The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

House Subcommittee Concerned over "Too Big to Fail" Mentality at NASA

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


On Thursday, June 14, 2018, the House of Representative’s Subcommittee on Space met to discuss the rising cost and schedule overruns at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  These overruns were attributed to what NASA Inspector General Paul Martin described as a “too big to fail” optimism at the agency, lack of consequences for failing to complete programs on time, and an ignorance of the technical complexity of projects.  To counter these problems, Cristina Chaplain, the Director of Contracting and National Security Acquisitions at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), recommended establishing more reserves for projects, better scheduling, improved contractor management, assurances that overruns don’t dominate project portfolios, and limited management risks.

While NASA has seen improvement since reevaluating program cost and scheduling in 2009, the agency has had an increase in cost and delays to its new Space Launch System (SLS), which will be its most powerful rocket ever, for its mission to transport humans to Mars and the moon. According to the GAO report, NASA has yet to release the expected cost of the program.

In addition, GAO found that nine of seventeen projects that were reviewed experienced some form of cost or schedule delay that it attributed to risky program management.

To respond to rising cost and increased delays, the House Subcommittee members and the witnesses offered several solutions. Among the recommendations was a proposal by Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) to set an example by canceling projects that have run significantly beyond their original cost and schedule.  In addition, members of the subcommittee expressed desire for more Congressional oversight including increased hearings and mandatory reports from NASA, while also expressing support for Mr. Martin’s recommendation to check the “too big to fail” mentality that dominates the agency.

A proposal to implement multi-year funding to the agency was met with support from both the subcommittee and its witnesses as it would give more stability in funding, the lack of which was cited as a reason for the overruns.

The implementation of these policies could help curb the out of control spending while increasing efficiency at NASA.

Former Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) was confirmed as the new administrator of NASA on April 19, 2018.

Bridenstine takes the helm of NASA at a critical time. Entrepreneurial space companies are challenging the traditional spacefaring monopoly that NASA has enjoyed since the start of the Space Age. Bridenstine championed commercial space efforts as a Member of Congress, and many lawmakers hope he will lead the agency away from its bad habits. 

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