NASA gains broad view of financials

NASA's Integrated Financial Management Program

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NASA took a giant leap forward late last month in its $500 million quest to improve bookkeeping agencywide with the deployment of its new financial management system's core module.

The core financial module, a key element of NASA's Integrated Financial Management Program, is designed to provide the agency with the modern financial technology it has lacked for years.

With this new module, program managers at each of NASA's 10 field centers will use the same financial tools and have the same access to timely data. This is a vast improvement on previous management systems, according to NASA officials. "The new system allows us to work with common tools toward common goals, not as 10 different centers with different ways of managing finances," said program executive Patrick Ciganer.

By streamlining its financial operations, NASA has replaced 145 systems with a single financial system, officials said. In its first week of operations, the new system was accommodating more than 7,000 users throughout its field centers.

Accenture installed SAP AG's Industry Solution-Public Sector software as the agency's core financial system, which is housed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The new system moves NASA ahead of other government agencies in terms of financial operations, said Stanley Gutkowski, managing partner of Accenture's government practice.

"The agency now has a financial information backbone that integrates with project management data to provide an integrated view on the status of each project," he said.

The biggest advantage of the new system is the speed with which managers and administrators can obtain critical data.

Access to financial data at all levels, from the overall agency budget to individual transactions, is now widely available agencywide to those who need it. "Now, for the first time, we have one set of books," said Steve Isakowitz, NASA's deputy chief financial officer. "Most importantly, you can get information that, instead of being two to three to four months old, is now maybe a couple of weeks old, and much more useful."

NASA officials expect that as managers gain experience with the system, they will improve efficiency in cost analysis decision-making by tracking program spending and using up-to-date figures. "This is a decision-support system, and the benefit of this system is its speed and timeliness," Ciganer said. "This allows you to be more accurate in your estimation and your analysis."

"It's a huge step forward for program and project managers to have this kind of visibility," said Michael Mann, program manager for the financial management implementation. "It's more traceable, and there's an area of accountability here."

NASA is being praised for its efforts to gain full cost accounting, which falls in line with the President's Management Agenda. "They've shown the hallmarks of success, including effective senior leadership," said Karen Alderman, executive director of the Joint Financial Management Improvement Program. "I think they've done a very thorough job in project management and product selection. Their effort is impressive."

The core financial system is only one part of an overall financial management system that will be rolled out across the agency. NASA has already implemented four other systems: travel management, resume management, position description management and the executive financial management information system, called Erasmus.

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