GAO: NASA improving its project management

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NASA's James Webb Space Telescope was one of 15 large-scale projects GAO auditors assessed in their latest review.

Although NASA has shown improvement on managing project costs and schedules, the Government Accountability Office said its acquisition management still needs attention.

"GAO has designated NASA's acquisition management as a high-risk area because of NASA's history of persistent cost growth and schedule slippage in the majority of major projects," GAO's April 15 report states.

NASA has begun launching an earned value management system for several major projects after GAO previously recommended improving the agency's EVM efforts. In 2013, NASA took several additional steps to more effectively manage its portfolio, including maintaining a set-cost performance level for major projects.

For the 100-plus-page report, GAO auditors assessed 15 projects, including the mammoth undertaking of the James Webb Space Telescope.

GAO said NASA has significantly improved its management of maturing technologies, which can minimize risks for projects entering the development stage. According to the review, 63 percent of projects that have undergone a preliminary review have met best practices for technology maturity, compared to 29 percent in 2010.

"Demonstrating that technologies -- critical and heritage -- will work as intended in a relevant environment serves as a fundamental element of a sound business case," the report states, "and projects falling short of this standard before preliminary design review often experience subsequent technical problems, which can increase the risk of cost growth and schedule delays."

Of the 13 assessed projects with critical technologies, 11 had matured those technologies by the preliminary review.

In NASA's response to the findings, Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot noted that "NASA has a long-standing designation as a GAO high-risk area, and the GAO has previously identified weaknesses in NASA's cost and schedule estimating practices." NASA created a corrective action plan in 2007 and 2008, and "to date, six of seven initiatives NASA identified are complete and operational, with additional work remaining in the area of cost performance."

About the Author

Reid Davenport is an FCW editorial fellow. Connect with him on Twitter: @ReidDavenport.


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