is missing opportunities to transfer key technologies from its substantial research and development investments to the commercial sector, academia and other government agencies, according to an inspector general’s audit of the agency’s Space Technology Program.
Inspector General Paul Martin blames the missed opportunities on declining budgets and a dearth of key personnel, a general lack of awareness of policies governing the transfer process, failures to recognize transfer potential and an absence of project manager participation in the formulation of commercialization strategies.
Martin cites missed opportunities for an upgrade to autopilots on aging aircraft and a lack of promotion of the Flight Loads Laboratory atDryden Flight Research Center in California, o prospective commercial users as two examples.
Annual funding for the agency’s technology transfer initiative has fallen to $19.2 million for the current fiscal year from $60 million in 2004, according the IG’s report, released March 1. Since 2003, the agency’s staff of patent attorneys has dropped to 19 from 29. Support staffing in the agency’s Washington headquarters has plummeted to two from 13 since 2010.
The report’s recommendations include measures to hold project managers and individual NASA center lead technologists accountable for the implementation of transfer directives. One such directive was issued by President Barack Obama last October and calls on all federal agencies to accelerate the transfer process to stimulate U.S. economic growth.
Others recommendations, which drew a favorable response from the agency’s new chief technologist, Mason Peck, include a reevaluation of funding and personnel needs, closer coordination with NASA’s chief engineer, a more effective staff training regime and an expedited review of the agency’s New Technology Reports, which document the latest advances and outline their potential commercial applications.
“NASA’s new focus on technology development to support both NASA needs and the economic development of the U.S. aerospace industry has led to increased opportunities for robust technology transfer and commercialization,” notes Peck, who joined NASA in January. However, these opportunities must be balanced with the reality of increasingly constrained resources.
Auditors examined 21 of 164 projects at NASA’s, Dryden, and between March 2011 and February 2012.