Space Shuttle:

Follow-up Evaluation of NASA's Solid Rocket Motor Procurement

NSIAD-89-89: Published: May 23, 1989. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 1989.

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Mark E. Gebicke
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA): (1) plans to establish and maintain competition in the future procurement of space shuttle solid rocket motors; and (2) quality assurance and industrial safety programs at its contractor's solid rocket motor manufacturing plant.

GAO found that: (1) NASA provided for full and open competition in the initial contract award and protected its option to compete future contracts for advanced motor production; (2) to maintain competition, NASA will require either government ownership of the manufacturing plant or transfer of ownership to the government or another contractor; (3) government ownership of the plant will facilitate, but not guarantee, future competition; (4) NASA and its contractor have improved quality assurance; (5) the contractor has reduced industrial safety hazards at its motor manufacturing plant, but NASA and the Air Force continue to identify hazards and violations and have applied financial penalties as an incentive for the contractor to resolve recurring problems; (6) the Air Force has not performed all needed independent safety inspections of shuttle motor manufacturing facilities due to a lack of personnel; and (7) in 1989, NASA plans to contract with its current contractor for an additional 142 redesigned motors at an estimated cost of $2.3 billion, but may have overestimated the number of motors needed.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Due to recent staffing changes, action has not yet been initiated. H.R. 1759, section 16(c), requires the NASA Administrator to submit an annual report updating the cost, schedule, and performance characteristics during the design, development, and qualification of the ASRM.

    Matter: Congress may wish to obtain periodic status reports from NASA on its efforts to maintain competition in the program.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Marshalls Space Flight Center (MSFC) officials completed the economic analysis of four options for purchasing RSRM and forwarded the results to NASA headquarters on December 15, 1989. The analysis showed that a block buy of 66 flight sets of RSRM to be the most economical.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should require the Director, Marshall Space Flight Center, to prepare an economic analysis as part of its efforts during contract negotiations to update requirements for redesigned solid rocket motors.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Contract Management Division headquarters has reviewed the staffing at the Thiokol Air Force Plant Representative Office (AFPRO) and upgraded one position to a GS-13. AFPRO is currently interviewing applicants for this position, which has been vacant since May 1988. AFPRO is to select one of the candidates and report his selection to DOD/IG headquarters by mid-November 1989.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, and the Secretary of the Air Force should determine safety inspection staffing requirements at the Thiokol plant.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA and the Air Force determined that one additional safety person is required at AFPRO. The Air Force is in the process of filling this position. NASA has also added two more NASA safety personnel at the Thiokol plant.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, and the Secretary of the Air Force should determine safety inspection staffing requirements at the Thiokol plant.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration


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