HOUSTON — NASA’s inspector general has found the far-flung agency is scrambling to meet aggressive real property reduction goals outlined by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Congress, largely because of uncertainties over its future human exploration missions and budget outlook.

The agency, spread across 10 field centers from coast to coast, responded favorably to three recommendations from Inspector General (IG) Paul Martin for strengthening master planning activities to improve the process, through Woodrow Whitlow Jr., NASA’s associate administrator for mission support.

The 53-year-old agency has become the federal government’s ninth largest property holder, possessing more than 5,000 buildings, laboratories, wind tunnels, launch pads and test stands with a combined replacement value exceeding $29 billion. More than 80% of the structures are more than 40 years old and reaching the end of their useful lives, according to the IG’s audit, released Dec. 19.

Largely in response to the shuttle program’s 2011 retirement, NASA has been charged with downsizing under the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, with an overall goal of cutting the $29 billion replacement value 10% by 2020 and 15% by 2055. During the 2012 budget process, OMB reduced the agency’s projected budget for facility upgrades from $1.7 billion to $750 million for the period from 2013 to 2017.

Auditors found agency managers struggling to meet the targets as they transitioned to an agency-wide master planning initiative started in 2008 from a traditional approach in which center managers largely determined their infrastructure needs independently.

The first of the larger master plans is anticipated by the end of this year, several months later than anticipated, largely because the effort was based on a consolidation of planning by the individual centers.

Only one center altered planning based on the OMB reduction, the auditors found. Only five of the installations produced strategies to meet the 2020 replacement value reductions. Only three of the centers linked their master plan contributions to NASA’s current mission.

Though NASA has disposed of 645 buildings with a total replacement value of $931 million since 2005 and has plans for 140 demolitions through 2015, the IG called for improvements. Washington administrators should issue clear guidance to center managers to establish a consistent picture of facilities needs and their link to NASA’s future missions and projects, according to the report.