Environmental Protection:

Solving NASA's Current Problems Requires Agencywide Emphasis

NSIAD-91-146: Published: Apr 5, 1991. Publicly Released: May 10, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Environmental Protection Program, focusing on the extent of environmental problems at NASA research centers and corrective actions.

GAO found that: (1) NASA identified, through its internal assessments and environmental regulators' inspections, various environmental problems at its centers, including leaking underground storage tanks, exposed asbestos, and mercury spills; (2) such problems were caused by maintenance, industrial, and research processes and by previous military owners' practices at some NASA centers; (3) to correct such problems and comply with environmental regulations, NASA undertook or planned many costly projects, but it was difficult to determine the total project costs, partially because NASA inconsistently identified environmental costs in its budget; (4) it was difficult to determine the amount of cleanup that many contaminated sites needed, since NASA had not completed all the required studies; (5) NASA did not adequately implement its policy to prevent, control, and abate environmental pollution; (6) NASA delegated the responsibility of implementing its environmental pollution policy to its centers without establishing an agencywide strategy or an effective monitoring and management system; (7) without an implementation strategy, the quality and success of the centers' programs varied in terms of their emphasis on environmental issues and their commitment of resources towards the programs; and (8) a lack of headquarters management hindered NASA ability to recognize serious noncompliance problems, ensure appropriate problem investigations, and ensure that centers performed periodic environmental audits.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The new Environmental Management Division will, among other things, be responsible for the overall coordination of prevention, control, and abatement measures at the agency's field centers.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should require that problems identified at one center be addressed at other centers with similar facilities or functions.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The new Environmental Management Division will, among other things, be responsible for the overall coordination of prevention, control, and abatement measures at the agency's field centers.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should develop criteria and guidelines for center reporting of imminent or actual noncompliance with environmental regulations, new state and local regulatory requirements being proposed or issued, and other items as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Standards have been incorporated into self-assessment checklist. Action has been completed on mechanisms to identify funding requirements with issuance of cost accounting codes for activities associated with the new system.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should establish standards on center environment staff levels, qualifications, and organizational authority, and provide for mechanisms to identify funding requirements.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 1994, NASA established an Environmental Management Division which, among other things, is responsible for the agencywide pollution control program, including the planning, implementation, and periodic review of compliance, restoration, and abatement activities at all the agency's field centers.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should develop an agencywide strategy, including center-based, measurable goals, on implementing the environmental pollution prevention, abatement, and control policy.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: An environmental services contract, which includes the environmental audit task, was signed on September 10, 1991. The first audit was done in early 1992.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should establish an environmental audit program to evaluate, at least every 3 years, the centers' regulatory compliance and management systems for ensuring compliance. Audits should be conducted by headquarters and field officials and supported by contractors.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

 

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