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by Launchspace Staff Writers
Bethesda MD (SPX) Oct 04, 2013


NASA is the ninth largest Federal Government property holder, controlling approximately 4,900 buildings and structures with an estimated replacement value of over $30 billion. More than 80 percent of these facilities are at least 40 years old and beyond their design life. Anyone who has visited some of the older NASA field centers should not be surprised at this statistic.

Ten days ago NASA's Inspector General, Paul K. Martin, testified before the House about the state of the agency's infrastructure. Martin started by pointing out that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is dedicated to providing independent, aggressive, and objective oversight of NASA, and in this case we are focusing on the challenges with respect to aging infrastructure and antiquated facilities.

NASA was formed in 1958, with foundations based on the work of 9.30.13.1NACA. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was founded in 1915 by an act of Congress to undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research.

It survived until the National Aeronautics and Space Act transformed it into NASA. Former NACA assets and personnel were transferred to the new agency. So, some of the NASA facilities and equipment date back to 1915.

As you can imagine the OIG identified the agency's infrastructure and facilities management as one of its top challenges, one that will remain a top challenge for decades to come.

In fact, over the past three years Martin's office has issued 10 audit reports addressing many of the most pressing infrastructure-related issues. One issue of immediate concern is the demolition or leasing of unused facilities and remediation of environmental contamination at old rocket testing sites.

How bad is it? NASA is the ninth largest Federal Government property holder, controlling approximately 4,900 buildings and structures with an estimated replacement value of over $30 billion. More than 80 percent of these facilities are at least 40 years old and beyond their design life. Anyone who has visited some of the older NASA field centers should not be surprised at this statistic.

As a result of budget constraints and other priorities, NASA is not able to fully fund required maintenance for its facilities. To make the situation worse, a recent study estimated that NASA may have as many as 865 unneeded facilities. Ouch!

Why has NASA kept these facilities? Apparently, the agency has a philosophy of "keep it in case you need it."

Imagine a private sector company with this approach and then you should imagine a "going out of business" sign. We all know individuals who have this philosophy, where they store "old stuff" in the basement or attic for a "rainy day." However, it is only the Government and the "super rich" who can afford to have extra buildings that are never used.

It seems NASA might be well advised to take an entrepreneurial approach to facilities management. For example, old facilities that may be obsolete and require high maintenance should be eliminated through sale or demolition. Take the proceeds and savings, and reinvest them in creating more profit and productivity.

The OIG did recently identify 33 facilities that NASA was either not fully utilizing or for which there is no known future use. Most of these are in poor condition, obsolete or have been replaced by alternative testing methods.

The identified facilities are made up of six of 36 wind tunnels, 14 of 35 rocket engine test stands, four of 40 large thermal vacuum chambers, two of three airfields, and seven launch-related facilities.

Clearly, eliminating old, unused and obsolete facilities could lead to less agency costs and less wasted taxpayer funds. It does seem prudent, in these times of tight budgets and political uncertainty, to reduce unneeded expenditures.

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