Read Dan Goldin's lips: Better-Cheaper-Faster is Better-Cheaper-Faster

Synopsis: Dan Goldin made some rather interesting comments today during his closing session commentary on the recommendations made by the NASA Advisory Committee (NAC). His comments were prompted by the recommendations made by the NAC regarding an earlier presentation on what NASA thinks "Better - Cheaper - Faster" means. The NAC had expressed some concern over just what this phrase meant at NASA - and how all three components could be achieved - and measured.

Goldin stated that when he says Better -Faster-cheaper "I mean better, I mean faster, and I mean cheaper." He immediately moved on to complain that instead of heeding his guidance, many aerospace companies and NASA managers have manipulated his words to mean whatever them to mean. He sated that he was 'furious with the JPL Director" for stating that as far as Mars Pathfinder was concerned adopting a better-cheaper -faster approach had meant a decision to go with a single string design approach - and that "Goldin had said so".

Goldin also decried aerospace companies who "bid to win" and "lowball the costs" when he really wants to see them "bid to perform". He took straight aim at the lawyers who are hired construct these proposals with "weasel wording" designed to allow them to get what they need out of the process instead of what the government is asking for. If you agree with Goldin's theme (which I do) part of the consequence of the low-ball, bid-to-win proposals is that the inevitable (performance realities) eventually come home to roost.

He said that the first thing that contractors try to do to offset this situation is "to cut out redundancy and testing to save money". He cited one example, Lockheed Martin's new Launch Vehicle which is scheduled to launch the Lunar Prospector. Stating that it was Lockheed's idea to commercialize the launcher in the first place" he slammed Lockheed Martin for their attempts to cut back on testing (ostensibly to save money) with the company's explanation that it was "not part of their contract". Goldin placed this in the context of a incredulous NASA faced with "launching a payload on a vehicle when the first one crashed". He recalled being upset during a briefing by Lockheed Martin executives who complained of all the money they were going to have to sink into finishing up the vehicle and that they couldn't sink any more into it. Goldin wasn't going to have any of it.

Goldin also cited his dissatisfaction with Orbital Sciences Corporation's Pegasus XL noting that they did not do what they said they were going to do. He said that when problems arose NASA had "to fix it using NASA money" because NASA really needed to fly on this booster and that there were no alternatives available at the time. Another consequence of these lowball-bids was the fact that often times only one vehicle is built, which while cutting costs does increase risk -and the possibility that NASA will b left to clean up the mess. Specifically Goldin said that he was "still upset" that the X-33 program 'has only one vehicle."

Although he has dumped on the launch industry before, Goldin spoke today as if he had something to get off of his chest. At several points during his comments people looked a little shocked to hear him speak this bluntly. At one point Goldin said "yes, I know this is an open meeting".

Commentary: I applaud Dan Goldin for taking this stand and agree with him 150%. Aerospace contractors need to stop treating NASA contracts as an entitlement. They also need to stop treating NASA programs as opportunities to bid low now and "get well" later. I hope Dan Goldin does not let this issue drop - and that he expands this scrutiny to include all NASA programs. Although programmatic behemoths such as the International Space Station are hard to scrutinize in a better-cheaper-faster context, contractors should always be held accountable for cost performance regardless of whether they are working on cutting edge technology or a proven approach to manufacturing.

At hearings held on Space Station Cost Overruns before the House Science Committee on 5 November 1997, Boeing Vice President Dough Stone just couldn't bring himself to use the phrase "cost overrun" even though former OSF AA Wil Trafton sat two feet away from him and freely used the phrase many times. Instead, Stone tried to sugar coat the whole situation with the convenient euphemism of "cost variance to completion". $600 million dollars worth of variance to be exact ($817 million if you listen to NASA's estimates). Boeing seems to be exhibiting the same cavalier attitude about costs on ISS that you have chided Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences for on their respective projects. Consistency, Dan. Consistency. Boeing's next performance awards are due to be announced soon. Here's a chance to make a point.

Dan, if you are truly concerned about contractors manipulating NASA contracts to suit their own business interest at the expense of the taxpayer, you will have no lack of support in Congress or among your employees as you push these contractors to bid realistically and to perform. However, if you just toss these words out to rattle some cages and then provide no follow up, the status quo will continue, fortified with the knowledge that your words have no teeth.

You also made a comment today about wanting to be able to tell Congress that some of their ideas with regards to doing things aren't technologically or economically feasible. While it is in their self-interest for politicians to bring the bacon back to their home districts, you have to assume that it is also in their self-interest see the projects actually work. No politician likes to point at a dud at election time and say "I brought you that dud".

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on December 17, 1997 12:13 PM.

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