and utility systems.

Much of NASA's infrastructure was constructed in the 1960's during the Apollo era, and nearly 80 percent of its facilities are 40 or more years old. Since 2005, NASA's operations and maintenance costs have increased by $173 million, and the Agency currently has over $2.6 billion in annual deferred maintenance costs. Although NASA has identified reducing its infrastructure as a high priority for decades, the Agency continues to retain real property that is underutilized, does not have identified future mission uses, or is duplicative of other assets in its inventory.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) identified 33 facilities - wind tunnels, test stands, thermal vacuum chambers, airfields, and launch-related infrastructure - that NASA was not fully utilizing or for which Agency managers could not identify a future mission use. The need for these facilities, which cost the Agency more than $43 million to maintain in fiscal year 2011, has declined as a result of changes in NASA's mission focus, the condition of some of the facilities, and the advent of alternative testing methods using supercomputers. Identified facilities ranged from small, low value post-World War II era thermal vacuum chambers to modern rocket test stands that cost several hundred million dollars to construct.

The OIG found that NASA's efforts to manage and reduce the number of underutilized facilities in its portfolio have been hindered by several longstanding and interrelated challenges: 1) fluctuating and uncertain strategic requirements; 2) Agency culture and business practices; 3) political pressure; and 4) inadequate funding.

To its credit, NASA has underway a series of initiatives the OIG views as positive steps toward "rightsizing" its real property footprint. The development of an Agency Facilities Strategy and Integrated Master Plan, capability assessments, and organizational changes to centralize decision authority over infrastructure matters should better position the Agency to strategically assess infrastructure needs, manage underutilized property, and divest itself of facilities that are duplicative or unneeded. However, many of these efforts are in the early stages and their ultimate effect on the Agency's ability to reduce its real property portfolio remains unclear.

The OIG recommended that NASA complete its ongoing comprehensive technical capabilities assessment and ensure that process is established into policy. In addition, we recommended that the Agency develop a mechanism for communicating its decisions regarding facilities to outside stakeholders to promote transparency. The OIG also recommended that the Agency expedite implementation of its portfolio management process and ensure that process is updated, documented, and established into policy, as well as implement changes to the NASA Technical Capabilities Database to improve data accuracy.

However, the OIG cautioned NASA that these efforts may be insufficient to overcome the cultural and political obstacles that have impeded past efforts to reduce unneeded infrastructure and that an independent outside process similar to the Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure Commission ultimately may be necessary. NASA agreed to take actions to address each of our recommendations.

The full report can be found on the OIG's website at http://oig.nasa.gov/ under "Reading Room" or at the following link: http://oig.nasa.gov/audits/reports/FY13/IG-13-008.pdf

Please contact Renee Juhans at (202) 358-1220 if you have questions.

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