Observations on NASA's May 1997 Draft Strategic Plan
NSIAD-97-205R: Published: Jul 22, 1997. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 1997.
GAO reviewed the draft strategic plan submitted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as required by the Government Performance and Results Act.
GAO noted that: (1) to its credit, NASA has been actively pursuing a strategic planning process since 1992, before enactment of the Results Act; (2) of the six elements required by the act, four are included in the draft strategic plan--a mission statement, goals and objectives, strategies for achieving the goals and objectives, and a discussion of external factors (discussed in the context of NASA's environmental assessment); (3) two of those four elements have weaknesses, some more significant than others; (4) the other elements--relating annual performance goals to general goals and objectives and a description of program evaluations used to establish general goals and objectives and a schedule for future program evaluations--are not explained in enough detail in the draft plan itself; (5) the draft plan sets forth NASA's primary legislative mandate, the National Aeronautics and Space Act, as well as other key statutory authorities of the agency; (6) for example, as discussed in the plan, the agency carries out is requirement to expand knowledge of the earth through the earth sciences, remote sensing, and upper atmospheric research activities of the Mission to Planet Earth enterprise; (7) though many of NASA's objectives are shared with involve other agencies, the draft plan does not discuss what interagency coordination occurred to address the issues of duplication and overlap; (8) the draft plan does note the importance of working with other agencies in achieving its objectives, and NASA officials stated that coordination has occurred at the program level; (9) these efforts, though, are not discussed in the plan, and coordination at higher agency levels may be needed to ensure consistency of program objectives between agencies; (10) major management problems facing the agency that could affect its ability to achieve its mission are not explicitly discussed in the draft plan; (11) for example, problems with managing contracts, managing information technology, and developing a fully integrated accounting system are three long-standing problems the agency faces that are not discussed in the draft plan, even though the agency has recognized them as problems and has taken steps to address them; (12) GAO's work has shown that the agency's capability to generate reliable information needed to measure the achievement of its strategic goals is questionable; and (13) problems with the agency's financial management system may make it difficult for the agency to accurately determine whether, for example, it is meeting its goal to reduce the cost of placing payloads into orbit.