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Priority Open Recommendations: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

GAO-21-574PR Published: Jun 21, 2021. Publicly Released: Jun 28, 2021.
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Fast Facts

Each year, we make more than 1,000 recommendations to help improve the federal government. We alert department heads to where they can save the most money, address issues on our High Risk List, or significantly improve government operations.

This report outlines our 11 priority open recommendations for NASA as of June 2021.

For example, NASA should develop cost and schedule baselines for 4 planned system upgrades to the launch vehicle, crew capsule, and ground systems that will be used for upcoming human spaceflight missions.

Since our previous letter in April 2020, NASA implemented 1 of our priority recommendations.

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Graphic that says, "GAO's Priority Open Recommendations" and includes the seal of NASA.

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What GAO Found

In April 2020, GAO identified 12 priority recommendations for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Since then, NASA has implemented one of those recommendations when it calculated the Space Launch System program's developmental cost growth using a baseline adjusted to reflect the scope of work planned for its first mission.

GAO also closed two recommendations as not implemented. Since GAO's June 2019 recommendation to update the Orion crew vehicle's cost estimate to reflect the April 2023 baseline launch date for the first mission to carry crew, that mission's launch date has been delayed. There is no longer an opportunity for NASA to take action on this recommendation now that the program no longer expects to launch in April 2023.

The second recommendation, closed as not implemented, was for NASA to develop and maintain a contingency plan for ensuring a presence on the International Space Station until a Commercial Crew Program contractor was certified. NASA took actions to maintain a U.S. presence on the space station and provided GAO periodic updates on considerations for maintaining a continued presence, but did not develop and maintain a contingency plan. NASA certified a Commercial Crew program contractor in November 2020. As a result, there is no longer an opportunity for NASA to take action on this recommendation.

In May 2021, GAO identified two additional priority recommendations for NASA, bringing the total number to 11. These recommendations involve the following areas:

  • monitoring program costs and execution, and
  • ensuring cybersecurity.

NASA's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations.

Why GAO Did This Study

Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations.

For more information, contact Michele Mackin at (202) 512-4841 or

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Budget submissionsCost and scheduleCost estimatesCybersecurityExplorationHigh-risk issuesInformation systemsInformation technologyInventoryIT managementLife cycle costsPosition descriptionsRisk assessment