Agency Faces Challenges Defining Scope and Costs of Space Shuttle Transition and Retirement

GAO-08-1096: Published: Sep 30, 2008. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2008.

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The Space Shuttle Program (SSP) is scheduled to retire in 2010, and the transition and retirement of its facilities and assets will be an immense undertaking involving approximately 654 facilities worth an estimated $5.7 billion and equipment with an estimated value of more than $12 billion. NASA plans to retire the SSP in 2010 to make resources available for the Constellation program, which is producing the next generation of space vehicles by 2015. Many of the SSP's resources are expected to transition to Constellation while others will be dispositioned or preserved for their historic value. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 directed GAO to assess NASA's plans and progress in transitioning and retiring the SSP's facilities and equipment. More specifically, GAO examined 1) the challenges NASA faces in defining the scope and costs of transition and retirement activities, and 2) whether the cost of these efforts is transparent in NASA's budget requests. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed SSP plans, budget guidance, and other documents, and interviewed relevant government officials and contractors.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) faces disparate challenges defining the scope and cost of SSP transition and retirement activities. For example, because the Constellation program is still finalizing its requirements, the agency does not yet know what SSP property it needs to retain or the full cost of the transition effort. In addition, NASA faces other challenges that hamper its efforts to manage the transition and develop firm estimates of SSP transition and retirement scope and costs. For example, NASA has not developed final plans and/or cost estimates for making artifacts-- including the orbiters Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavour--safe for public display. The total cost of SSP transition and retirement is not transparent in NASA's current budget request and is not expected to be reflected in its fiscal year 2010 budget request. This is due in part to delays in estimating costs, but also to where costs are being reflected. For example, although SSP's direct transition and retirement costs are identified in the SSP budget line, indirect costs related to environmental clean-up and restoration, maintenance of required real property facilities during the gap in human spaceflight, and demolition of excess facilities are not. In addition, NASA plans to offset some transition costs by utilizing an "exchange/sale" authority that allows executive agencies to exchange or sell non-excess, non-surplus personal property and apply the proceeds toward acquiring similar replacement property.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The fiscal year 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act included language, originally drafted for the House Appropriations Committee by GAO, directing NASA to "...submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report that delineates by fiscal year, mission directorate and object class the full costs necessary for Space Shuttle retirement and transition activities for fiscal years 2006 through 2015 that includes, but is not limited to, the following: (1) the costs for environmental compliance and remediation; (2) the gross and net proceeds from exchanges sales of excess Space Shuttle equipment; (3) the costs to maintain required facilities at Kennedy Space Center during the gap in human space flight; (4) the costs associated with preservation of historic properties; (5) the costs of workforce transition; and (6) other costs related to Space Shuttle retirement and transition." The NASA official responsible for Space Shuttle transition and retirement activities provided the said report to the Congress the week of July 6, 2009. The official noted that the report was based on the President's 2010 Budget proposal which was presented to Congress on May 7, 2009 and included the full cost for Space Shuttle transition and retirement after 2010. He also noted that the report constituted NASA's response to the recommendations in GAO-08-1096.

    Recommendation: To provide congressional decision makers with a more transparent assessment of funding needs for the SSP's property transition and retirement activities, the NASA Administrator should direct the Space Operations Mission Directorate to include in NASA's fiscal year 2010 and future budget requests the agency's best estimates of the total direct and indirect costs associated with transition and retirement of space shuttle property, including estimates of potential exchange/sale revenue. These estimates should include but not be limited to (1) those costs borne directly by the SSP; (2) those funds requested under Cross-Agency Support that will be used to support property transition and retirement activities, such as funds requested to demolish excess facilities and buildings, and funds requested for environmental compliance and remediation, and; (3) the potential proceeds from exchange/sales of excess space shuttle property. NASA's fiscal year 2010 and future budget requests should also identify all required transition and retirement activities which NASA has identified but not yet included in cost estimates and report NASA's progress in completing SSP transition and retirement activities.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration


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