NASA's Customer Satisfaction Measurements

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-02-12.

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

      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      National Security and
      International Affairs Division


      February 12, 1997

      The Honorable Daniel S. Goldin
      Administrator, National Aeronautics
       and Space Administration

      Dear Mr. Goldin

      As part of an ongoing assignment, we have been reviewing the extent to which
      managers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are using
      performance measurements in a number of areas, including customer satisfaction.
      The purpose of this letter is to (1) summarize our findings on the implementation
      by agency functional managers of requirements to develop and maintain
      measurements on customer satisfaction and (2) elicit information and your
      perspective on NASA managers’ efforts to collect customer satisfaction data. We
      are asking that you or your designee respond to the questions at the end of this
      letter by March 14, 1997.


      Since 1993, NASA has required its functional managers at headquarters, in
      collaboration with center officials, to develop and maintain agencywide
      measurements on customer satisfaction.’ Although almost all NASA functional
      managers were aware of this requirement, our review indicated that half of the
      functional areas had no formal mechanisms in place to collect data on customer
      satisfaction and several managers indicated that they had no plans to do so.
      Moreover, most managers do not receive customer satisfaction data from centers or

      ‘The requirements for measuring customer satisfaction are set out in NASA
      Management Instruction 1240.3B on Functional Management, Sept. 15, 1993. The
      word “customer” can refer to external or internal customers. Several functional
      managers at NASA said that their customers are internal, or within NASA. A
      functional area may be a specific managerial discipline, such as personnel or
      procurement; an external relationship, such as public affairs; or a significant area of
      specialization, such as information resources management. There are currently
      18 functional areas at NASA.
                         GAO/NSIAD-97-81R NASA’s Customer Satisfaction Measurements

consolidate it in a systematic way to monitor agencywide levels and trends or to
compare centers’ performances.

The reasons managers gave for not formally collecting the required data on
customer satisfaction included:

      The customer could not be identified.
      Customer satisfaction measurements cannot be developed for the type of
      work being performed, are inappropriate, or not useful.
      Managers were not aware of the requirement.
      Formal customer satisfaction measurements are not needed because of
      frequent communication with customers in person, by telephone, or
      electronic mail.

Some headquarters managers believe that only the centers are responsible for
collecting and evaluating customer satisfaction data because the centers are
responsible for executing the work. In other cases, headquarters managers
indicated that customer satisfaction data was being collected at some centers, but
could not identify the specific centers collecting the data.

Generally, headquarters managers in functional areas where customer satisfaction
data is being collected told us that they found the data to be useful. They noted
that formal feedback from customers helped them to (1) track trends in customers’
satisfaction, (2) identify and correct problems, (3) improve programs, (4) revise
policy, (5) focus on areas needing improvement, and (6) ensure that the agency is
receiving expected benefits. Some managers stated that their customer satisfaction
information had been used in self-assessment reports, program plans, annual
performance reports, the National Performance Review Report, and annual
operating agreements. Some managers also indicated that their customer
satisfaction measurements were supplemented by data from the agencywide
employee and customer satisfaction survey, which was conducted by NASA’s Office
of Policy and Program Planning during 1995 and 1996. Although this survey was
not done specifically by functional area, it included questions related to some
functional areas.

Other managers, however, questioned the cost-effectiveness and usefulness of the
data they collected on customer satisfaction. One noted that such data was difficult
to interpret when there was a multi-faceted customer base with competing interests.
Another noted that data sent to headquarters by centers was not particularly useful
since headquarters did not control the center activities on which the data is based.

 Page2          GAO/NSIAD-97-81R NASA’s Customer Satisfaction Measurements

In commenting on a draft of this letter, NASA headquarters officials told us that, as
part of the agency’s broader strategic planning process, NASA is developing or has
issued guidance2 that may substantially revise or totally replace existing guidance
that called for measuring customer satisfaction. Copies of the guidance provided to
us by officials provides a broad framework, rather than detailed guidance, for
managers to develop and maintain customer satisfaction measurements.


1. When is the proposed guidance expected to be completed? What additional
steps must be taken before the proposed guidance is expected to become

2. To what extent will the proposed guidance address the reasons managers gave
for not formally collecting the required data on customer satisfaction?

3. What existing requirements will likely be replaced by new guidance for
functional managers on developing and maintaining agencywide measurements on
customer satisfaction for both internal and external customers? Why are these
changes being made?

4. What does NASA consider to be relevant and useful customer satisfaction
measurements? How will functional managers be held accountable for developing
and maintaining these customer satisfaction measurements?

5. Does NASA have or will it develop a plan to help its managers identify
customers and measures that may be used to assess customer satisfaction?

We are sending copies of this letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Minority Members
of congressional committees with NASA appropriation, authorization, and oversight
responsibilities. Copies wilI be sent to other interested parties upon request. Your
response to our inquiry will be provided the same distribution. If you have any

2NASA Strategic Management Handbook, Oct. 1996.

Page 3         GAO/NE&ID-97-81R NASA’s Customer Satisfaction Measurements

questions or wish to discuss matters in this report in more detail, please contact me
or Mr. Frank Degnan, Assistant Director, at (202) 5124841.

Sincerely yours,

Associate Director
Defense Acquisitions


  Page 4           GAO/NSIAD-97-81R NASA’s Customer Satisfaction Measurements
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