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NASA: Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects

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Congressional rept.

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GAO assessed 21 NASA projects with a combined life-cycle cost that exceeds 68 billion. Of those 21 projects, 16 had entered the implementation phase where cost and schedule baselines were established. Development costs for the 16 projects had an average growth of 94 million--or 14.6 percent--and schedules grew by an average of 8 months. The total increase in development costs for these projects was 1.5 billion. GAO found that 5 of the 16 projects were responsible for the overwhelming majority of this increase. The issue of cost growth is more significant than the 14.6 percent average would indicate because it does not capture the cost growth that occurred before several projects reported baselines in response to a statutory requirement in 2005. Specifically, the 13 projects that GAO has reviewed over the past 3 years that established baselines prior to 2009 experienced an average development cost growth of almost 55 percent, with a total increase in development costs of almost 2.5 billion from their original confirmation baselines. This does not reflect considerable cost and schedule growth that will likely be experienced by NASAs largest science program--the James Webb Space Telescope JWST. Based on the findings of the independent panel that recently reviewed the JWST project and information that we obtained from project officials, it is likely that JWST will report significant cost and schedule growth, estimated to be 1.4 billion or more and up to 15 months, respectively. Many of the projects GAO reviewed for this report experienced challenges in the areas of technology, design, funding, launch vehicles, development partner performance, parts, and contractor management. Reducing the kinds of challenges this assessment identifies in acquisition programs hinges on developing a sound business case for a project.

Subject Categories:

  • Economics and Cost Analysis
  • Astronautics
  • Unmanned Spacecraft
  • Ground Support Systems and Facilities for Space Vehicles
  • Manned Spacecraft

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