NASA carelessly spent $15m for software it never used
NASA lacks a standardized method for dealing with licensing audits or dealing with software providers.

A new report has found out that NASA has been spending too much money on something it doesn’t even use. This includes $15 million that has been spent on Oracle software alone which is yet to be used. 


The Office of Inspector General of the aerospace agency published a report that revealed through an observation that NASA’s software asset management (SAM) procedures “currently expose the Agency to operational, financial, and cyber security risks with the management of the software life cycle largely decentralized and ad hoc.” The news rates NASA’s SAM capabilities as “Basic” – the lowest scale on the four-tier scale the US regime employs.

According to the study, NASA has not adopted best practices or put into place SAM systems that locate, categorize, and monitor licensing information as mandated by federal law. According to federal regulation, the company’s Software Asset Management Office and Software Manager jobs “are misaligned and do not report to the Chief Information Officer as required by federal policy.”


Furthermore, NASA lacks a standardized method for dealing with licensing audits or dealing with software providers. According to the report, NASA is consequently liable for higher costs and fines for violating software license agreements.


The report uses the example of NASA’s Oracle deal to demonstrate the issues, detailing how the agency was “unwilling to risk a license audit by Oracle because of the lack of solid, centralized visibility into deployment and use of the software.”


Officials in NASA’s office of the CIO told the Office of Inspector General they “knew better than to try our luck with an audit.”


“Simply put, merely the potential threat of being audited by the vendor encouraged overbuying when the accuracy of Agency Software Asset Management was suspect,” the report states.


Thus, NASA wasted $15 million on Oracle software that was never utilized. Since 2011, when it partnered with Big Red to handle the end of the Space Shuttle program, it has presumably been overspending with Oracle.


“The Oracle license overspend has been in effect for more than a decade,” the report states. 


“The Agency has not sufficiently tracked the full cost of license expenditures for the life of the existing contract which includes multiple option years in a manner which would allow the full costs to be known.”


The auditor estimates NASA “could have saved approximately $35 million over the past five years in fines and overpayments ($20 million in penalties plus $15 million in Oracle overspending)” and is therefore questioning the costs.


According to the report, NASA’s weak SAM abilities have been a consequence of “funding and staffing shortfalls.”


“NASA purchased large amounts of Oracle products to support Space Shuttle processing and other mission operations during that timeframe containing licensing terms that made transitioning to a competitor difficult due to proprietary technologies,” the report explains.


The report indicates that NASA officials are “gathering requirements and examining ‘how and why’ Oracle licensing became so cumbersome and complex to manage” as the department prepares to renew its Oracle licenses in April 2023.


“In parallel, the Agency is also reviewing the current and desired to license environment to quantify the true cost of doing business with Oracle.”


The report also exposed that NASA spent $4.36 million on fines for software license violations in just FY 2021.