The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Senator Mike Enzi has expressed concern that several NASA programs have suffered severe delays and cost overruns.
In open letter to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine dated July 30, the Senator from Wyoming expressed concern that cost overruns and delays of NASA programs “could jeopardize futures missions.” The senator cited a May 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that detailed the statuses of agency’s current portfolio of 24 major projects.
The May 2019 GAO report found that the cost and schedule performance of the bulk of NASA’s 24 major projects (defined as projects with life-cycle costs exceeding $250 million) had “continued to deteriorate.” The report found that combined, the projects were set to exceed their baseline budgets by 27.6 percent with an average launch delay of around 13 months.
In addition to detailing average cost inflation and launch delays, the GAO report also identified the James Webb Space Telescope and Space Launch System as the worst offenders. The James Webb project has experienced an $814 million cost increase in the past year and is now delayed a staggering 81 months. The SLS project has experienced a cost increase of $881 million since last year and is delayed 19 months, although many believe that figure to be on the low side.
In reference to the above findings, Senator Enzi posed several questions to NASA Administrator Bridenstine. These questions included what steps are being taken to reduce further delays and cost overruns, the likelihood of the James Web telescope launching in March 2021, and the agency’s progress on the recommendations detailed in the May 2019 GAO report.
Senator Enzi has requested that Administrator Bridenstine responds to the questions detailed in the letter by no later than August 14. Additionally, the Senator has asked for “quarterly briefings on the status of GAO’s open recommendations.”