ARCADIA, Calif. — The nonprofit that runs the National Laboratory portion of the International Space Station is not making full use of the advisory group created after an independent review of the organization.
A report published on June 7 by the Government Accountability Office said the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the resources of the ISS designated as a national laboratory, its User Advisory Committee (UAC) did not provide information about how the lab was being used or to seek input from the committee on resource allocation.
CASIS founded the UAC in 2020 following the findings of an independent study commissioned by NASA in 2019 that sharply criticized the management of the ISS National Laboratory (ISSNL). One of the recommendations of the review was the creation of an advisory committee to serve as a liaison between CASIS and the laboratory user community.
The GAO review, requested by the House Science Committee leadership, found issues with how CASIS used the 35-person UAC. “For example, the charter states that the UAC must prepare information that can be used to make decisions about ISSNL’s portfolio of use,” the report states. “However, CASIS leadership has received no input from the UAC in making decisions about resource allocation across all business units.”
CASIS said it did not request input from the UAC in part because it believed it was unlikely the UAC could provide consensus among all lab users, a statement the GAO rejected. “A possible lack of user consensus does not prevent CASIS from obtaining information from its UAC,” it concluded. “Because different perspectives can inform decision-making, diverse inputs could enhance CASIS leaders’ understanding of the risks and opportunities in the ISSNL portfolio.”
UAC members said that while CASIS is providing them with some information about how it allocates resources, it was seeking “more transparency” such as the full line of payloads flying to the station. That information, they said, “would help users determine why the planned resource allocation is changing, and help them better prepare for additional changes in the future.”
CASIS said it had not provided that level of detail because the resource allocation process for loads going to the station is “complex and fluid.” However, the GAO concluded that NASA officials recognized that there were opportunities for improvement.
The GAO also expressed concern about the UAC leadership succession plan, which ends in November for its two-year term. In May, the report stated, “CASIS and UAC leadership had not set a timeline for finalizing the succession plan, or how terms of current and new members will overlap.”
“While the establishment of the UAC was a step in the right direction, CASIS has opportunities to further enhance collaboration with ISSNL users by getting input on resource allocation decisions,” the GAO report concluded. It recommended that NASA ensure that CASIS solicit input from the UAC on resource allocation, provide more data on those allocations, and develop a succession plan for the commission.
NASA, in response to the GAO included in the report, accepted the recommendations, except for one about access to the queue of payloads going to the ISS. Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for space operations, wrote that “view into the overall ISS flight queue is not possible until the ISS program has had time to evaluate the needs of the ISS as a whole, which can change during a flight—per flight base somewhat close to launch.”