NASA Chief Information Officer:

Opportunities to Strengthen Information Resources Management

AIMD-96-78: Published: Aug 15, 1996. Publicly Released: Aug 15, 1996.

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Jack L. Brock, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) efforts to implement a chief information officer (CIO) position, focusing on: (1) CIO initiatives to improve information resources management (IRM); and (2) opportunities for NASA to strengthen the CIO position and improve its IRM program.

GAO found that: (1) NASA CIO has taken some action to address longstanding IRM problems including the lack of strong leadership, authority, and oversight, fragmented and overlapping responsibilities, redundant operations, unintegrated planning and budgeting processes, multiple communications networks, and poorly managed systems development efforts; (2) although NASA recognizes the need to address these IRM problems, it has been reluctant to limit the authority of its field centers and program offices to make independent decisions on how best to use information technology (IT) to carry out their missions; (3) despite these limitations, NASA CIO is instituting software and hardware standards to achieve interoperability among administrative systems, integrating IRM planning and budgeting processes, and revising IRM policies to reflect organizational changes; (4) strengthening the CIO position would enable NASA to achieve efficiencies and savings among mission-related systems; (5) agencywide investments in mission-related systems and related contractor services constitute as much as 91 percent of the annual NASA IRM budget; (6) funding for IT investments cannot be accurately consolidated given the nonstandard funding categories that various program offices use; and (7) instituting an effective IT resource tracking system is essential to ensuring the effectiveness of IT investments.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since the report was issued, NASA has taken steps to strengthen the CIO process for setting and enforcing IT-related policies and procedures. A CIO operating model was instituted, which establishes a structure for agencywide implementation of IRM policies, guidelines, standards, and architectures. A number of IRM directives have already been instituted in the form of CIO executive notices, and a CIO action registry has been set up to track actions taken on these directives throughout the agency. Enterprise and center CIO representatives periodically report to the CIO on implementation of the IRM directives within their component organizations. The CIO operating model also provides for resolving conflicts by elevating them to progressively higher levels within the organization.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should strengthen the agency's IT management processes by strengthening the requirement that NASA organizations abide by IRM policies, guidelines, standards, and architectures instituted by CIO by establishing clear and consistent procedures for granting waivers and resolving conflicts.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA's August 1996 Information Resources Five-Year Plan includes the agency's official inventory of existing major information systems projects. NASA is also conducting an inventory of all desktop systems in the agency. The inventory will be turned over for future maintenance to the new agencywide standard desktop system contractor. Recent work to identify the vulnerability of NASA information systems to the Year 2000 problem is also resulting in systems inventories at the field center level.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should direct CIO to establish and maintain a complete and accurate inventory of agencywide IT resources for investment management and decisionmaking purposes.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since the report, the CIO has been closely collaborating with the CFO to acquire commercial software for an integrated financial management program (IFMP). As a member of the CFO Council, the CIO directly participates in oversight of the acquisition and helps ensure IFMP adherence to CIO-directed architectures and standards. The CIO also coordinates with the IFMP team on issues such as the impact of the proposed financial management system on existing NASA information systems, data conversion, full cost accounting, and year 2000 issues. The CIO and CFO offices are also working to integrate IT planning with the budget planning process to enhance visibility and accuracy in assessing IT expenditures. The FY 1999 budget will be the first NASA budget developed from the integrated processes.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should direct CIO to work with the chief financial officer to develop the systems and procedures necessary to accurately account for all IT-related expenditures.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The NASA CIO has established a framework for defining IT performance measures through the annual budget process. IT performance measures for agencywide services are included in the NASA Performance Plan and were formally reported for the first time in the NASA Accountability Report for FY 1998 and the NASA Performance Plan for FY 1999.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should direct CIO to define and implement IT performance measures in order to assess the effectiveness of the agency's systems investments in meeting program and mission requirements.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since the report was issued, the CIO has begun to get involved in additional mission-critical information systems areas. For example, the CIO has been involved in an effort to get a replacement for the Launch Processing System at Kennedy Space Center. Further, the CIO has been involved in discussions about instituting a standard desktop engineering environment, included standard software for computer-aided design/computer-aided engineering, etc. As of April 1997, no standard had yet been established, however. The CIO-designated Center for IT Excellence, Ames Research Center, with support from the Office of the Chief Engineer, is also developing a special engineering workstation standard for collaborative environments.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should direct CIO to identify opportunities for greater efficiencies and cost reductions among mission-related IT resources and include these in ongoing standardization and consolidation efforts.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its August 1996 Information Resources Five Year Plan, NASA stated that new budget realities have made it necessary to focus on new ways of doing business and emphasized reducing the NASA infrastructure and implementing all initiatives through a "faster, better, cheaper" approach that improves efficiency and eliminates redundancies. In line with this approach, NASA's CIO infrastructure provides a framework for helping the agency accomplish its missions and programs through efficient and cost-effective IT that yields the best return on the agency's IT investments. The CIO has instituted various initiatives to improve business practices and reduce IT spending. These include standardizing and consolidating administrative IT at the desktop and file server levels; consolidating mainframes, supercomputers, and telecommunications networks; and enhancing computer security. Finalization or completion of many of these initiatives is a CIO objective for 1997.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should direct CIO to promote improvements in agency administrative and mission-related work processes through the increased use of IT.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration


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