Progress cited on NASA business systems modernization

NASA is chipping away at potential problems facing its new system to manage contracts and other business processes, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Monday.

NASA's contract management has been a GAO-classified area of high risk since 1990. The agency began the Integrated Enterprise Management Program (IEMP) systems modernization initiative in April 2000 to improve handling of contracts and other business processes. IEMP includes the creation of a core financial tool and systems to monitor contract spending, assets and human resources.

The report (GAO-07-691) concluded that NASA has made "significant strides" to develop and implement better business management. But auditors also identified areas of concern. GAO determined that despite progress, NASA needs to return to basics and address weaknesses in scheduling and requirements development before moving forward.

GAO has issued periodic reports on the progress of NASA's financial management improvement efforts at the request of Reps. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, and Todd Platts, R-Pa. The last report on the modernization was released in September 2005.

GAO recognized the project as an avenue for major improvement to NASA's business management, but cautioned that neglecting best practices early in the process could cause problems during implementation and future upgrades.

"With a planned investment of over $800 million for IEMP, NASA must immediately and effectively address these strategic building blocks if IEMP is to successfully address long-standing management challenges -- including overseeing contractor performance and properly accounting for NASA's property, plant and equipment," the report stated.

The five recommendations issued by GAO focus on the tightening of policies and procedures that govern scheduling and development of system requirements. Auditors also urged the establishment of a concept of operations. By failing to do this, NASA has not fully taken high-level strategic issues into account during the early stages of IEMP, the report warned.

"Ideally, a concept of operations should be completed before systems development begins so that it can serve as a foundation for system planning and requirements development," the report stated. "Nonetheless, while NASA's IEMP efforts are already well under way, the completion of such a document remains essential for guiding the development of the remaining IEMP modules as well as any future upgrades.

NASA concurred with GAO's recommendations and detailed steps it is already taking to address existing gaps and potential problems. NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale focused especially on what the agency has done to improve the requirements development process, from using software to conduct reviews and solicit feedback from stakeholders to creating an advisory body to recommend and prioritize requirements.

Dale wrote that despite the improvements that have been made, NASA recognizes the need to cohesively document existing policy and guidance, and aims to complete that documentation by December.

NASA agreed that establishing a concept of operations must be a priority. Dale said the process will be lengthy "due to the need to engage all functional organizations owning business systems (and their customers) in the development of this important document."

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