Space agency making small steps toward improved performance

NASA's performance plan for fiscal 2002 shows marked improvement over previous years' plans, but still falls short in many areas, according to a new report by the General Accounting Office. Under the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, federal agencies are required to craft five-year strategic plans, along with annual performance reports and performance plans. In its latest report, the agency included a clearer picture of how achieving its performance goals would benefit the public than it had previously, GAO found. NASA also provided comprehensive explanations of how it measures NASA's performance data. For its report, "NASA: Status of Plans for Achieving Key Outcomes and Addressing Major Management Issues" (GAO-02-184), GAO reviewed NASA's fiscal 2002 performance plan to assess the agency's planned performance on three goals identified by Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., as important missions for the agency: expanding systems devoted to enhancing scientific knowledge of the Earth, accelerating the commercial development of space, and deploying and operating the International Space Station safely and cost-effectively. Thompson requested the report from GAO as part of a series on agency performance plans. GAO also compared NASA's fiscal 2002 performance plan with its fiscal 2001 plan and identified other major management challenges facing the agency, including effectively implementing former Administrator Daniel Goldin's the "faster, better, cheaper" management strategy and weaknesses in contract management. According to the report, NASA's fiscal 2002 performance report shows a clear effort by the agency to incorporate recommendations and concerns of Congress, the agency's inspector general and GAO. "NASA portrays its planned efforts to verify and validate performance information more comprehensively than in 2001," the report found. The agency's efforts gave GAO greater confidence that its performance measures would be credible because the report includes specific agency databases and describes methods NASA will use to guarantee its performance information. The latest plan also includes more links between goals and expected results, GAO found. However, GAO said NASA's report fell short in some areas. According to GAO, some goals were added and others were deleted with no explanation. GAO also said the report failed to link human capital initiatives to performance goals and did not provide enough details on budget accountability reforms for the Space Station. For the most part, NASA officials agreed with GAO's findings, promising to modify the agency's fiscal 2003 performance plan using recommendations from GAO's report.
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