GAO found that the Orion program’s cost and schedule estimates are not reliable based on best practices for producing high-quality estimates. Cost and schedule estimates play an important role in addressing technical risks. In September 2015, NASA established a commitment baseline of $11.3 billion and an April 2023 launch readiness date for the program’s second exploration mission. NASA used a joint cost and schedule confidence level (JCL) analysis—a point-in-time estimate that, among other things, includes all cost and schedule elements and incorporates and quantifies known risks—to establish the commitment baselines at a 70 percent confidence level, as required by NASA policy. However, NASA’s JCL analysis was informed by its unreliable cost and schedule estimates. GAO found that the Orion cost estimate met or substantially met 7 of 20 best practices and its schedule estimate met or substantially met 1 of 8 best practices. For example, the cost estimate lacked necessary support and the schedule estimate did not include the level of detail required for high-quality estimates. Without sound cost and schedule estimates, decision makers do not have a clear understanding of the cost and schedule risk inherent in the program or important information needed to make programmatic decisions.
To provide the Congress and NASA a reliable estimate of program cost and schedule, the program should perform an updated JCL analysis with cost and schedule estimates in line with best practices. The program should also perform an analysis to understand the impact of deferred work on program reserves. NASA partially concurred with the first recommendation and concurred with the second.