Inspection Report

SUBJECT:Johnson Space Center
Information Technology
Equipment Replacement

DATE OF REPORT:November 7, 1996

SYNOPSIS: In 1995, Johnson Space Center's (JSC's) Chief Information Officer (CIO) selected the Microsoft (MS) Corporation's Windows 95 operating system as the JSC standard for desktop workstations. Windows 95 only operates on International Business Machines (IBM) compatible personal computers (PCs). All upgrades and replacements of microcomputers (desktop workstations) used primarily for office automation (OA) would conform to the established standard. The JSC CIO defined OA so broadly that it forced replacement of almost all Macintosh workstations except those used exclusively for laboratory support and highly scientific functions. Implementation of this policy caused Macintosh users at JSC to send electronic messages (e-mail) to the NASA Administrator, the NASA CIO, the NASA Inspector General, and the news media. The Macintosh users complained that the policy was intended to specifically eliminate all Macintosh microcomputers at JSC, was not cost effective, and could have a detrimental effect on NASA's space flight mission.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) initiated this inspection to assess: (1) compliance with NASA CIO policies and Federal Information Resources Management (IRM) acquisition statutes and procedures, (2) cost effectiveness in mandating PC platforms for all OA desktop workstations, (3) end-users' requirements, and (4) the potential impact on space flight mission and safety.

We concluded that: (1) the policy decision and its implementation was not in conformance with the stated NASA CIO policies, (2) the policy decision was not cost effective and no cost/benefit or life-cycle cost analyses were conducted to support the replacement acquisitions, (3) JSC did not conduct information technology (IT) acquisitions with regard to users' requirements, and (4) a potential exists for a negative impact on space flight mission and safety.

We recommend that NASA management take steps to assure that JSC management: (1) take action to comply with NASA CIO and Federal IRM policies, guidance, and standards; (2) conduct comprehensive end-user requirements analyses for IT needs; (3) perform cost-benefit and life-cycle cost analyses, including replacement software acquisition and/or conversion costs and anticipated training costs prior to initiating major IT acquisitions; and (4) evaluate the impact on space flight mission effectiveness and safety prior to replacing currently installed equipment and software.


Analyst/Inspector:  _________________________
                      Charles E. Heaton, Jr.


Assistant Inspector General for Inspections & Assessments: ___________________
                                                            David M. Cushing


Purpose and Scope:

The OIG, Inspections and Assessments (I&A), initiated an assessment of the JSC decision to replace Macintosh desktop workstations with PC or PC-compatible workstations. This assessment reviewed the decision for compliance with NASA CIO policies and Federal IRM acquisition statutes and procedures, the cost effectiveness of the decision mandating PC platforms for all OA desktop workstations, and the impact on end-users' requirements and space flight mission and safety.


We conducted interviews with NASA Headquarters and JSC management officials, computer analysts and programmers employed by the Boeing Corporation on the NASA Headquarters support services contract, and JSC employees and contractor personnel. We reviewed relevant documents and publications, articles in trade journals, and various studies done by companies such as the Gartner Group and the International Development Corporation. We also reviewed JSC CIO documents and publications, NASA CIO policy issuances and memorandums, JSC property and equipment reutilization records, and JSC procurement records and contracts.


Until 1995, all NASA Centers, including JSC, followed IT policies that supported a dual platform (both PC and Macintosh microcomputers) OA environment. MS Office was the preferred software suite and had been developed to run on both the Macintosh and PC-compatible platforms. While the platforms are interoperable, there may be inconveniences in transferring documents such as changes in type size or pagination.

In October 1994, JSC participated in the testing of Windows 95, a Microsoft Corporation proprietary operating system. Windows 95 has operating characteristics similar to the Macintosh operating system, but it is executable only on a PC or a PC-compatible platform. Shortly after completion of the on-site testing, JSC IRM management established Windows 95 and MS Office as the OA software standards for desktop workstations.

In May 1995, JSC IRM management established an "early roll-out" (local installation of software prior to the manufacturer's release for use by the general public) project for Windows 95 software. By participating in the early roll-out program, JSC was allowed to begin production installation of Windows 95 Release to Manufacturing Code. Early roll-out participants received free Windows 95 licenses based on the extent of their participation. JSC received the equivalent of 1,000 Windows 95 licenses for their participation. In August 1995, Microsoft officially released the Windows 95 software for use by the general public.(See Exhibit 1.)

Subsequent to the establishment of the "early roll-out" Windows 95 project, the JSC CIO established baseline configurations of hardware and software for both the PC and Macintosh platforms. A microcomputer platform that was below the baseline level, needed additional capabilities, and was primarily used for OA purposes, would be replaced by a Pentium-based PC with Windows 95 and the MS Office installed (commonly referred to as the "standard load"). The JSC CIO required replacement rather than upgrading whatever platform was in place. Any user having a Macintosh platform below the baseline configuration and needing an upgrade would receive a PC with the standard software load as the replacement.

In October 1995, the International Space Station (ISS) Program Office began to replace outdated Macintosh microcomputers. A large procurement (the Block I buy) was initiated to acquire 600 Macintosh microcomputers to meet ISS program needs. However, JSC purchased 600 PC workstations rather than the Macintosh workstations that were originally requested by ISS. As of August 1, 1996, JSC IT acquisition plans indicated four Block Buys of PC-compatible microcomputers totaling 3500 workstations. These acquisitions would replace or upgrade both PC and Macintosh platforms over a 2-year period, starting with the December 1995 Block I buy.


We will discuss our findings and conclusions under the following topics:

  1. Policy Compliance
  2. Policy Implementation
  3. Cost Effectiveness
    • Cost Benefits
    • Life-Cycle Costs
  4. End-User Requirements
  5. Safety

A. Policy Compliance

On June 17, 1996, the NASA CIO issued a letter reiterating and clarifying NASA's policy on acquisition and management of information technology.

In general, we must examine the rationale for each such decision to ensure that it is consistent with Agency policy and that any [IT] decision which restricts full and open competition is both necessary and justified. More specifically, this letter clarifies our interoperability standards and the role of competition in achieving this objective.

Regarding our interoperability standards strategy, the Agency consciously decided that it was in our best interest not to establish a single desktop computer operating standard. Rather, we endorsed an IT architecture which supported multiple desktop operating systems. Quite simply, we recognized that the diversity of our end-users' requirements and applications necessitate that our IT architecture be flexible enough to adapt to and optimize their needs.

(See Exhibit 2.)

Since MS Office operates on both the PC and Macintosh platforms, it does not restrict competition. JSC's current policy is to standardize the OA environment using the Microsoft Windows 95 operating system and MS Office OA software suite. JSC's selection of Windows 95 restricts competition to microcomputers that are PC-compatible where the primary use of a desktop workstation is office automation.

The selected document transfer package supporting file transfer at JSC is the MS Exchange mail package. MS Exchange only works in the PC environment and thereby reinforces the "PC only" direction JSC is taking for office automation. (A version of MS Exchange operating on Macintosh platforms is planned to be released before the end of 1996.) In contrast (and in compliance with NASA CIO policy), NASA Headquarters selected the Eudora Pro electronic mail package which operates on both Macintosh and PC platforms. Eudora is licensed to NASA on an Agency-wide license and is available to each NASA Center without any additional licensing fees.

Section 8 of the Johnson Space Center Information Technology Handbook defines 'Desktop Workstation Hardware,' 'Software,' and 'Peripherals' at both the high end and the low end. The two high end operating systems are defined as Windows (Win95 or NT Workstation) for the PC platform and System 7.5 for the Macintosh platform. The acceptable low end operating systems are MS-DOS 6.22 + MS WfW 3.11 for the PC workstation and the System 7.X for the Macintosh workstation. The standard high end 'Desktop Workstation Hardware' for general office functions on a Windows platform is the Pentium/90 with 16 MB RAM, 850 MB hard drive, and 14" monitor. There is no Macintosh workstation listed as meeting the high end for general office functions, even though the Power MAC 6100 and larger Macintosh devices meet or exceed this requirement. Low end standards for both the PC and Macintosh platforms are listed. The preferred desktop workstations for JSC general office functions are designated by an asterisk (*) in the tables. The only devices with the (*) designation are those which support the Windows 95 or Windows NT software on desktop workstations. The Macintosh workstations are specifically excluded from this preferred category. This is reinforced by the second footnote of Table 3, Section 8 of the IT handbook which states, Requests for Upgrades in the HIGH category which are not for the preferred (*) items will require special review and justification. (See Exhibit 3)

By implementing a Windows 95 operating system standard, JSC is not complying with NASA policy. JSC is, in essence, limiting competition to PC-compatible microcomputers even though MS Office is a cross-platform package.

B. Policy Implementation

The manner by which management implemented the decision to have only a Windows 95 environment for OA desktop workstations caused consternation among JSC employees. Many employees felt the PC-only decision forced them to accept a lesser capability than was previously available. During the decision process, management did not seek major end-users' input concerning the selection of Windows 95 as the OA standard or its implementation.

More disturbing, some employees told the OIG they feared retribution and a possible loss of their jobs if they continued to raise questions about the desktop workstation policy. One employee stated that (s)he was told by the supervisor, I would hate to lose a good engineer over this. Another employee was told, ....their value to the organization would be seriously questioned... if they continued to question the decision to go to PCs. In another instance, an Engineering Directorate spokesperson sent an e-mail message to an employee stating, ..., and our management is getting very tired of people who always know better. I know who signs my paycheck, do you? Another employee was informed by his supervisor that a high level JSC IRM manager had requested that the employee be removed from his present position. The request was apparently made because the employee had pointed out that Macintosh workstations had a lower life-cycle cost than PCs. Before meeting with OIG inspectors, several employees requested total anonymity to protect themselves from perceived retribution or adverse actions.

C. Cost Effectiveness

The CIO letter of June 17 reaffirms NASA policy concerning operating system standards and fiscal analyses required when acquiring IT.

With regard to implementing Center-unique operating system standards, NASA policy is to define requirements in performance-based terms and allow the marketplace to suggest the solutions. Analyses (e.g., cost-benefit studies) used in supporting the evaluation of alternatives, must take into consideration the full range of life-cycle support costs, comply with Agency standards, and consider end-users' requirements and applications.

During our inspection, we asked the JSC CIO for the following: (1) the cost- benefits analysis used to support the Windows 95 acquisition decision; (2) the life-cycle cost analysis, including run-out maintenance cost projections; and (3) the requirements analysis used as the foundation for this decision. We also reviewed the Block I and II acquisition contract files. We found that neither a cost-benefits nor a life-cycle cost analysis had been completed before JSC awarded desktop workstation contracts. We discussed the lack of documentation with the responsible Contracting Officer. The Contracting Officer could not confirm that the studies had been performed.


JSC is conducting several Block Buys of microcomputers to acquire a total of 3,500 workstations. Two block buys for 1,800 workstations have already been completed. Staff members of three JSC directorates proposed alternative, less costly solutions. However, these alternatives had not been presented to JSC top management at the time of our inspection. (See Exhibits 4, 5, and 6.) Our discussions with employees revealed that the studies had not been surfaced beyond division management because management regarded the charts as being too controversial, or this is not JSC policy, or the decision has been made.

One alternative solution proposed upgrading older Macintosh microcomputers to the established baseline configuration by increasing random access memory (RAM) and increasing the capacity of the hard drives. The estimated costs cited are less than $1,200 per device, about $600 less than acquiring a PC platform to replace it.

Another proposed solution was a box swap approach. This approach replaces just the central processing unit (CPU) of the Macintosh microcomputer and retains any peripheral devices currently attached to the CPU (monitors, CD- ROMs, etc.). The estimated cost for this approach is between $1,200 and $1,400 per device as compared to $1,800 for a replacement PC.

Using either approach is less costly than the complete replacement of the hardware. Both solutions preserve the integrity of the current applications environment, meet the MS Office OA requirement, and provide the additional capabilities and capacities required to upgrade the devices to at least the baseline configuration. In addition, these solutions conform to the stated JSC policy set forth in Section 2 of the Johnson Space Center Information Technology Handbook, Principle 4, Upgrade it, don't buy it.

Life-Cycle Costs

The JSC CIO had in his possession a Gartner Group Analysis published on August 24, 1995, titled, Windows 95 for Business Users: Cutting Through the Hype. In this study, the estimated 5-year costs of ownership for various Macintosh and PC platforms are shown on a histogram. (See Exhibit 7) The 5-year cost of ownership of a Windows 95 desktop workstation is estimated to be $35,859. The 5-year cost of ownership of a comparable Macintosh desktop workstation with the 7.5 operating system is estimated to be $35,124, approximately $735 less than the Windows 95 workstation. Based on these numbers, the acquisition of 3,500 Macintosh workstations would be $2,572,500 cheaper over a 5-year period when compared to acquiring 3,500 comparable Windows 95 workstations. The JSC CIO acknowledged his awareness of the Gartner Group Analysis in a briefing package titled, "Single Solution For a Given Function." He gave little weight to the cost differential, however, stating:

As mentioned earlier, we have no notion as to whether the absolute figures portrayed by the histogram above have meaning at JSC.

(See Exhibit 8, JSC CIO Single Solution For a Given Function briefing, page 24)

The Gartner Group study also states:

To achieve these cost benefits from Windows 95, however, will require a substantial investment. We estimate that the cost of migration to Windows 95, exclusive of additional hardware and new 32-bit Windows applications, will be between $206 and $706 per user. Included in these costs are migration planning, acquisition, help desk upgrades, installations, end- user training, and increased technical support for new users. This wide range of potential costs shows the substantive difference between properly and poorly planned and executed operating system migrations.

JSC management did not address the above cited costs of implementing the Windows 95 operating system standard for OA workstations.

In May 1995, the Flight Crew Support Division (Code SP), Space and Life Sciences Directorate, developed a briefing that identified some 273 Macintosh unique software packages. It also identified multiple applications, tasks, and special functions that would require conversion or new development to work in the PC environment. (See Exhibit 6) The total costs to migrate 281 division users and applications from Macintosh platforms to a PC environment were estimated to be $2,900,000. In our review, we did not evaluate the accuracy of these estimates. We raise the issue, however, because software conversion costs, acquisition of replacement software costs, and costs of training were not included in any documentation provided by JSC as part of the calculation.

The Aerospace and Flight Mechanics Division (Code EG) Computer Team of the Engineering Directorate also developed a briefing package. The September 22, 1995, package addressed the costs of software conversion/replacement and the cost of training for current Macintosh users on PCs. (See Exhibit 5) These costs, which would appropriately appear in a cost-benefits analysis and a life-cycle cost analysis, were apparently never considered by the JSC CIO when selecting the Windows 95 operating system as the JSC standard for desktop workstations.

Since JSC IRM management has not completed the required cost analyses, there is no evidence that the JSC CIO standardization policy is cost effective.

D. End-Users' Requirements

The presentation developed by the Code EG Computer Team of the Engineering Directorate specifically addressed the replacement of Macintosh microcomputers with PC-compatible microcomputers. (See Exhibit 5) This presentation emphasized that the JSC CIO OA solution did not meet all of Code EG's requirements. The presentation also emphasized that a conversion to a PC environment would be considerably more expensive than upgrading existing Macintosh devices to the standard baseline configuration level.

There are several JSC divisions that are transitioning from Macintosh to PC platforms. In the process of this conversion, some divisions are identifying databases and applications created on the Macintosh platform that must be maintained for mission-related activities. Several Division Directors stated that they would move some of the current inventory of Macintosh workstations to a central location where their staffs could access these applications and databases. As a result, a new PC is being assigned to employees who still have requirements to use a Macintosh device to perform daily functions. Since the Macintosh can perform both mission work and desktop OA functions, having to use two workstations is unnecessary.

E. Safety

Some JSC employees stated that mission safety could be seriously affected because of the planned replacement of Macintosh computers. There are Macintosh-specific software packages used to develop databases in Code EG such as Igor, Igor Pro, Matlab, and MacX, that will not operate on the PC platform. (See Exhibit 5 for a more extensive listing.) These packages are used for flight data and simulation data processing, curve fitting and smoothing, frequency analysis, data compression/plotting, algorithm development, theoretical analyses, and other engineering mission applications. According to employees we interviewed, these programs are an integral part of the space flight mission of the Division and the Engineering Directorate and are used for defining shuttle orbiter trajectories and other flight specific functions.

Similar concerns for safety exist in other Engineering Directorate divisions and other Directorates, e.g., the Mission Operations Directorate and the Space and Life Sciences Directorate. For example, one Macintosh-specific database has over 10,000,000 records containing the histories of parts used in shuttle orbiters, including the manufacturer, part specifications, and when the part was used. The database is continually updated. This data is critical when evaluating mishaps. The data is used to identify deviations in manufacturing processes, changes in materials used, composition changes, etc., that might have caused the mishap to occur.

JSC management neither addressed nor provided documentation addressing the potential impact upon mission safety resulting from the implementation of the Windows 95 standard. Since flight crew safety appears to be a concern, determining the impact on the space flight mission safety should be a priority effort.


Since the Agencywide response did not take exception to any findings or recommendations of the report, the final report will be issued in its current form with the NASA Management Comments and the OIG responses inserted as Appendix III.


We recommend NASA management take steps to assure that JSC management:

  1. Take action to comply with NASA CIO and Federal Information Resource Management published policy, guidelines, and standards. The NASA CIO, the CIO of the Human Exploration and Development of Space (HEDS) Enterprise, and the Office of Procurement should take steps to review JSC compliance and assure necessary corrective actions are taken.

  2. Conduct comprehensive requirements analyses to identify end-user information technology (IT) needs.

  3. Perform cost-benefit and life-cycle cost analyses to include replacement software acquisition and/or conversion costs and anticipated training costs prior to initiating major IT acquisitions for desktop workstations.

  4. Evaluate the impact on space flight mission effectiveness and safety prior to replacement of currently installed equipment and software.

Appendix I

Report Distribution

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Officials-In- Charge:

AO/Chief Information Office
H/Associate Administrator for Procurement
J/Associate Administratort for Management Systems and Facilities
M/Associate Administrator for Space Flight
Q/Associate Administrator for Safety and Mission Assurance
Director, Johnson Space Center
Chief Information Officer, Johnson Space Center

Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of each of the following Congressional Committees and Subcommittees:

Senate Committee on Appropriations
Senate Subcommittee on VA-HUD-Independent Agencies
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space
Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs
House Committee on Appropriations
House Subcommittee on VA-HUD-Independent Agencies
House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight
House Subcommittee on National Security, International Affairs, and Criminal Justice
House Committee on Science
House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

Non-NASA Federal Organizations and Individuals:

Honorable Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senate
Honorable Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senate
Honorable Charles E. Grassley, U.S. Senate
Honorable Charles S. Robb, U.S. Senate
Honorable Connie Mack, U.S. Senate
Honorable Steve Stockman, U.S. House of Representatives
Honorable Bill Baker, U.S. House of Representatives
Honorable James A. Leach, U.S. House of Representatives
Honorable Tom DeLay, U.S. House of Representatives
Honorable Norman Sisisky, U.S. House of Representatives
Honorable Eliot L. Engel, U.S. House of Representatives
Honorable Paul McHale, U.S. House of Representatives

Appendix II

Major Contributors To This Report

Inspections and Assessment Staff

Charles E. Heaton, Jr.
Connia P. Webb
David M. Cushing

Audit Staff

James M. Nugent
G. Brent Melson

Investigavtive Staff

Lance G. Carrington

Support Staff

Janet A. Campbell
Donna Y. Triplett
Amphawan Robertson.

Appendix III

Comments From NASA Management

  National Aeronautics and
Space Administration

Washington, DC 20546-0001

NASA logo
October 31, 1996

Reply to Attn of: AO

  TO:W/Inspector General
  FROM:AO/Chief Information Officer
  SUBJECT:Draft Report of Inspection of Johnson Space Center's Information Technology Equipment Replacement, Report No. G-96-017

  The following comments represents the consolidated Agencywide response to the subject draft report.

See Comment 1. We are not able to comment on your finding and recommendation stating that "mission safety could be seriously affected," because inadequate information exists in the draft report to allow us to make that assessment. We agree that any allegations which indicate potential risk to mission safety must be resolved as quickly as possible, and to that end we are already working with the Office of Space Flight to address this issue. We request that you supply the information upon which you based this recommendation so that we can truly understand and evaluate this serious allegation.

See Comment 2. The NASA's Chief Information Officer (CIO), June 17, 1996, memorandum was cited a number of times in the report. In order to more accurately reflect the intent of that memorandum, the report should state the memorandum gives authority to the Center CIO Representatives to implement Center-unique requirements and standards, as long as they comply with Federal laws and regulations and the decisions reflect prudent technical and management judgment.

See Comment 3. The Associate Administrator for Procurement provided comments under separate cover which are restated here. "Because of the short response time required by your office, we are unable to fully analyze the report and provide meaningful comments. However, we intend to pursue the findings of your report with the center procurement office and will respond more fully to the final report when issued."

Ms. Benita Cooper, Associate Administrator for Management Systems and Facilities, responded with no comment.


Ronald S. West

Appendix III

OIG Comments

  1. We were informed of potential safety issues by several JSC employees while conducting our interviews and via electronic messages sent to our office during the inspection. However, we received no documentation from the JSC CIO in which the issue of safety had been addressed. Thus, we determined that it was in NASA's best interests to alert management of employees' concerns, particularly because of the databases maintained on and functions supported by Macintosh microcomputers. (See Exhibit 5.)

  2. Exhibit 2 in our report contains the full text of the cited memorandum. In our report, we pointed out that JSC is not complying with Agency policy to conduct the required analyses (e.g., cost-benefit studies, life-cycle support costs, and consideration of end-users' requirements and applications). Since these required analyses were not done, it appeared that prudent technical and management judgment was not exercised. Also, we have not received any information from the NASA CIO, Code M, or JSC documenting that the JSC CIO proposed acquisition plans implemented Center-unique requirements or standards.

  3. We will monitor the follow-up actions of the NASA Office of Procurement.

For copies of the exhibits that belong to this report, write to:

Last Update: November 27, 1996