NASA financial system runs risks, GAO warns

A structured testing methodology should ensure compliance with agency's enterprise plans

NASA's financial management system, built from multiple off-the-shelf applications, could fail at interoperability, the General Accounting Office has found.

Although the Integrated Financial Management Program will replace separate, incompatible systems at NASA's 10 centers, the space agency 'has not properly developed detailed system requirements,' GAO said in a recent report.

Nor has NASA analyzed the interdependencies among components already selected for IFMP and those that have been proposed, said the report, Business Modernization: Improvements Needed in Management of NASA's Integrated Financial Management Program.

In a 19-page response, NASA deputy administrator Frederick D. Gregory said the space agency is already implementing some of GAO's recommendations, but its officials disagree with some of the criticisms. NASA will implement a structured testing methodology this fall, Gregory said.

IFMP represents a third attempt at modernizing NASA's financial management systems and is estimated to cost $861 million through 2008, GAO said.

The core, SAP R/3 from SAP Public Services Inc. of Washington, would be augmented by software and services from Accenture LLP of Chicago, Computer Sciences Corp., IBM Corp. and Titan Systems Corp. of San Diego.

In building from commercial components, agencies need to know how to select apps that will work together without expensive custom interfaces, GAO said. 'The alternative to a structured and disciplined approach to building a commercial component-based system is trial and error, which is fraught with risk,' the report added.

The audit agency recommended that NASA set up a short-term review of the financial management components it already has and a long-term strategy to analyze component interdependency.

IFMP, in the works for three years, is slated to become fully operational this month. Leaders of the House and Senate Science committees had asked GAO to determine whether NASA was following best practices in acquiring and implementing the system.

Since 1990, GAO has labeled NASA's contract management as high-risk. Despite that tag, NASA did not request help from program managers, cost estimators or congressional staff in defining requirements for the core financial model.

GAO investigators said they will release another report reviewing IFMP in the context of NASA's enterprise architecture.

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