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Sharing HST Program Cost

The HST Program Office does not need a billing process that requires telescope users to equitably share telescope cost. We based our conclusion on a review of telescope users, telescope users funded by the HST Program Office, allocated telescope time, and full-cost accounting guidelines.

The STScI allocates 100 percent of available telescope time to researchers in the Space Sciences Directorate and to astronomers conducting grant research. Researchers within the Space Sciences receive guaranteed time because the Directorate developed the space telescope imaging spectrograph, an instrument on board the HST. At the time of the instrument’s development, the HST program guaranteed telescope time to the Directorate researchers without cost. Requiring the Space Sciences Directorate to share telescope cost would be contrary to this agreement. Astronomers conducting grant research are selected through a competitive proposal process and are funded by the HST program. Requiring grant researchers to share in program cost would be equivalent to the HST program billing itself. As a result, NASA would not be reimbursed from external sources by billing current telescope users for HST costs. Additionally, the Program Office has a process for allocating HST costs to users if the information is needed.

Meeting Full-Cost Accounting Principles

Program planning for HST servicing missions scheduled for 1999 and 2002 considers the full NASA cost of operations and servicing as compared to replacement cost. Also, planned servicing missions are necessary and more cost-effective than return-to-Earth refurbishment. We made our determination based on a review of NASA full-cost guidelines, interviews of HST program and financial managers, review of planned equipment modifications on servicing missions 3 and 4, and assessment of an external review report of in-orbit servicing versus ground refurbishment.

In April 1999, HST budget requests are planned to conform to NASA full-cost guidelines. Currently, Goddard recasts budget submissions into full-cost accounting format. The recasting adds the cost of civil servant salaries, general and administrative overhead, and other service costs to the HST budget request. NASA does not require full-cost accounting until 2001. By recasting the April 1999 budget requests, the HST program plans to be in compliance with full-cost accounting guidelines.

Summary

The HST Program Office has three initiatives that will reduce science and satellite operations costs to meet budget reductions for the years after 2000. The initiatives are to: (1) discontinue the servicing missions after 2003, thereby eliminating two servicing missions and reducing costs by $104 million; (2) implement a new operating system, Vision 2000, thereby reducing contractor staffing and related costs by $30 million; and (3) hold operations costs constant through Vision 2000 efficiencies.

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