Aerospace Testing:

Promise of Closer NASA/DOD Cooperation Remains Largely Unfulfilled

NSIAD-98-52: Published: Mar 11, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 11, 1998.

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GAO reviewed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) and Department of Defense's (DOD) cooperation in developing a national perspective on aerospace test facilities, focusing on: (1) the extent to which NASA/DOD working groups on major test facilities have been operating on a regular basis; (2) NASA's and DOD's actions in response to a future need to test an engine for new Air Force rockets; (3) whether NASA and DOD prepared a congressionally required joint plan on rocket propulsion test facilities; and (4) whether NASA and DOD are implementing a DOD assessment team's recommendation in March 1997 to jointly manage with NASA certain aeronautical test facilities.

GAO noted that: (1) the promise of closer NASA/DOD cooperation and the development of a national perspective on aerospace test facilities remains largely unfulfilled because NASA and DOD: (a) have not yet convened most test facility alliances; (b) compete with each other to test engines for new rockets; and (c) did not prepare a congressionally required joint plan on rocket propulsion test facilities; (2) although NASA and DOD have agreed to go beyond cooperative alliances in aeronautics and jointly manage their aeronautical test facilities, they have not yet reached agreement on key aspects of management organization; (3) NASA and DOD took 20 months (May 1996 through December 1997) to negotiate and sign agreements formally establishing the six test facility-related cooperative alliances; (4) despite the formation of the rocket propulsion alliance, NASA and DOD compete against each other to test engines for new rocket programs; (5) a principal arena of competition is the next phase of the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program; (6) DOD did not prepare a legislatively mandated joint plan with NASA to coordinate rocket propulsion test facilities; (7) in a letter to congressional committee chairs and other members, DOD said that the bases of such a plan are: (a) ongoing activities such as Vision 21; (b) the May 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review of defense strategy; and (c) activities of the rocket propulsion alliance; (8) however, these efforts are unlikely to form the basis of a joint plan because NASA is not participating in either Vision 21 or the Defense Review; (9) in October 1997, NASA and Air Force officials took a step toward creating a national perspective on test facilities in the aeronautics area; (10) specifically, they reached an understanding on the scope and approach for joint strategic management of their aeronautical test facilities, including a new management organization; (11) however, they have not yet resolved basic issues, such as the organization's structure and authority; and (12) ultimately, if joint strategic management of aeronautics test facilities is successfully established, its adaption to other types of test facilities could be considered.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: There is interest on various congressional committees in fostering greater NASA/DOD cooperation on aerospace test facilities through the use of NASA/DOD joint working groups or alliances. These alliances are now functioning, consequently a legislative remedy is no longer applicable.

    Matter: Congressional intent, as reflected in the statutory requirement for joint planning of rocket propulsion test facilities, is not being fully met by NASA and DOD. Congress may wish to consider reaffirming its intention in this regard and extend its joint planning requirement to other types of aerospace test facilities, including a requirement that NASA and DOD assess the possible extension of joint management of aeronautical facilities to other types of test facilities, especially rocket propulsion.


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