CASIS is not utilizing the advisory committee to its full potential, according to the GAO

The International Space Station United States National Laboratory is managed by the CASIS (Center for the Advancement of Science in Space), which is a non-profit entity with primary research facilities in the United States Orbital Segment of the International Space Station (ISS). The nonprofit is not fully utilizing the advisory group that was formed following an independent examination of the organization.

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which controls the capabilities of the ISS classified as a national laboratory, was not sharing information on how the lab was being utilized or soliciting opinions from the committee on resource allocations, according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office on June 7.

The UAC was founded by CASIS in 2020 in reaction to the conclusions of an independent investigation commissioned by the NASA agency in 2019 that heavily criticized the administration of the International Space Station national laboratory (ISSNL). The establishment of an advisory group to act as a liaison between the community of lab users and  CASIS was one of the review’s suggestions.

The GAO investigation, which was ordered by the House Science Committee leadership, revealed flaws in CASIS’ use of the 35-member UAC. “The charter, for example, stipulates that the UAC should generate information which can be utilized to guide choices on the ISSNL utilization portfolio,” according to the report. “However, when it comes to selecting how to divide resources among its areas of business, CASIS leadership has not sought advice from the UAC.”

CASIS said it did not seek input from the UAC because it believed it was unlikely the UAC could give a consensus position among all lab users, a claim the GAO dismissed. “A potential lack of user consensus does not prevent CASIS from getting information from its UAC,” the report stated. “Varied input could improve CASIS leadership’s awareness of risks and possibilities across the ISSNL portfolio, as diverse viewpoints can inform decision-making.”

While CASIS does disclose some information regarding how it distributes resources, UAC members indicated they wanted “more transparency,” such as the whole queue of payloads going to the station. “This information would assist the users to comprehend why projected resource allocations change, and better prepare them for future modifications,” they stated.

Because the resource allocation process for payloads coming to the station is “complex and fluid,” CASIS claimed it has not provided that level of detail. However, the GAO found that NASA officials admitted that there were areas for improvement.

The GAO also expressed worry about the leadership transition plan for the UAC, whose 2-year tenure is set to expire in November. “CASIS and UAC leadership have not specified a schedule for concluding the succession plan, or how existing and new members’ tenure will overlap,” the study indicated as of May.

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