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July 18, 2011


Eating the NASA pie

by brainoids

Today’s post is just a data rack-and-stack-and-dump; this time of fifty years of NASA annual procurement report data.   (Add NASA to the long list of Federal agencies which report annual data, but do not trend it).  As with many such data sets, a little graphic visualization often helps understand long term historical trends.

First, the procurement data broken out by field Center.  In all plots below, historical real year dollars have been inflation-adjusted to FY10 dollars, and each plotted year corresponds to the average of the previous five years’ procurement data (the data are smoothed).

5-year smoothed NASA procurements by field Center

The trends are a little more coherent if grouped by major field Center ‘type’, i.e. Human Space Flight (Marshall, Stennis, Kennedy, Johnson), Aeronautics/Research (Glenn, Ames, Langley, Dryden) or Science (Goddard, Jet Propulsion Lab):

5-year smoothed NASA procurements by field Center type

In this view, the slow but steady increase in “procurement share” of the science centers since the early 1980’s stands out.   Human spaceflight centers have accounted for a fairly stable 50-60% of Agency procurements since the early 1970’s.

Rendered as curves the trends are also apparent, modulated by the long term trends in the Agency’s budget:

5-year smoothed NASA procurements by field Center type

Finally – and less expectedly – the share of NASA’s spending that occurs as procurements has interesting trends.   Almost all of NASA’s budget occurs as procurements – i.e., its services are bought from industry, in the form of prime or support contracts.   This has been true since its inception.   The interesting trend occurs from 1990-present though, as the procurement percentage has steadily dropped from 90% to about 83%:

Share of NASA outlays accounted for by procurements

Since there was no 20-year acquisition policy which inclined towards insourcing over this period, the most likely explanation is that this reflects the steady increase in Agency fixed costs, relative to the total budget.   These fixed costs might include the costs of aging infrastructure, as well as utilities and civil servant salary expenses which may have increased faster than both inflation and the Agency’s top line budget.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Walt Petersen
    Jul 21 2011

    Dennis- if the the NASA CS workforce is in fact “aging”- then your suggestion of increased cost of CS salary expenses would certainly make sense. It would be interested to see that trend plotted with the fixed costs. Wonder what % variance would be…..Interesting charts. Cheers, Walt


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  1. Another slice of the NASA pie | Dennis' Blog
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