February 28, 2013
Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
Efforts by NASA to dispose of costly, underutilized infrastructure are being slowed by uncertainty over its arching mission, external political pressure and inadequate funding, according to the agency’s inspector general (IG).
NASA’s leadership is making headway on the long-standing issue that has been exacerbated by the space shuttle’s retirement, the initiation and rapid termination of the previous administration’s Constellation program and the tentative nature of future exploration initiatives, according to IG Paul Martin.
Yet he notes that the agency must move aggressively in the face of future constrained budgets and get past its “keep it in case you need it” management culture if it is to avoid the possibility of a Pentagon-style Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.
“We acknowledge that NASA’s best efforts to address these challenges may be insufficient to overcome the cultural and political obstacles to eliminating or consolidating agency facilities,” Martin notes in his Feb. 12 report.
NASA ranks ninth among federal agencies in property holdings, with 4,900 buildings on 124,000 acres distributed among 10 field centers stretching from coast to coast. Eighty percent of the structures are more than 40 years old, creating a maintenance backlog estimated at $2.6 billion. Nearly 900 unneeded facilities cost $24 million annually to maintain.
The report’s inventory of underutilized assets included six of 36 wind tunnels, 14 of 35 rocket engine test stands, four of 40 thermal vacuum chambers; and two of three airfields.
At the Stennis Space Center, construction of a $350 million engine test stand for the Constellation program is nearing completion, though it has no designated future use. Moffett Federal Air Field at NASA’s Ames Research Center is now used almost exclusively by non-agency entities. The landmark Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility has not been used for its intended purpose since September, when a NASA 747 departed for a Los Angeles museum with the retired orbiter Endeavour, according to the report.
Woodrow Whitlow, NASA’s associate administrator for mission support, pledged compliance with four IG recommendations to speed the streamlining along, according to the report.