Sustainable and Secure Infrastructure

What is the Issue?

Due to its aging facilities, deferred maintenance, and climate change, NASA faces significant risks to its critical infrastructure. Specifically:

  • Aging facilities: After 40 years, facilities are typically considered functionally obsolete. Roughly 83 percent of NASA’s facilities are beyond their constructed design life. Apollo-era infrastructure is costly to maintain and, in some cases, poses risk to mission operations. In addition, many of NASA’s facilities are significantly past their constructed design life, and older facilities tend to present increased risk. NASA has some Center infrastructure built before World War II, and a large bulk of the infrastructure was built in the 1960s using easy to assemble construction techniques, such as corrugated metal buildings, and thus was not initially constructed to last a long time.
  • Deferred maintenance: Unscheduled maintenance is significantly more expensive than scheduled maintenance. It can cost up to three times more to repair or replace equipment after it has failed, rather than keeping it in good working order. With appropriate spending on maintenance and construction, NASA can rebuild, repair, or replace the old, unreliable equipment. However, due to resource constraints, NASA has had to defer planned infrastructure spending, which has led to an increase in unscheduled maintenance in the past six years ranging between 30 and 37 percent of the annual maintenance budget.
  • Climate change: More than half of NASA’s facilities are at risk from sea level rise or extreme weather events. Many NASA facilities were built on the coast, at or near sea level, to mitigate the risk to the public from rocket launches. As a result, these sites are at increased risk from flooding and storm surge. For example, the Wallops Flight Facility, located on Virginia's Eastern Shore, experiences beach erosion of 10 to 22 feet per year, due in part to sea level rise. NASA has had to invest tens of millions of dollars in seawalls and beach replenishment to protect its launch pads and other critical infrastructure. In addition, many of NASA’s facilities in western regions are at risk from drought and extreme heat.
What was the Intervention?

To address the challenges noted above, NASA is aggressively managing its portfolio to consolidate and modernize into fewer, more efficient and sustainable facilities. For example:

  • NASA is actively reducing its footprint. The Agency targets initiating the demolition of at least five structures per year, and has met or exceeded this goal every year from 2012 through 2016. NASA identifies facilities for demolition through special studies, and prepares a five-year demolition plan that sets project schedules based on last need (both mission and date), annual costs avoided if the facility is demolished, potential liability, and project execution factors.
  • NASA has an ambitious sustainability policy that helps to reduce its energy costs over time and provide energy security for its critical facilities. This includes increasing its inventory of sustainable buildings and awarding more Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) and Utility Energy Service Contracts (UESCs), which enable energy service companies and utility companies to finance energy projects that NASA repays over time from avoided utility costs. For example, last year, NASA added six LEED-certified buildings to its portfolio, with a combined area of more than 547,000 gross square feet, and awarded ESPCs and UESCs totaling more than $114 million.
  • NASA has adopted a facilities maintenance and operation philosophy to support its mission by proactively pursuing and adopting the safest, most cost effective blend of reliability centered maintenance (RCM) techniques, sustainability practices, and safety procedures and other best practices to provide safe, sustainable, efficient, and reliable facilities. Funding for RCM and condition based maintenance (CBM) was set aside within the maintenance funding when available for Centers over the past few years, to invest in technology advancements that allow Centers to better manage maintenance resources.
How was performance management useful?

NASA uses performance management to highlight its successes and to call attention to areas where the Agency may need assistance. As part of the Strategic Review, NASA rated Strategic Objective 3.1, which covers its workforce and institutional capabilities, as a focus area for improvement. This has helped create a forum for NASA to engage with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and General Services Administration on its critical infrastructure. In its Annual Performance Plan, NASA includes performance goals and annual performance indicators on demolitions, energy and sustainability, and maintenance. This gives NASA leadership, OMB, Congress, and the general public insight into NASA’s efforts to renew its facilities and reduce its footprint.

What was the impact?

The Agency makes the best possible use of its resources to mitigate the risks to its personnel and infrastructure from aging facilities, deferred maintenance, and climate risk. The performance management measure has drawn attention to a growing correlation between reduced overall maintenance funds and increased unscheduled maintenance. Additionally, it has focused Center attention on ways to mitigate increased unscheduled maintenance, providing Center support for demolition, which removes obsolete facilities and investment in infrastructure renewal. Centers are also adopting new strategies to offset maintenance needs by utilizing tools such as ESPCs to replace old and aging equipment. Each of these measures are ways in which the Centers aim to help reduce operating costs and meet performance management goals.