NASA Travel: Passenger Aircraft Services Annually Cost Taxpayers Millions More Than Commercial Airlines

GAO-05-818 Published: Aug 26, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2005.
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Highlights

Since its creation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has operated passenger aircraft services. These operations have been questioned in several prior audit reports. GAO was asked to perform a series of audits of NASA's controls to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse of taxpayer dollars. In this audit, GAO assessed (1) the relative cost of NASA passenger aircraft services in comparison with commercial costs, (2) whether NASA aircraft services were retained and operated in accordance with governmentwide guidance, and (3) the effectiveness of NASA's oversight and management of this program.

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Recommendations

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
Congress may wish to consider whether legislation is necessary to ensure that NASA disposes of all of its passenger aircraft not used in accordance with the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) explicit policy prohibition against owning aircraft to support travel to routine site visits, meetings, speeches, and conferences.
Closed – Implemented
As of fiscal year 2007, NASA reported that it had either disposed of or reprogrammed its aircraft previously used to provide passenger transportation to perform missions that are in compliance with NASA and OMB guidance, such as pilot training, range clearance, and safety chase missions. With these aircraft disposition and reprogramming actions, NASA substantially addressed GAO's findings such that the matter for congressional consideration is no longer necessary.
Congress may wish to consider whether legislation is necessary to ensure that funding for future NASA passenger aircraft purchases and operations is restricted to those necessary to meet mission requirements consistent with OMB guidance.
Closed – Implemented
As of fiscal year 2007, NASA reported that had not acquired any additional aircraft, and had no plans to acquire any aircraft, to be used to for passenger transportation. With these actions, if continued, NASA addressed GAO's concern that NASA future funding exclude any requests to acquire aircraft for passenger transportation. Consequently, the matter for congressional consideration is no longer necessary.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
National Aeronautics and Space Administration To the extent that Congress determines that NASA should continue to retain aircraft or passenger aircraft charter services to provide passenger transportation, the Administrator of NASA should establish policies and procedures for accumulating and reporting on its passenger aircraft services to provide complete and accurate agencywide cost and utilization data to support oversight and decision making on operating and retaining such aircraft services.
Closed – Implemented
As of October 2005, NASA implemented system changes to enable agency-wide visibility of its passenger aircraft cost and utilization, including aircraft-use cost justifications, flight records, maintenance, and other logistical data. Specifically, in October 2005 guidance (section 3.6.2.1), NASA established a policy for all NASA centers to provide monthly updates on NASA passenger aircraft cost and utilization data.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration To the extent that Congress determines that NASA should continue to retain aircraft or passenger aircraft charter services to provide passenger transportation, the Administrator of NASA should clarify policies and procedures applicable to aircraft acquisition and retention to limit the number and type of aircraft owned and chartered for passenger transportation to those necessary to meet the "mission-required" criteria in OMB guidance.
Closed – Implemented
In October 2005 NASA issued guidance clarifying its mission management aircraft policy (covering both aircraft acquisition and retention) to bring it into alignment with OMB's government-wide policies.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration To the extent that Congress determines that NASA should continue to retain aircraft or passenger aircraft charter services to provide passenger transportation, the Administrator of NASA should periodically assess the extent to which NASA has a continuing need to own aircraft to provide passenger transportation in support of mission requirements in accordance with OMB guidance.
Closed – Implemented
In response to GAO's recommendation, NASA completed a study, dated December 1, 2005, assessing its passenger aircraft ownership needs related to mission requirements prescribed by OMB guidance. The study directed that NASA should establish policy and procedures to periodically reassess the agency's continuing needs for owning passenger aircraft to meet mission requirements. NASA's December 2005 study directive is consistent with, and substantially addresses, the intent of GAO's recommendation.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration To the extent that Congress determines that NASA should continue to retain aircraft or passenger aircraft charter services to provide passenger transportation, the Administrator of NASA should maximize the use of flexible, cost-effective arrangements to meet mission-required passenger air transportation service needs in lieu of aircraft ownership.
Closed – Implemented
NASA implemented a new program in 2005, the Commercial Aviation Transportation Services(CATS). Consistent with the intent of our recommendation, NASA's CATS is directed at evaluating the price and mission effectiveness of commercial air transportation services in comparison with operating NASA's own aircraft to meet the agency's mission-required passenger transportation needs. NASA's action to improve its ability to evaluate and better utilize private commercial carriers to meet its mission requirements, will better enable the agency to ensure that transportation services needed for its mission are carried out in the most cost-effective manner possible.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration To the extent that Congress determines that NASA should continue to retain aircraft or passenger aircraft charter services to provide passenger transportation, the Administrator of NASA should revise existing policies and procedures used to determine if individual flights are justified to include use of up-to-date variable costs and limit commercial cost estimates to include airfare, in-transit salaries and fringe benefits, and other costs directly related to reasonable estimates of delays incurred in meeting commercial airline flight schedules in accordance with OMB and General Services Administration guidance.
Closed – Implemented
Based on our recommendation, NASA issued revised policy on October 1, 2005, eliminating the use of a productivity multiplier in its flight justification calculations. In addition, the revised guidance also reflected revised variable cost per hour rates for passenger aircraft conforming to OMB guidance. As a result, NASA should be able to more accurately assess costs associated with alternative as part of its individual flight justifications.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration To the extent that Congress determines that NASA should continue to retain aircraft or passenger aircraft charter services to provide passenger transportation, the Administrator of NASA should establish agencywide policies and procedures for identifying and recovering applicable costs associated with nonofficial personnel traveling using NASA passenger aircraft services on a reimbursable basis.
Closed – Implemented
In response to GAO's recommendation, on October 1, 2005, NASA revised its aircraft use policy to include specific instructions for identifying and obtaining reimbursements from non-official travelers using NASA's passenger aircraft services. This policy change provides a basis for recovering costs associated with provided air transportation services to these non-official travelers and should result in savings to NASA and the federal government to the extent that NASA is reimbursed for the cost of transporting these passengers.

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