Critique of NASA Stalls on Launch Pad

Speaker Pelosi's blog carries a bit of news designed to shock us about the terrible management over at NASA. It seems they've lost $94,000,000 in stuff.

But read on to the end please before you get all worked up about this one.

First, here's what the Speaker's office, echoing the GAO, had to say:

This week, the General Accountability Office (GAO) released a report requested by Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) lack of monitoring and control over their $35 billion of property, plant, and equipment. NASA has reported a loss of over $94 million in equipment in the last ten years.

The GAO noted that they have reported on NASA’s lack of property control “for years” and that NASA themselves undertook an internal study but “instead of tightening controls, as recommended by the agency’s 2002 equipment loss study, when faced with equipment losses, NASA raised its threshold for tracking and controlling nonsensitive equipment items from $1,000 to $5,000. This essentially eliminated control over all nonsensitive equipment costing less than $5,000.”

And here are the two worst examples they found, both involving lost laptops:

  • “My wife needed a computer at home to perform her work as a real estate broker so I checked one out from the surplus stock available. I turned the computer back in when she was done using it but never received a receipt.”
  • “This computer, although assigned to me, was being used on board the International Space Station. I was informed that it was tossed overboard to be burned up in the atmosphere when it failed.”

Now, I'll grant you that the first is a bit suspicious, and the second not real credible (but who knows?).

Even so, I just can't get real worked up about this particular example of governmental waste, fraud and abuse for the following reasons:

1) It confuses stock and flow. NASA has a stock of $35 bn in equipment; it loses $94m over ten years (flow).

2) So in a single year, on average, out of $35,000,000,000 of stuff, NASA loses/misplaces $9,400,000 worth.

3) Let's do the math: 9,400,000 / 35,000,000,000 = 0.000268571429 or if you prefer 0.0268571429 %

Yes that's right: less than .03 % (three one-hundredths of 1 percent) of lost stuff per year.

Is that so terrible? I bet few corporations do so well. Sure, there's some petty theft, and there shouldn't be, but even so…

I am sure there is a great deal to pick on at NASA, but this doesn't cut it for me.

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2 Responses to Critique of NASA Stalls on Launch Pad

  1. SEO says:

    Yes at first it seems like an awful amount of losses, but yes when you do the math it’s % of overall loss is quite good.

    I guess the majority of guys at NASA are paid enough to make pilfering of goods alot less common place, and i guess alot of goods even if taken can’t be sold of to the local second hand dealer (hey do you wanna buy a set of rocket O-Rings?)

    I wonder if they take such things as the Challenger & Columbia disasters in to account as losses? The price of 2 shuttles would really make a dent in the wallet.

  2. Patrick (G) says:

    How eactly does NASA compare to, say, the DoD ?

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