Space Shuttle:

NASA's Procurement of Solid Rocket Booster Motors

NSIAD-86-194: Published: Aug 26, 1986. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 1986.

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GAO reported on its testimony concerning the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) shuttle booster rocket procurement, focusing on: (1) the circumstances surrounding the second-source initiative for procuring solid rocket motors (SRM); and (2) quality control and safety at the SRM manufacturing facility.

GAO found that: (1) in January 1986, after repeated delays, NASA announced its intention to establish a second SRM production source to broaden the industrial base for SRM production and enhance national security; (2) potential second-source contractors expressed concerns that several of the ground rules in the initiative would inhibit competition; (3) following the space shuttle Challenger accident, NASA suspended its second-sourcing plans until the causes of the accident were determined; and (4) neither the government nor the contractor was giving potentially serious quality control and safety problems the management attention they deserved. GAO believes that: (1) NASA plans to determine an appropriate second-sourcing approach following the completion of redesign studies is reasonable; and (2) the guidelines NASA established in January 1986 might not have fostered competition in the motor procurement.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA completed the acquisition strategy plan for the continued procurement of SRM. The plan, dated April 1, 1987, was provided to Congress.

    Recommendation: Given its previous difficulties in developing a second source for shuttle motor production, including the January 1986 ground rules which might not have fostered competition, the Administrator, NASA, should prepare, and provide to Congress, a comprehensive acquisition strategy and plan for the continued procurement of motors. The plan should address: (1) the NASA decision about upgrading the motor design; (2) alternatives for establishing and maintaining competition in future procurements; and (3) the costs and benefits of each alternative.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Quality assurance staffing needs were reassessed and it was determined that additional quality assurance engineers were needed to strengthen technical oversight. NASA and the Air Firce mutually determined that four engineers would be hired. Furthermore, quality assurance staffing reviews will be performed twice each year.

    Recommendation: Before motor production resumes, the Administrator, NASA, and the Secretary of the Air Force should determine the number and types of government personnel needed to adequately ensure quality control in motor manufacturing operations and to acquire the needed staff.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Quality assurance staffing needs were reassessed and it was determined that additional quality assurance engineers were needed to strengthen technical oversight. NASA and the Air Force mutually determined that four engineers would be hired. Furthermore, quality assurance staffing reviews will be performed twice each year.

    Recommendation: Before motor production resumes, the Administrator, NASA, and the Secretary of the Air Force should determine the number and types of government personnel needed to adequately ensure quality control in motor manufacturing operations and to acquire the needed staff.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Air Force plant representative, Morton Thiokol SRM manufacturing facility, has been working with Marshall Space Flight Center personnel to induce better contract performance. Also, NASA established an Office of Safety, Reliability, Maintainability, and Quality Assurance. Various reporting systems have been implemented for NASA and contractor personnel to report problems.

    Recommendation: Before motor production resumes, NASA should identify any other mechanisms, including possible contractual incentives or penalties, needed to ensure that the controls are properly implemented and enforced.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

 

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