Is NASA's knowledge management program obsolete?
- By Alice Lipowicz
- Mar 19, 2012
NASA longstanding “Lessons Learned” database is underutilized and may be outdated and no longer viable, according to a new report from the agency’s Inspector General, Paul Martin.
The space agency’s Lessons Learned Information System (LLIS) has been online since 1994 and cost $782,000 to operate last year. It serves as a repository of reports from program managers on their lessons learned from various programs.
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But NASA managers are not regularly using the system, making the database a possible wasteful expense, Martin wrote in the March 6 report.
“We found that NASA program and project managers rarely consult or contribute to LLIS even though they are directed to by NASA requirements and guidance,” the report said. “In fact, input to LLIS by most centers has been minimal for several years.”
For example, NASA’s Glenn Research Center received $470,000 for its LLIS-related activities from 2008 to 2010, but only contributed five reports to the system during that time, the audit report said. That amounts to $94,000 per report.
However, while overall contribution was generally low, some centers contributed a lot. The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory contributed 35 reports on a budget of $70,000 during the same period, Martin said.
Aside from the contribution rates, the system’s goals have never been well defined and integrated into NASA’s larger knowledge management strategy, the report said.
Inconsistent policy direction, disparate distributions of funding for LLIS-related activity in various NASA program, and deficient monitoring have contributed to marginalizing the system, the inspector general added.
Consequently, NASA needs to revamp the system with a new strategy or consider reducing or scrapping it, Martin concluded.
“Although we believe that capturing and making available lessons learned is an important component of any knowledge management system, we found that, as currently structured, LLIS is not an effective tool for doing so,” Martin wrote in the report. “Accordingly, we question whether the three quarters of a million dollars NASA spends annually on LLIS activities constitutes a prudent investment.”
The inspector general asked NASA’s chief engineer to assess whether the LLIS ought to continue to be operated and be supported.
However, the chief engineer defended the LLIS program, saying it was only one of several critical knowledge management efforts at the agency and lessons learned expenses represented only .04 percent of the agency’s budget.
“Based on LLIS utilization metrics collected each month, this investment is providing a tremendous return on investment,” the chief engineer wrote in a response to the draft IG report.
Despite that answer from NASA management, Martin said his office will continue to question the viability of LLIS in its current form and will ask the chief engineer to reconsider.
There was no disagreement about Martin’s three other recommendations for improvements to the LLIS and for more strategic direction for knowledge management.
Martin recommended that NASA’s Chief Engineer develop a comprehensive strategic plan for knowledge management. The chief engineer agreed and assigned an agency chief knowledge officer to develop the plan.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.