NASA systems: Houston, we have a problem

NASA's has bungled its $982.7 million enterprise resource planning system project in a way that caused the agency to lose track of $2 billion in its Treasury Department account and forced it to adjust its books, witnesses told a House committee this afternoon.

NASA now estimates that its Integrated Financial Management Program is $121.8 million, or 14 percent, over its lifecycle cost estimate, according to the General Accounting Office.

Worse yet, NASA mistakes in implementing the ERP system it bought from SAP have perpetuated the agency's lack of adequate financial controls, GAO told the Government Reform Committee Subcommittee on Government Efficiency and Financial Management.

Gregory Kutz, GAO's director of financial management and assurance, said the IFMPS was not built with the needs of program managers and cost estimators in mind.

As a result, he said, "NASA will continue to have two sets of books."

NASA inspector general Robert W. Cobb said NASA has overused contractors in the process of adopting the SAP software, which still suffers from "bugs in the system" and generates data "that is not user friendly."

Cobb added that "it may be years before NASA gets an unqualified or 'clean' audit."

NASA chief financial officer Gwendolyn Sykes Brown told the panel that her agency has "a significant challenge ahead" as it implements the new financial system.

But she added that NASA officials have formed teams to create a "financial get-well plan" that will fix the problems.

Brown described the problems NASA faced in consolidating the main financial systems of its 10 centers as well as more than 120 smaller subsystems.

"NASA underestimated the amount of data that had to be identified, validated, documented and adjusted during our fiscal year end closing process," Brown said.

But a GAO analysis of NASA's problems said the agency had mismanaged several phases of the ERP project, such as:

  • Failing to build an enterprise architecture for the ERP system


  • Failing to use disciplined cost estimates or recognized best practices in preparing lifecycle cost estimates for the IFMP


  • Delaying implementation of many key external reporting functions.


  • GAO added that the SAP software NASA selected does not capture and report key budget information.

    The audit agency said NASA would not be able to rely on technology alone to solve its financial management problems, but would have to transform its financial management organization.

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