The Office of Inspector General has published a 52-page report that lays out seven critical challenges pressing NASA in 2020. From cybersecurity risks to outdated infrastructure, the OIG report describes top management and performance opportunities. Also included is a four-page response from the current NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Listed in order of their appearance in the report, the OIG report includes both self-assigned deadlines as well as seemingly systemic organizational opportunities affecting NASA:
- Landing the First Woman and the Next Man on the Moon by 2024
- Improving Management of Major Projects
- Sustaining a Human Presence in Low Earth Orbit
- Attracting and Retaining a Highly Skilled Workforce
- Improving Oversight of Contracts, Grants, and Cooperative Agreements
- Managing and Mitigating Cybersecurity Risk
- Addressing Outdated Infrastructure and Facilities
NASA’s goal of sending the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis program is part of an accelerated timeline given by the outgoing Trump administration. The Biden administration may have no choice but to assign a later target date considering the global COVID-19 pandemic. NASA has also faced delays in testing a key component of its rocket to the Moon due to a series of hurricanes impacting Stennis Space Center near the Gulf Coast.
In the NASA administrator’s response, Jim Bridenstine concurs that the 2024 deadline is a “significant challenge.” The administrator adds that the agency is evaluating changes to NASA Procedural Requirements around project management requirements to address program costs. NASA expects to complete the assessment by spring.
In terms of aging infrastructure, the OIG report highlights that more than 75% of NASA facilities operate “beyond their original design life.”
NASA will need to continue to make difficult decisions to invest, divest, or consolidate unneeded infrastructure; effectively communicate those decisions to stakeholders; and withstand the inevitable political pressure to retain unnecessary capabilities and facilities at Centers throughout the country. These decisions will become even more essential following the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in widespread telework and reignited questions about the number and size of facilities the Agency will need in the future. Additionally, despite some progress, the Agency needs to address its substantial deferred maintenance backlog and significant environmental cleanups at multiple sites.
In Bridenstine’s response, the current NASA administrator is in agreement with the OIG report. Bridenstine points to NASA’s Agency Master Plan as an ongoing effort to address this challenge.