Space Program Safety: Funding for NASA's Safety Organizations Should Be Centralized

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-08-16.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                      SPACE PROGUM
                      Funding for NASA’s
                      Safety Organizations
                      Should Be Centralized

             United States
GAO          General Accounting Office
             Washington, D.C. 20648

             National Security and
             International Affairs Division


             August 16,199O

             The Honorable Richard H. Truly
             Administrator, National Aeronautics
               and Space Administration

             Dear Admiral Truly:

             We have completed our review of the National Aeronautics and Space
             Administration’s (NASA) safety-related programs. We reviewed the pro-
             grams to determine whether NASA had established an independent organ-
             ization with direct authority for these programs throughout the agency,
             as recommended by the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle
             Challenger Accident.’

Background   appointed a commission to review the circumstances surrounding the
             accident, establish the probable cause or causes, and develop recommen-
             dations for corrective action. The Commission’s report criticized NASA
             for its “silent safety program.”

             The Commission concluded that NASA did not have an independent and
             effective safety organization. The Chief Engineer at NASA headquarters
             had overall responsibility for safety, reliability, and quality assurance,
             but his ability to manage the program was restricted by organizational
             structure and limited staffing. Safety activities at field centers were
             subordinate to the projects and activities they were intended to oversee.
             For example, at Marshall Space Flight Center, the Director of Reliability
             and Quality Assurance reported to the Director of Science and Engi-
             neering, who was responsible for overseeing the development of space
             shuttle hardware.

             According to the Commission, this arrangement resulted in the safety
             organization’s lack of necessary independence from the hardware pro-
             ducer. This lack of independence in turn reduced the safety organiza-
             tion’s capability to serve as a watchdog to ensure that sound engineering
             judgment was exercised in using hardware and in analyzing hardware
             problems. According to the Commission, an effectively functioning

             ’Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, (Washington, DC:
             June 6, 1986), p. 199.

             Page 1                                                 GAO/NSIAD-90-187 Space Program Safety
                   safety, reliability, and quality assurance organization could have taken
                   action to prevent the Challenger accident.

                   Among other things, the Commission recommended that NASA establish a
                   safety, reliability, and quality assurance office that would (1) be headed
                   by an Associate Administrator, who would report directly to the NASA
                   Administrator; (2) have direct authority for safety, reliability, and
                   quality assurance throughout the agency; and (3) be independent of
                   other NASA functional and program responsibilities.

                   In July 1986, NASA responded to the Commission’s recommendations by
                   creating the Office of Safety, Reliability, Maintainability, and Quality
                   Assurance (SRM&QA)." In addition, it reorganized safety activities at its
                   field centers and provided them with increased resources. The SRM&QA
                   organization is responsible for providing independent oversight, review,
                   assessment, and approval of all NASA'S safety-related activities.

                   According to SRM&QA documents, NASA plans to spend over $500 million
                   in fiscal year 1990 for SRM&QA activities. Most of this amount is to be
                   spent on prime contractors’ efforts to ensure the quality and safety of
                   products they are developing for NASA.

Results in Brief   the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, NASA established the Office of
                   SRM&QA to provide independent oversight of all safety-related activities.
                   This office is headed by an Associate Administrator and reports directly
                   to the NASA Administrator. Field center safety organizations report to
                   center directors but have access, as needed, to the Associate Adminis-
                   trator for sRM&qA.

                   We found that, while this organizational structure appeared adequate,
                   field center safety organizations were not entirely independent because
                   they obtained most of their funds from activities whose safety-related
                   performance they were responsible for overseeing. The center safety
                   organizations obtained over 90 percent of their fiscal year 1990
                   budgets-about $124 million-from        the offices whose projects were
                   subject to the center safety organizations’ oversight and from the head-
                   quarters offices that supervised those projects.

                   “On May 1, 1990, the name of this office was changed to the “Office of Safety and Mission Quality.”

                   Page 2                                                  GAO/NSIAD-90-187 Space Program Safety

                  We do not believe that this method of funding enables NASA'S safety
                  organizations to maintain the complete independence envisioned by the
                  Presidential Commission. While we found no evidence that such heavy
                  reliance on project offices for funding had compromised the safety pro-
                  grams’ effectiveness, the potential for reduced effectiveness exists.
                  Also, NASA officials do not agree on the most appropriate method of
                  budgeting and funding SRM&QA activities. Most of the field centers’ offi-
                  cials expressed concern about the effect of current funding processes on
                  the independence of their SRM&QA organizations.

                  Of the over $500 million budgeted for safety-related activities, about
Current Funding    $124 million is for the field center safety organizations. These organiza-
ProcessLimits     tions use their funds primarily to pay mission support contractors.:’
Independence       However, field center safety organizations must rely on three separate
                   sources for funding: (1) the headquarters SRM&QA office, (2) center pro-
                  ject offices, and (3) the headquarters offices that supervise the projects.

                  The process for funding NASA'S field center safety organizations limits
                  their independence because they receive most of their funds from
                  offices whose projects they oversee. Center safety organizations also
                  receive funds from the headquarters offices through a multiple program
                  support process.4Consequently, center SRM&QA activities could be
                  underfunded, and the flexibility of center safety oversight could be
                  restricted. While not all NASA officials agree, most center officials
                  expressed concern that the current funding process could compromise
                  independence or result in an inadequately funded SRM&QA program.

                  Further, NASA does not have one standard process to budget for SRM&QA
                  activities. At the Goddard Space Flight Center, for example, programs
                  provide some funds directly but also are taxed a percentage of their
                  budgets to support generic SRM&QA activities at the center. The per-
                  centage is based on the number of civil service employees assigned to
                  the project.

                  On the other hand, the Marshall Space Flight Center’s SRMWA officials
                  and project representatives negotiate the amount of center project funds
                  “Mission support contractors provide critical surveillance of design, manufacturing, and testing activ-
                  ities to assesscompliance with policy, requirements, and controls. They also analyze and track
                  problems and their corrective actions.
                  “As defined in this report, “multiple program support” refers to all funds provided to the centers by
                  headquarters offices to finance common projects. These funds are classified as “engineering and tech-
                  nical base funds,” “multiple program support funds,” and “benefits assessmentsfunds.”

                  Page 3                                                   GAO/NSIAD-90.187      Space Program Safety




to s u p p o r t Marshall’s safety organization. T h e Marshall safety organiza-
tio n also o b tains m u l tip l e p r o g r a m s u p p o r t fu n d s from th e h e a d q u a r ters
o ffice o f S p a c eFlight’s e n g i n e e r i n ga n d technical b a s e b u d g e t. In fiscal
year 1 9 9 0 ,for e x a m p l e ,th e h e a d q u a r tersO ffice o f S R M & Q A p r o v i d e d a
relatively small a m o u n t- $ 1 .1 m illion-to Marshall S p a c eFlight C e n ter
a n d e a r m a r k e d it for specific tasks rather th a n for s u p p o r t o f Marshall’s
g e n e r a lS R M & Q A m ission. A b o u t 9 2 p e r c e n t, or $ 1 2 .3 m illion ( $ 1 3 .4 m il-
lion m inus $ 1 .l m illion), o f Marshall’s fiscal year 1 9 9 0 S R M & Q A fu n d s
c a m e from b o th th e project o ffices w h o s e projects th e c e n ter S R M W A
o ffice w a s to o v e r s e ea n d th e h e a d q u a r terso ffices th a t supervised th o s e
projects. Figure 1 illustrates th e fu n d i n g sourcesfor th e Marshall S p a c e
Flight C e n ter’sS R M & Q A activities in fiscal year 1 9 9 0 .

Page 4                                                   G A O /NSIAJl-90-187S p a c e P r o g r a m Safety

Figure 1: Marshall Space Flight Center SRM&QA Funding Sources (Fiscal Year 1990)
Dollars In mllllons

    Off ice of                         Multiple                     Headquarters                   Headquarters
 Space Science                       Headquarters                     Off ice of                     Off ice of
                                       Offices                      Space Flight                    SRM&QA
                                                     I                                                            I


                                                                                           Off ice of
   Marshall                                                            Marshall           Space Flight
 Hubble Space                 Marshall                                                    Engineering
                              Payloads                               Space Station         Technical
  Telescope                 Project Off ice                          Project Office
 Project Off ice                                                                             Base
                              Program                    Program       Program             Muftiple
     Program                  Specific                   Specific      Specific
     Specific      I                                                                       Program
                               ($0.8)                     ($2.0)         ($3.0)
                                              I                                       I     ($6.0)


Implications of the                               We did not identify any instances in which the Office of SRM&QA’S effec-
                                                  tiveness was reduced because of a lack of independent funding. How-
Current Funding Process                           ever, the potential for reduced effectiveness exists.

                                                  Page 6                                    GAO/NSIAD-90-137   Space Program Safety

                        The absence of a single, independent funding source could result in the
                        underfunding of the center safety oversight function. Center SRM&QA
                        activities must compete for funding with research and development
                        activities, and most of the funding is controlled by managers who are
                        responsible for this research and development. Officials at Marshall
                        Space Flight Center noted, for example, that the keen competition for
                        project office funds can result in a resistance to adequately funding
                        center safety functions. According to Stennis Space Center officials,
                        obtaining funding from a variety of project offices is more difficult than
                        obtaining funding from a single source.

                        The lack of centralized, independent funding may also restrict the flexi-
                        bility of center safety managers. Officials at Johnson Space Center told
                        us, for example, that they cannot use funds provided for a specific pro-
                        ject or program to perform work on another project or program. As a
                        result, they might be unable to respond promptly to changes in circum-
                        stances and priorities. These officials said that the Space Station Project
                        Office had significantly underfunded SRM&QA activities and subsequently
                        denied the request for additional funding. Consequently, Johnson offi-
                        cials used multiple program support funds from the Office of Space
                        Flight to supplement funding for what they termed a “minimal SRM&QA
                        program” for Johnson’s Space Station Freedom work package. These
                        officials indicated that the only reason they had been able to use mul-
                        tiple program support funds in this manner was that they had some dis-
                        cretionary control over them. However, according to these officials,
                        their ability to continue using these funds is being impaired because the
                         funds are frequently earmarked for specific uses.

Most NASA Safety        Not all NASA officials agreed on the need for a centralized SRM&QA budget,
                        even though it would ensure independent funding in meeting oversight
Managers Believe That   responsibilities. However, according to the Director of Safety, Relia-
Centralized SRM&QA      bility, and Quality Assurance at the Johnson Space Center, in discus-
Funding Would Ensure    sions at a recent SRM&QA headquarters conference, all the centers except
Independence            Goddard favored a centralized source of funding for their SRM&QA

                        In March 1989, the Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center recom-
                        mended that the agency’s total SRM&QA budget be provided through the
                        Office of SRM&QA. The Director pointed out that, while ongoing center
                        SIZM&QA programs were funded by the headquarters Office of Space

                        Page 6                                    GAO/NSIAD-90-187   Space Program Safety

              Flight and programs receiving SRM&QA support, the center needed addi-
              tional SRM&QA funding. According to the Director, a separate centralized
              budget would provide a better focus for NASA'S SRM&QA efforts.

              The Director of Safety, Reliability, and Quality Assurance at the
              Johnson Space Center addressed the need for an independent funding
              source in a July 1989 memorandum to the Associate Administrator for
              SRM&QA. He pointed out that “he who controls the funds also determines
              the content of the activity.” He recommended that the Office of SRM&QA
              fully budget all funds needed by the center safety organizations.
              According to this official, reliance on program funding represents the
              same funding arrangement that existed prior to the Challenger accident.

              In an October 5, 1989, memorandum to the Associate Administrator for
              SRM&QA, the Director of Safety, Reliability, and Quality Assurance at the
              Kennedy Space Center expressed concern that the independent evalua-
              tion provided by safety organizations is jeopardized when critical
              funding is not appropriated. In this official’s opinion, the headquarters
              SRM&QA'S support for field center funding is crucial to the success of the
              center’s safety programs. He recommended that NASA establish a process
              by which the safety resource requirements could be funded. The Ken-
              nedy official added that this process should include safeguards against
              the deletion of funds without the approval of the headquarters SRM&QA

              On the other hand, SRM&QA managers at the Goddard Space Flight Center
              told us that they do not believe that their independence is limited
              because they are funded by project and program offices. These officials
              said that they had not encountered any funding problems. They believe
              that project managers have primary responsibility for safety and that
              the use of project funds for safety oversight is consistent with that

                    has implemented the Presidential Commission’s recommendation to
Conclusions   NASA
              establish separate organizations to oversee SRM&QA activities. However,
              because the field center safety organizations are funded primarily by
              the project offices whose projects they oversee and by headquarters
              offices that supervise those projects, they do not have the complete
              independence envisioned by the Presidential Commission. Although we
              did not identify any situations in which the existing funding process had
              compromised safety programs’ effectiveness, the potential for reduced
              effectiveness exists, and the safety organizations’ oversight functions

              Page 7                                   GAO/NSIAD-90-187   Space Program safety

                      could be compromised. In addition, the safety organizations could be
                      underfunded and their flexibility impaired because they rely on this
                      funding mechanism.

                      We recommend that the NASA Administrator modify the processes and
Recommendation        procedures for formulating the SRM&QA budget to ensure that SRM&QA
                      activities are funded independently of the programs and activities they
                      are responsible for overseeing. We further recommend that the SRM&QA
                      budget be established within the Office of SRM&QA.

                      In commenting on a draft of this report, NASA acknowledged that since
Agency Comments and   the creation of the Office of SRM&QA, a vigorous debate has ensued on the
Our Evaluation        merits of centralized funding. However, NASA has chosen not to cen-
                      tralize funding within the Office of the Associate Administrator for
                      SRM&QA because it could (1) lead to a lessening of the safety and mission
                      quality responsibilities of the program managers by encouraging them to
                      defer decisions to the Office of SRM&QA; (2) generally diminish the inter-
                      action between field center SRM&QA organizations and program offices
                      and affect program managers, efforts to ensure that the highest priori-
                      ties are addressed in the budgeting process; and (3) require a significant
                      increase in the SRM&QA staff to properly administer the function. (NASA'S
                      comments are reprinted in app. I).

                      We agree that project managers should be responsible for SRMWA and
                      that most of the funds for SRM&QA activities are properly controlled by
                      the project managers and provided to their prime contractors to carry
                      out their SRM&QA responsibilities. However, the SRM&QA organization is to
                      provide independent oversight, reviews, and assessments of how well
                      project managers carry out their SRM&QA responsibilities. Therefore, we
                      continue to believe that, to ensure independence, funding for these
                      activities should be controlled by the Associate Administrator for
                      SRM&QA and not the project managers.

                      We also agree that field center SRM&QA organizations should be active
                      participants in the budgetary process and that interaction between
                      those organizations and project offices should continue. However, in our
                      view, trade-offs between project requirements and SRM&QA oversight
                      requirements ought to be made at the highest levels of the organization,
                      rather than at project office levels.

                      Page 8                                   GAO/NSIAD-90-187   Space Program Safety

              Finally, while some increase in staff to administer centralized funding
              might be necessary to ensure independent oversight, we question why a
              sizable increase would be necessary. Field center safety organization
              budgets are relatively small-totaling   about $124 million of NASA'S $12.3
              billion fiscal year 1990 research and development budget-and conse-
              quently should not require a large number of personnel to administer
              them, Also, consolidation should offer some offsetting efficiencies both
              in the headquarters offices and project offices where the budgets are
              currently administered and in field center SRM&QA organizations where
              personnel now participate in multiple budget reviews each year.

              We examined the report of the Presidential Commission on the Space
Scopeand      Shuttle Challenger Accident, internal NASA documents, and studies
Methodology   related to SRM&QA organization and budgeting issues. We obtained safety
              information on all nine space centers from NASA'S SRM&QA headquarters
              office. In addition, we visited Marshall Space Flight Center, Johnson
              Space Center, and Goddard Space Flight Center to review records and
              interview officials to obtain their perspectives on the need for indepen-
              dent funding. We conducted our review from October 1989 to May 1990
              in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

              As you know, the head of a federal agency is required by 31 U.S.C. 720
              to submit a written statement on actions taken on our recommendations
              to the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and the House Com-
              mittee on Government Operations no later than 60 days after the date of
              this report and to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations
              with the agency’s first request for appropriations made more than 60
              days after the date of this report.

              This report is also being sent to the Chairs of the Subcommittee on VA,
              HUD, and Independent Agencies of the House and Senate Appropria-
              tions Committee; the Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space of
              the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; the
              House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology; and the Director of
              the Office of Management and Budget. Copies will also be made avail-
              able to others upon request.

              Page 9                                   GAO/NSlAD-99-187   Space Program Safety

Please contact me on (202) 276-5140 if you or your staff have questions
concerning this report. Major contributors to this report are listed in
appendix II.

Sincerely yours,

Mark E. Gebicke
Director, NASA Issues

Page 10                                 GAO/NSIAD-99-187   Space Program Safety
Page 11   GAO/NSLALMO-187   Space Program Safety

I#   Appendix I                                                                                 *

1 CommentsFrom the NationalAeronauticsand
’ SpaceAdministration

                  National Aeronautics and
                  Space Administratron
                  Washington, D.C.
                  Ofl~ceof the Admvwtrator                              JUN 28 1880

                  Mr. Frank C. Conahan
                  Assistant Comptroller General
                  U.S. General Accounting Office
                  Washington, DC 20548

                  Dear Mr. Conahan:
                          We are gratified     by the General Accounting Office's
                  assessment of the NASA Office of Safety and Mission Quality
                  (SMQ) and the finding that the function is working well and in
                  accordance with the recommendations of the Rogers Commission.
                  The one issue identified        was funding, i.e., central   funding of
                  all SMQactivities        through the Associate Administrator    for SMQ
                  versus the current policy of funding the majority of SMQ
                  activities    through the program offices.
                        Since the creation of SMQ, a vigorous debate has ensued on
                  the merits of all funding being controlled by the Associate
                  Administrator   for SMQ. We have chosen not to centralize  funding
                  within the Office   of the Associate Administrator for the
                  following reasons:
                  1.    Historically,     NASA has been run as a matrix organization.
                        The project managers bear responsibilities        for all aspects
                        of the projects that they supervise, including SMQ. It is
                        their responsibility     to distribute   the funds available to
                        them in a manner that ensures the best result possible for
                        their projects.      They are held accountable for all aspects
                        of the project performance, including SMQ. Thus, through
                        direct allocation     of funds from project to SMQtasks, they
                        assure that their project will receive the support required.
                        Transferring    the total responsibility    for SMQfunding to the
                        Associate Administrator     for SMQcould lead to a lessening of
                        the safety and mission quality responsibilities        of the
                        program managers by encouraging them to defer all decisions
                        in this area to the Office of SMQ. The role of the
                        Associate Administrator     for SMQis to provide independent
                        oversight,    review, assessment, approval, policy development
                        and enforcement.
                  2.    The current arrangement requires active participation by
                        each field center SMQorganization in the budgetary process.
                        They must vigorously defend their requirements and champion
                        their needs to both program management and management of the

                          Page12                                 GAO/NSIAD-SO-187SpaceProgramSafety

           Appendix I
           Commenta From the National Aeronautics                              ‘,,
           andspace Admi&tration

          Office of SMQ. Since resource8 are always lim ited,         we
          believe this is a very healthy process that assures the
          highest priorities     are always addressed.    In his current
          role, the Associate Administrator      for S M Qdoes have constant
          accem to the NASAAdministrator        and acts as an advocate for
          S M Qfunding priorities.      We agree that the provisions     for
          funding this function in NASA can influence the rigor of
          SMQ, and we also agree that S M Qis currently      perform ing
          Under this structure,        the S M Qfunction has been appro-
          priately    carried out, and, as stated within the GAO report,
          there is "no evidence that such heavy reliance on project
          offices for funding had compromised safety program
          effectiveness      . . . .I' During our continuing management
          reviews, we will address the funding issues and make any
          changes necessary to maintain the current level of S M Q
     3.   Concentration of total funding requirements in S M Qwould
          require a significant   increase in staff to properly
          administer this function.
           We compliment your professional  staff,  and we want to thank
     you again for your impartial and objective review of this
     function within NASA. An outside perspective is always welcome
     as we seek to continually   improve our performance.

                                           Aesistant    Deputy Administrator

           Page13                                          GAO/NSIAD-SO-187SpaceProgrmSafety
Appendix II

Major Contributorsto This Report

National Security and   Lawson Gist, Jr., Evaluator-in-Charge
International Affairs   Shirley B. Johnson, Evaluator
Washington, D.C.
                        Lee A. Edwards, Regional Management Representative
Atlanta Regional        William Stan Lipscomb, Site Senior
Office                  Willa L. Boutt, Evaluator

(397002)                Page 14                                 GAO/NSIAD-90-187 Space Program Safety
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