Reimbursable Space Act Agreements:
NASA Generally Adhering to Fair Reimbursement Controls, but Guidance on Waived Cost Justifications Needs Refinement
GAO-11-553R: Published: May 26, 2011. Publicly Released: May 26, 2011.
Over the last few years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has increasingly relied on its authority under the Space Act of 1958 to enter into agreements, commonly referred to as Space Act agreements (SAA), to stimulate private sector development of systems capable of transporting cargo and crew to the International Space Station and to assist partner firms in developing their technologies. Reimbursable Space Act agreements involve the use of NASA's facilities, personnel, or equipment primarily for the benefit of the agreement partner. NASA undertakes reimbursable work when it has unique goods, services, or facilities which can be made available to another party in a manner that does not interfere with NASA mission requirements and is consistent with the agency's mission. According to NASA guidance, the agency generally collects full reimbursement for costs associated with a reimbursable agreement. These types of agreements are known as fully reimbursable SAAs. However, NASA can accept less than full reimbursement in certain instances, such as when the reimbursement is fair and reasonable when compared to the benefits NASA receives from the work. When NASA waives costs under a reimbursable SAA, NASA guidance refers to this as a partially reimbursable SAA. At the time of our review, NASA had established internal controls to help ensure it is obtaining fair reimbursement under these agreements and partners' activities do not interfere and are in alignment with the agency's mission. These controls included developing a cost estimate, obtaining required approvals from financial and legal officials, documenting the rationale for waiving costs, inserting a non-interference clause in all agreements, and describing in the purpose section of each fully reimbursable agreement how the work to be performed aligns with NASA's mission. In response to your request, we reviewed reimbursable agreements to identify the internal controls NASA has in place and assess the extent to which the agency is adhering to its controls related to 1) fair reimbursement from agreement partners and 2) ensuring partner use is consistent with NASA's mission and reimbursable Space Act agreements do not interfere with NASA's use of its facilities. We provided your offices a draft copy of the enclosed briefing on April 26, 2011.
At the time of our review, NASA had requirements and controls in place related to fair reimbursement on Space Act agreements and was generally adhering to those controls. Unclear guidance in place at the time of our review, however, may have contributed to variation in the level of detail and format for waived cost rationales. In December 2010, NASA published an interim directive that increased oversight and provided additional guidance for determining when it is appropriate to waive costs. Partner activities appear to be consistent with NASA's mission and NASA is adhering to its internal controls to prevent interference with NASA's mission activities. Several other factors, such as a small amount of partner work at top utilized facilities and relatively open schedules to accommodate partner work at most facilities we reviewed, also help to ensure that Space Act agreement activities do not interfere with NASA work. Although NASA is generally adhering to its requirements and internal controls regarding fair reimbursement, alignment with NASA's mission, and preventing interference, the policy in place at the time of our review and the interim directive do not specify the type of information to include in the waived cost rationale or justification. In the current fiscal environment, it is important to fully and consistently document the rationale for waiving costs associated with work for NASA partners. This could help the agency ensure, in all cases, that waiving costs is fair and reasonable when compared to the benefits NASA is receiving. Although the existing mission and interference controls appear to be effective under the current state of demand placed on NASA facilities, should the level of demand materially change, NASA may have to re-evaluate its approach to managing partners' use of its facilities. We are recommending that the Administrator of NASA refine the agency's interim directive to clearly define the type of information that is required to support the waived cost rationale or justification. This type of information may include documenting that there is a clear and demonstrated benefit to NASA and quantifying the benefit to the extent practicable.
Recommendation for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: NASA Procedural Requirement 9090.1A, Reimbursable Agreements, went into effect on February 25, 2013. The policy outlines those situations where it may be appropriate to waive costs and states that the waiver request should identify (1) the benefitting program/project; (2) the specific project milestone that will be affected, if applicable; (3) how data/work will be used; and (4) the methodology used for quantifying the benefit.
Recommendation: NASA should refine its policy to clearly define the type of information required to support the rationale or justification for waived costs. This type of information may include documenting that there is a clear and demonstrated benefit to NASA and quantifying the benefit to the extent practicable.
Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration