Inspectors General:

Actions Needed to Improve Audit Coverage of NASA

GAO-09-88: Published: Dec 18, 2008. Publicly Released: Jan 12, 2009.

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GAO was asked to review the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) and provide information on (1) the audit and investigative coverage of NASA; (2) the NASA OIG's audit and investigative accomplishments; (3) the NASA OIG's budget and staffing levels, including staff attrition rates; and (4) the results of external reviews of the NASA OIG. GAO obtained information from NASA OIG reports, interviews, and documentation.

The fundamental mission of the statutory federal IG offices, including the NASA OIG, includes identifying areas for improved economy, efficiency, and effectiveness through independent and objective oversight and preventing and detecting fraud, waste, and abuse. Of the 71 reports issued by the OIG's Office of Audits in fiscal years 2006 and 2007, only 1 report had recommendations to address the economy and efficiency of NASA's programs and operations with measurable monetary accomplishments. Over the 5-year period of fiscal years 2003 through 2007, audit reports contributed to only 1 percent of the OIG's total monetary accomplishments. The remaining 99 percent came from the OIG's investigative cases. Of about $9 million in total reported monetary accomplishments from audits over the 5-year period, almost $7 million was from one audit completed in fiscal year 2007. When the monetary accomplishments of both audits and investigations in fiscal year 2007 are combined and compared to the OIG's budget of $34 million, the return for each budget dollar is $0.36. This calculation for all 30 OIGs with IGs appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate averages $9.49, or 26 times that of the NASA OIG. The OIG's relative lack of monetary accomplishments from audits is due, at least in part, to the OIG's strategic and annual audit plans, which do not provide assurance that NASA's economy and efficiency will be addressed or that measurable monetary accomplishments will be achieved. We believe that during the planning process, the OIG should consult with an objective third party with experience in providing economy and efficiency audits with potential monetary savings. The OIG's budgets and staffing kept pace or did slightly better than all of NASA for these same resources during fiscal years 2003 through 2007. When comparing the fiscal year 2007 budgets of all 30 IGs appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate with their respective agencies' budgets, the NASA OIG ranked 11th. Nevertheless, GAO noted that the OIG's ability to retain experienced audit personnel was adversely affected by a staff attrition rate that has increased from 12 percent to almost 20 percent over fiscal years 2003 through 2007. Due to the relatively high attrition rates, GAO believes that the OIG should use the assistance of an objective expert to identify the causes of staff turnover. The NASA OIG's most recent peer reviews for both audits and investigations have resulted in unqualified opinions. A recent investigation by the Integrity Committee of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency and the Executive Council on Integrity and Efficiency reported that the NASA IG had an appearance of a lack of independence. The investigation was closed, but corrective actions did not address this finding and the Integrity Committee considers the issue unresolved. This issue has been raised by members of the Congress as a limitation in obtaining independent oversight of NASA.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA IG disagreed with our recommendation. Despite this disagreement, GAO's review of the NASA OIG's Office of Audit 2011 - 2015 strategic plan and the FY 2011 annual audit plan showed that they provided for independent, objective, and proactive analysis and identification opportunities to strengthen the integrity, economy, efficiency and effectiveness of NASA programs and operations. Specifically, several of the planned audits in the NASA OIG's FY 2010 audit plan are directed at determining whether the programs were effectively managed and cost effective.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen audit oversight and management of the NASA OIG, the NASA IG should include in strategic and annual planning, performance audits that address NASA's economy and efficiency with potential monetary savings and that the OIG work closely with an objective outside party to obtain external review and consultation in the strategic and annual planning processes.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Office of the Inspector General

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA IG disagreed with our recommendation. Despite this disagreement, in August 2009 NASA OIG retained the services of an outside consultant to assist in identifying the causes of high employee attrition and to identify appropriate actions to mitigate the attrition at the NASA OIG. In May 2010 the consultant completed its work and issued a final report identifying reasons for staff departures; and including recommendations for improving communication, supervision, policies and procedures, and rewards and recognition at the OIG.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen audit oversight and management of the NASA OIG, the NASA IG should identify the causes of high employee turnover with the assistance of an objective expert, and determine actions needed as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Office of the Inspector General

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: PCIE's Integrity committee (IC) did not concur with this recommendation. The IC stated the recommendation goes beyond the authority in that they have no power to compel any particular action. However, GAO continues to believe the recommendation does not call for the IC to compel corrective action, but rather to exercise its authority provided under Executive Order 12993 to conduct investigations.

    Recommendation: In order to resolve the matter regarding the appearance of independence of the NASA IG, the Integrity Committee should follow up regarding its investigative finding regarding the NASA IG's appearance of a lack of independence and make any recommendations needed.

    Agency Affected: President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency: Integrity Committee of the Executive Council on Integrity and Efficiency

 

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