Some Centers Compete for work, Others do not?

Marshall's launch role is secure, chief says - New NASA administrator eased concerns, King says, Huntsville Times

"Marshall Space Flight Center will not have to compete with other NASA centers or aerospace companies for launch vehicle work, Marshall Director Dave King told a group of community leaders Wednesday."

Editor's note: Hmmm. This is interesting. Griffin now seems to be reversing the approach that had been taken prior to his arrival - i.e. that field centers would now have to compete for things. Either that - or he is giving MSFC some sort of special treatment. Also, it would seem that in some important ways, MSFC is now immune from the need to outsource. Here is what Griffin actually said publicly on Monday:

"I can't imagine returning to the moon or going to Mars, or developing the capability to explore and utilize the new earth (ph) asteroids without the capabilities that Marshall Space Center brings to bear. Marshall is our launch vehicle center. We're not going to be establishing another one, and we can't get there with none of them. So we have one, and it isn't going to go away; it's crucially important to me. Marshall has other skills as well, but their prime directive is to be NASA's launch vehicle center."

"I'm not going to change that. I wouldn't want to if I could. I--I cannot imagine that there is a center within NASA that is better positioned for the future, given the president's vision for space exploration than is Marshall."

Griffin's thoughts on the topic from 2003:

Prepared Statement by Michael Griffin 8 May 2003

"We have made most of the mistakes that can be made, mistakes which would have put any commercial enterprise mercifully out of its misery, in favor of a competitor with a better approach. But because the development of space launch vehicles has been almost exclusively a government enterprise, and because the few and only competitors have been other governments, normal market mechanisms are absent, and we continue to muddle along. This does not mean that all of our problems would be solved if we merely turned space launch over to industry, and restricted the government's role to supervising the purchase of tonnage per year to orbit. The contrary fact is true; the government's role in sponsoring appropriate technology and systems development is crucial, if effective launch vehicle technologies and an efficient free market in space transportation are ever to exist. We simply need to do it better than we have so far demonstrated."

Reader Comments (Send yours to nasawatch@reston.com):


With this pronouncement by the MSFC Center Director, you could almosthear a collective sigh of relief in the air here. :-)


Few people would prefer to compete to provide a provide service when for decades they have had a putative entitlement to such work. Yet, the quality and efficiency of any product or service is almost always better when organizations have competed for the opportunity to provide it.

Twenty-five years ago, NASA scientists lost their entitlement to do earth and space science and had to go out and win opportunities through AO's and NRA's. Decades of experience conclusively show that this has had a vast beneficial effect for the agency. World-class PI's submit proposals for investigations from all over the country, and NASA scientists win their share. We have cultivated an ethic of excellence through competition and it has happened. Think about MER, Cassini, WMAP, IMAGE--science teams or even whole missions competed for and won by outstanding teams from within and outside NASA.

A NASA Center should not compete for all the work it does. But teams that have competed for the precious opportunity to do science or missions in space almost always make their *entire* organization stronger for the experience. Competition works--don't fear it, colleagues! If it works in decidedly blue Maryland and California, then there's no reason to think it won't in the profoundly red states of Alabama, Texas, and Florida.


Give the new Administrator some room. I believe he is confused because he is somewhat new. MSFC has not had a launch Operations Directorate since about 1962 or 63 when KSC was established. He probably means MSFC has a Launch vehicle development role, particularly propulsion systems, but they dont launch! This would certainly be true if the Administrator goes for a Shuttle Derived heavy lift vehicle. The problem at MSFC is all the extraneous jazz they retained even though their propulsion capabilities probably have been reduced by more than one-half since the mid 90. In fact, NASA Centers lost 125 Centuries of civil service S&E government experience between mid 90s and early 2000s, because of buy-outs and random attrition. Believe it or not, targeted legal RIFs would have had less impact. Have a good day. I hope this communication is of some help to you.


Keith,

Thekey portion of Mike Griffin's comments are:

"Griffin: I can't imagine returning to the moon or going to Mars, or developing the capability to explore and utilize the new earth (ph) asteroids without the capabilities that Marshall Space Center brings to bear. Marshall is our launch vehicle center. We're not going to be establishing another one, and we can't get there with none of them. So we have one, and it isn't going to go away; it's crucially important to me. Marshall has other skills as well, but their prime directive is to be NASA's launch vehicle center."

"I'm not going to change that. I wouldn't want to if I could. I--I cannot imagine that there is a center within NASA that is better positioned for the future, given the president's vision for space exploration than is Marshall."

The fact of the matter is that the approach of having field centers with decades of expertise compete for all work was dumb to begin with because it's a waste of time and money - neither of which NASA has in excess. Sure, to some bureaucrat it looks good on paper to have centers waste precious time and money generating proposals but thankfully Mike Griffin would rather recognize the core competencies each center possesses and take advantage of that to accelerate the implementation schedule. This same story could have been written in the Houston Chronicle if the subject were changed from "launch vehicle center" to "crew system design, training" or in the Orlando Sentinel if the subject were "launch vehicle processing". It does make sense to compete those tasks that are more generic in nature and therefore are capable of being performed by multiple centers and MSFC will have to compete for that workjust like everyone else.


Keith,

Concerning the MSFC role for launch vehicles, our center director is completely clueless as to what is going on in this area. Our Advanced Concepts group has been doing a multitude of preliminary studies for HQ ..... all of them are pointing to using a modified ATLAS and/or DELTA commercial rockets as the best route for heavy launch capability.....not a new launch vehicle. Even a shuttle "C" type vehicle can not compete against the commercial options in terms of cost and performance....

We had a "town hall" meeting several months ago, and someone asked what the center management was doing to prepare MSFC for transitioning from being a launch vehicle center to an in-space exploration center. His comment was " I think we will have to build a new launch vehicle.....". This is one of the problems with MSFC. Our management wants to live back in the old days, and seems to have the attitude of "We can just wait out HQ and not worry about competition, full cost accounting, etc, and just continue as before. If things get bad, we can run to Congressman Cramer and whine and cry, instead of learning new skills and moving into new areas.

There is a large amount of dissatisfaction with our current MSFC leadership.

Another problem with MSFC is the large ratio of program managers/team leads/branch chiefs/deputy director's/etc to engineers. Full cost accounting has the "good ole boy" system nervous, because they realize that most of the people they have been promoting up the ladder have very little technical skills, and programs are not going to want to pay for two supervisors to oversee one engineer/analyst. In fact, programs are starting to ask questions about who is charging to their projects and why.

Changes are coming. If I were Griffin, I would reduce immediately reduce the number of SES positions by about 40%.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on April 21, 2005 2:25 PM.

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