RIF Watch question of the week: Has Dan Goldin done good things for NASA?

Please describe these things in detail.


The other day, I published an editorial entitled "Dear Congress; Leave Dan Alone. I was tired of seeing Congress focus only on Dan Goldin as they vented their concerns about Russia's participation in the Space Station Program, instead of directing their dissatisfaction at the White House where political control of this issue firmly lies.

Well imagine my surprise when the very same people who would normally cheer me on as I take issue with anything having to do with the way Dan Goldin runs NASA immediately started sending me notes and calling to say that I was letting Dan off the hook too easily or that I was getting soft. All this after I had received compliments about my summary of Dan's most recent appearance before Congress from some of the very same people.

How interesting. I cut Dan a millimeter of slack ....how about a meter?

I have told folks, jokingly, that I am sometimes tempted to create an Anti-RIF Watch website under a pseudonym - not to deceive anyone - but instead, to elicit other viewpoints and to keep the debate lively so as to serve as a check and balance for RIF Watch.

As Mr .Spock said in "Star Trek VI", in quoting an ancient Vulcan proverb: "Only Nixon could go to China." Well, perhaps only RIF Watch would be crazy enough to elicit comments from RIF Watch readers as to the positive aspects of Dan's tenure as NASA Administrator.

The recent 1996 Employee survey and its subsequent analysis by Code Z provided a rather frank depiction of what NASA's employees feel about their Administrator - and their agency. While this survey was unusually revealing, it was geared towards interpretation in terms of NASA's penchant for "metrics" and "benchmarks". Only the last question gave employees a free-form chance to express themselves. While Code Z staff did a remarkably good job collating representative samples of these comments, they didn't include everything.

Something for RIF Watch readers to ponder: Dan Goldin is often chastised for his relentless in-your-face, chaos-driven management style. Gee - just what has RIF Watch been up to this past year? I have certainly never heard the word "polite" used to describe RIF Watch.

RIF Watch is not "the solution" folks - rather, it is a reaction to, a reflection of, and a full-fledged part of "the problem". That RIF Watch exists at all points to something dreadfully wrong with this agency, its management, and the structural inability for its employees to speak and act freely.

On the other hand, the popularity of RIF Watch should serve as a clear example of the power of this medium in facilitating the exchange of information. As far as RIF Watch is concerned, the medium is often of equal importance to the message.

RIF Watch is as much a surprise to me as it is to anyone. Please remember this is the work of one person sitting at a mail-order computer in their house at night - a proverbial mouse juxtaposed to NASA, the elephant (although I do have a research staff numbering in the thousands). I have depicted Dan Goldin in an editorial cartoon as being part of the Borg. Well, sometimes I feel like Zefram Cochrane.

RIF Watch will print everything received - anonymously - unless you specifically state that you wish to identify yourself publicly.

I'll start.

NOTE: take into consideration all that has appeared on RIF Watch and it's ongoing critique of Dan Goldin's management of NASA as you read this.

When the 29 November broadcast of the News Hour with Jim Lehrer was broadcast, only a few soundbites out of 3 hours of taping made it on the air. The remainder ended up on proverbial editing room floor. Too bad - I had a lot more to say - some things that might well surprise some people.

So, what do I think about Dan Goldin? In my extended chat with the PBS film crew, I gave Dan an "A" for personal motivation and willingness to change things and an "F" for his abysmal ability to respectfully manage people. What follows is an expansion on some of the thoughts I voiced that day.

Dan Goldin is the only NASA Administrator in a long time, perhaps in the history of the agency, who I honestly believe would sit out on a grassy hill at night, look up at the stars, get a tingle, and marvel at what we might find out there. Goldin is a consummate exception to the stereotypical "good old boy" techno-bureaucrat. By definition, he embodies a challenge to all that has come before.

He has approached constituencies often over-looked or ignored by NASA; has been seen to overtly court Star Trek Fans and embrace other aspects of popular culture; personally worked his issues through Congress year after year; and traveled tirelessly across the country in support of his president's agenda. You may not like the guy, but he is probably one of the hardest working agency heads in Washington - certainly the most driven Administrator NASA has had in decades.

Goldin has shaken NASA to its very core and forced everyone within- and associated with the agency to reexamine every assumption they have ever had about their job and where NASA should be going. Regardless of who did this, it needed to be done - and he has done so with a vengeance. A lot of deadwood has exited the agency and the contractor workforce. Many people have gotten off of their butts for the first time in ages.

In many parts of NASA, crazy ideas are no longer snuffed out by the stifling inertia of government bureaucracy - and in some programs, the reinvention mantra of better-cheaper-faster has actually caught hold. Improvement is improvement and I will not fault Dan Goldin for what he has caused to occur at NASA.

Personally, I am far more interested in who follows Dan Goldin as NASA Administrator - whenever that may be -both because of what they will have to heal the wounds - but also because they will inherit a stripped down, leaner, and in some quarters, more relevant and efficient NASA.

Your turn.

Keith Cowing
Editor, RIF Watch

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on March 8, 1997 1:01 PM.

Prepared Statement by Dan Goldin Before The House Science Committee was the previous entry in this blog.

ECLSS Assessment of Mir Hardware Systems is the next entry in this blog.

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