Property Management:

NASA's Goal of Increasing Equipment Reutilization May Fall Short without Further Efforts

GAO-09-187: Published: Jan 30, 2009. Publicly Released: Mar 2, 2009.

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In 2010, the planned retirement of the space shuttle will require the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to make disposal and reutilization decisions regarding over 1.2 million types of equipment. To facilitate these and other equipment management decisions, NASA recently invested $29 million in a new program: the Plant, Property, and Equipment (PP&E) Module--a component of NASA's Integrated Enterprise Management Program. GAO was asked to assess the effectiveness of NASA's processes, systems, and controls for managing its PP&E. This report addresses whether NASA (1) effectively designed controls over steps NASA identified as key to its controlled equipment reutilization process, including sending equipment to disposal, and (2) implemented policies, controls, and processes to enhance equipment reutilization. To answer these questions, GAO reviewed NASA equipment reutilization policy and conducted on-site visits at five NASA centers.

Inconsistent descriptions and inaccurate information on the condition of equipment hamper the PP&E Module's ability to produce equipment matches and enhance reutilization. Although descriptions of equipment items are crucial for the new module to succeed in identifying equipment for reutilization, NASA has not provided detailed guidance on what should be included in the description field, leading to widely varying descriptions. For example, the same type of computer server equipment was described as a "disk array," "disk drive unit," and "storage array unit." GAO's physical inspections at two centers found that 83 of the 84 equipment items inspected were incorrectly coded as new and unused in the PP&E Module. These problems may lead to reutilization opportunities being overlooked. Further hampering equipment reutilization is the PP&E Module's lack of detailed equipment availability information. The module does not identify the extent to which each piece of equipment is in use, necessitating a potentially lengthy search process. For example, an end user searching for an oscilloscope could currently have to contact up to 1,700 other end users to determine the availability status of these equipment items. These conditions contribute to inadequate end user utilization of the NASA Property Web interface (N-PROP), the PP&E Module's automated component. N-PROP allows end users to perform online equipment management functions, which NASA anticipated would generate cost savings by facilitating equipment reutilization and eliminating manual processes. However, 98 of the 121 end users who were responsible for equipment selected from a NASA-wide statistical sample stated that they had never used either N-PROP or the prior systems, limiting the potential savings from implementing the new PP&E Module. NASA's existing policies and procedures regarding equipment screenings and annual walk-through inspections--both key controls in the equipment reutilization process--were carried out inconsistently, if at all, at the five centers GAO visited. Without specific guidance on how to implement NASA's equipment screening policy, centers failed to ensure that screenings occurred prior to purchasing new equipment, undermining the purpose of the screenings. Further, NASA does not require users to justify the need to purchase new equipment when a screening has identified equipment available for reutilization. In addition, required walk-through inspections intended to identify idle equipment were not conducted at one center and were ineffective at the other four. Equipment managers did not always follow up to ensure that the PP&E Module was updated and GAO's testing estimated that about 16 percent of NASA's controlled equipment (with a value of at least $230 million) was improperly listed as being actively in use and had been overlooked during annual walk-through inspections.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To enhance comprehensive and consistent equipment reutilization, the NASA Administrator should direct the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Infrastructure and Administration to provide incentives so that end users recognize the benefits of reutilizing equipment and encourage them to fully use the PP&E Module to identify potential matches and negotiate with other users to help NASA increase equipment reutilization.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA has taken several steps to educate and communicate to stakeholders the importance of reutilization through its Equipment Management Program, including equipment awareness initiatives established at the Centers, onsite visits, broadcasting on Equipment Management Video through internal channels of the NASA Television, and the information released through the Equipment Management Newsletter from the Logistics Division, as of February 2009. As a result, in October 2010, NASA reported that its improved asset visibility and asset control provided by the equipment and management disposal systems, enabled the agency to reutilize assets via internal equipment borrows, equipment provided to NASA contractors as Government Furnished Equipment, and equipment transfers.

    Recommendation: To enhance comprehensive and consistent equipment reutilization, the NASA Administrator should direct the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Infrastructure and Administration to modify the PP&E Module to capture information on the anticipated and actual usage (availability) of equipment assigned to end users at the time the equipment is accepted and provide a mechanism to ensure that this information is updated as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NASA did not concur with this recommendation and does not plan to take any further action to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance comprehensive and consistent equipment reutilization, the NASA Administrator should direct the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Infrastructure and Administration to develop and implement specific guidance, establish a mechanism to oversee implementation, and provide the necessary training to assist NASA employees and contractors in providing clear, consistent, and accurate equipment descriptions and key information in the PP&E Module, including the physical condition (usability). NASA management should determine the extent to which it is cost effective to apply this new guidance retroactively.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NASA informed GAO that NASA does not intend to take any further action and considered the recommendation as closed.

    Recommendation: To enhance comprehensive and consistent equipment reutilization, the NASA Administrator should direct the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Infrastructure and Administration to establish NASA-wide procedures for conducting and reporting the results of annual walk-through inspections to update the data in the PP&E Module to facilitate equipment reutilization and disposal, along with an oversight mechanism to ensure implementation.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA issued updated equipment management procedural requirements. Specifically, NASA Procedural Requirements 4200.1G, effective 3/30/2010, Chapter 1, Section 1.1.6 and Chapter 3, Section 3.6.5 sets forth procedures for conducting and reporting on annual walk-thru inspections and updating data in the PP&E module. To help ensure implementation, NASA also established equipment training video which employees and onsite contractors are required to review.

    Recommendation: To enhance comprehensive and consistent equipment reutilization, the NASA Administrator should direct the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Infrastructure and Administration to revise NASA equipment management policy to require end users to justify any valid program needs to purchase new equipment instead of reutilizing available equipment and consider whether the $25,000 screening threshold adequately maximizes reutilization. Establish NASA-wide screening procedures across the centers and a process for monitoring implementation to maximize reutilization of controlled equipment.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA updated its equipment management procedural requirements, NPR 4200, Chapter 1, Section 1.3.2, effective date March 15, 2010, to require that prior to acquisition of equipment valued at $25,000 or more, existing equipment resources will be screened in accordance with NPR 4300.1, NASA Personal Property Disposal Procedural Requirements. Appendix F, Section 4 of that policy states "before new items of equipment are procured, purchase requests which have a unit cost of $25,000 or more must be screened to determine if the desired item, or an acceptable substitute is available, active or excess in the Business Warehouse (BW) module in the NASA PP&E System." The updated policy also provides that all Center Procurement requests for items of equipment with an estimated unit cost of $25,000 or more are to be routed through the Center Equipment Manager for screening, or the Supply and Equipment Management Officer will coordinate with their Center Procurement Office where the Procurement Specialist has access to BW to accomplish the screening. In February 2009, NASA also published equipment training video that employees and onsite contractors are required to review.

    Recommendation: To enhance comprehensive and consistent equipment reutilization, the NASA Administrator should direct the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Infrastructure and Administration to provide incentives so that end users recognize the benefits of reutilizing equipment and encourage them to fully use the PP&E Module to identify potential matches and negotiate with other users to help NASA increase equipment reutilization.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA has taken several steps to educate and communicate to stakeholders the importance of reutilization through its Equipment Management Program, including equipment awareness initiatives established at the Centers, onsite visits, broadcasting on Equipment Management Video through internal channels of the NASA Television, and the information released through the Equipment Management Newsletter from the Logistics Division, as of February 2009. As a result, in October 2010, NASA reported that its improved asset visibility and asset control provided by the equipment and management disposal systems, enabled the agency to reutilize assets via internal equipment borrows, equipment provided to NASA contractors as Government Furnished Equipment, and equipment transfers.

    Recommendation: To enhance comprehensive and consistent equipment reutilization, the NASA Administrator should direct the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Infrastructure and Administration to modify the PP&E Module to capture information on the anticipated and actual usage (availability) of equipment assigned to end users at the time the equipment is accepted and provide a mechanism to ensure that this information is updated as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Open

    Comments: NASA has cited actions taken in this area, but GAO is still evaluating the extent of these agency actions.

    Recommendation: To enhance comprehensive and consistent equipment reutilization, the NASA Administrator should direct the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Infrastructure and Administration to develop and implement specific guidance, establish a mechanism to oversee implementation, and provide the necessary training to assist NASA employees and contractors in providing clear, consistent, and accurate equipment descriptions and key information in the PP&E Module, including the physical condition (usability). NASA management should determine the extent to which it is cost effective to apply this new guidance retroactively.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Open

    Comments: NASA has cited actions taken in this area, but GAO is still evaluating the extent of these agency actions.

    Recommendation: To enhance comprehensive and consistent equipment reutilization, the NASA Administrator should direct the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Infrastructure and Administration to establish NASA-wide procedures for conducting and reporting the results of annual walk-through inspections to update the data in the PP&E Module to facilitate equipment reutilization and disposal, along with an oversight mechanism to ensure implementation.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA issued updated equipment management procedural requirements. Specifically, NASA Procedural Requirements 4200.1G, effective 3/30/2010, Chapter 1, Section 1.1.6 and Chapter 3, Section 3.6.5 sets forth procedures for conducting and reporting on annual walk-thru inspections and updating data in the PP&E module. To help ensure implementation, NASA also established equipment training video which employees and onsite contractors are required to review.

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