NASA’s O’Keefe: We saw the trouble coming

By boldly going where no agency has gone before in terms of deploying an agencywide financial system, NASA is experiencing some expected turbulence. At least that is the way NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe is responding to system failures the General Accounting Office found with NASA’s newly deployed core financial system.

“There was a very clear understanding among our auditors and oversight committee of the challenges that we were about to confront by turning the financial system management system on,” O’Keefe said.

The agency knew that the transition of data from dozens of older financial systems would cause problems, but they could not predict what those problems would be, he said. The GAO audit was valuable, he said, because it identified the shortcomings that needed to be addressed. O’Keefe spoke at a press conference yesterday.

O’Keefe also said that an enterprise architecture, which was not used in the early development of the system, probably would have smoothed deployment.

Earlier this week, GAO testified before the Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Efficiency and Financial Management that it had found multiple problems with the agency’s new financial management system (Click for story). The system had miscounted $2 billion worth of funds and lacked adequate financial controls.

The problems that GAO noted were the kind normally experienced with ramping up of a new enterprise financial management system of this scale, O’Keefe said, adding that that no other agency had attempted to deploy a finance system of this scale. NASA’s system, overseen by the Integrated Financial Management Program, would span 10 different NASA centers and consolidate 120 subsystems.

“The effort to set in motion a core financial system was our objective, and it has been accomplished. There is one financial management system in the agency, as opposed to two years ago, when there were several,” O’Keefe said. “At this stage, transitioning to this [system] will take a lot of diligence and continued effort.”

GAO had also charged that the agency did not use an enterprise architecture for the system. IFMP program executive Pat Ciganer explained that when the project started two years ago, the Office of Management and Budget had not started its enterprise architecture initiative.

“Had it initially been planned … [an EA] might have made some difference,” O’Keefe said. “I can’t quibble with GAO’s argument. It probably would have helped.”

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