Earth Science Information Network:

Relationship of Consortium to Federal Agencies

NSIAD-96-13: Published: Oct 27, 1995. Publicly Released: Nov 28, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the activities of the Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), focusing on: (1) its mission and funding; (2) the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) oversight of CIESIN work on the human dimensions of global change (HDGC); (3) the similarities between CIESIN and the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Centers for HDGC; and (4) CIESIN building requirements.

GAO found that: (1) CIESIN enhances scientists' and decisionmakers' use of information on human interactions in the environment through access to HDGC databases worldwide; (2) four federal agencies have provided most of the $82 million in CIESIN funding; (3) although they are satisfied with its performance, three of the agencies will cease CIESIN funding due to budgets constraints and higher priority needs; (4) NASA will continue funding CIESIN so that it can develop and operate a Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) which will incorporate socioeconomic data into its Earth Observing System Data and Information System; (5) federal funding reductions will cause CIESIN to compete for grants and contracts from other sources; (6) NASA believes it can appropriately oversee CIESIN SEDAC activities; (7) there is no duplication of effort between NSF centers for HDGC and CIESIN because CIESIN does not conduct or sponsor basic research; (8) Congress appropriated about $42 million in fiscal year (FY) 1993 to build CIESIN headquarters, but has subsequently withdrawn all but about $3 million; (9) NASA can support only those CIESIN-leased facilities that support SEDAC activities; and (10) to maximize the usefulness of CIESIN work and to justify NASA noncompetitive contracting decisions, CIESIN work needs to be evaluated for its usefulness to federal programs and the noncompetitive SEDAC contract award needs to be justified.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the Earth Sciences program point of contact, the SEDAC contract was recompeted last year and awarded to Columbia University. Because CIESIN lost the contract, the recommendation related to NASA support for CIESIN infrastructure is no longer applicable.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should direct procurement officials at the Goddard Space Flight Center to determine, by the end of FY 1996, the extent of the CIESIN infrastructure that should be supported under the SEDAC contract and, if this determination shows that a reduction in NASA support is warranted, NASA should examine the cost/benefit of various alternative actions, including relocating SEDAC to excess federally owned space that is reasonably accessible to the SEDAC-user community.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NASA cannot determine what action, if any, was taken in response to this recommendation. There is nothing in NASA's database to indicate an audit trail of action taken in response to this recommendation, and the people responsible for the issue of concern are no longer associated with the program or have left NASA.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should direct program officials, in conjunction with the U.S. Global Change Research Program's Subcommittee on Global Change Research and other appropriate interested parties, to evaluate and incorporate into the Earth Observing System Data and Information System any useful CIESIN products developed for the Departments of Agriculture and Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA prepared a Justification for Other Than Free and Open Competition to cover the non-competitive award of the SEDAC contract to CIESIN. The justification received final approval from NASA's Associate Administrator for Procurement on June 28, 1996.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should direct procurement officials at the Goddard Space Flight Center to reexamine the Competition in Contracting Act exemptions to full and open competition and, prior to exercising the next 1-year option on the contract, determine whether an appropriate exemption justifies continuation of the noncompetitive award of the SEDAC contract to CIESIN.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration


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