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GAO Report Criticizes NASA Management of Space Station Propulsion Module Project

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the House Committee on Science today released a report by the General Accounting Office
(GAO) on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) efforts to develop a propulsion module for the International Space Station. GAO blamed the failure of the initial
attempt to develop a propulsion module on several NASA management problems.

“Once again, NASA has failed to do the fundamental planning needed for a multi-million dollar project,” said Sen. Hollings, Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Committee. “These problems with the propulsion module represent the latest chapter in the sad story associated with NASA’s space station program.”

Senator John McCain, ranking member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee commented, “This GAO report confirms concerns the Commerce Committee
expressed two years ago regarding NASA’s lack of planning for the Propulsion Module. Clearly, NASA ignored our concerns and mishandled yet another project costing American taxpayers
hundreds of millions of dollars.”

In 1997, NASA developed a contingency plan to address potential Russian shortfalls in the International Space Station (ISS) program. These included the development of a U.S. propulsion
module. NASA accepted a Boeing proposal to develop the propulsion module in 1998, but cost growth and schedule delays led NASA to terminate work on the Boeing proposal in 2000, at
which point NASA began developing a second propulsion module concept. This second concept was canceled in 2001 to address projected cost growth in the overall ISS program.

The report identified several key mistakes in NASA’s management of the program, including:

  • Failing to complete a project plan that establishes time frames for system acquisition and development and responsibilities for key tasks, resources, and performance

  • Failing to fully develop a concept of operations document, which describes the range of scenarios in which the propulsion module would have had to function;
  • Failing to complete an approved risk management plan in a timely manner; and,
  • Failing to develop realistic cost and schedule estimates for the life of the project.

    Upon reading the report Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert remarked, “I may not be a rocket scientist, but these look like management failures, not engineering problems.
    Certainly, we will need to ensure that management reforms are in place before we can determine if NASA’s ongoing reassessment of the overall space station program is credible.”

    Mr. Hall stated that, “NASA was asked by both Congress and the previous Administration to develop an independent U.S. Space Station propulsion capability as quickly as possible.

    NASA’s haste in complying resulted in project planning lapses that led to problems with the development effort. I am disappointed by those problems, but I applaud NASA’s willingness to
    make the tough decision to cancel the original effort and restart the project only after addressing the problems that had been uncovered.”

    The full report is available on the GAO website at: