GAO: NASA needs plan for IT re-engineering project

A multi-year project by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to upgrade its financial management and supporting IT systems lacks a basic enterprise architecture that would rein in costs and define best practices, according to a U.S. Government Accounting Office report.

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, said in a recently-released report that NASA has already purchased and installed a “significant” number of components for its financial management operations and supporting IT systems, which the agency refers to as its Integrated Financial Management Program (IFMP). The project is slated to cost more than US$600 million.

But NASA has failed to create a blueprint that defines in business and technology terms how its approach to critical business functions such as contract management performs today, how it intends to operate in the future and how it will make that transition. The result, said the GAO, will be a “costly” system rework.

“Attempting major modernization programs such as IFMP without a well-defined enterprise architecture risks, among other things, building systems that are duplicative, are not interoperable and do not effectively and efficiently support mission operations and performance,” the GAO said.

A spokesman for NASA said that the report is based on old information and that the agency’s IT re-engineering program is “reasonably on schedule and successful.”

Although the GAO report can be found on NASA’s own Web site, the space agency said it hasn’t received the analysis through official channels and therefore can’t comment on it. But NASA spokesman Robert “Doc” Mirelson said the results will be studied “and then we’ll go from there.

“As you know, reports tend to lag (behind) where an agency is by the time the report comes out. We’ll have to see what’s in the report and what our response is to that, which will be as of current status versus as of when the report was completed,” Mirelson said.

For the past three years, NASA has been building the IFMP, an IT re-engineering project slated to cost US$644 million. The new technology will replace NASA’s disparate proprietary business systems, which are now used to manage its US$15 billion budget.

The GAO said that during the course of its review, NASA moved toward an enterprise architecture, such as establishing an architecture program office, designating a chief architect and selecting an architecture framework to use. NASA also released an initial version of an enterprise architecture.

But the GAO said the space agency still needs to create a policy for developing and maintaining the architecture and put in place an independent verification and validation process to ensure that technology components and architecture management processes are effective.

“Moreover, the architecture products used to date to manage NASA’s investment in IFMP did not provide sufficient context … to effectively guide and constrain the program,” the report said.

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