Editor's 25 Aug note: The following farewell message was openly sent to several hundred employees at NASA MSFC. It is well worth reading.
Editor's 26 Aug Update: The author of this memo has responded with additional comments.
From: Finckenor, Jeffrey L. (MSFC-EV32)
Sent: Monday, August 25, 2008 8:23 AM
To: [Hundreds of people at NASA MSFC and Elsewhere]
Subject: Farewell Address
I wanted to let you know that I am leaving NASA. I am leaving civil service and going to work on Army helicopters, within walking distance of my current desk. My last day here is September 5.
In my 19 years here I have always been struck and humbled by the amazing level of talent of all of you. As well as how friendly, helpful and dedicated so many people have been. During much of my career here I've been tickled that I could actually get paid to do things that were so much fun.
As many of you can probably guess, the immediate cause of my departure is the CAD/PDM issue, but even I realize that this is just a symptom of much larger, agency wide problems. It just happens to be the particular symptom I'm close to and know something about. Over the last few years numerous people have asked if there was any hope the CAD/PDM problem could be fixed. My answer was usually that "I'm still here, so I still have hope". Well, I no longer have hope. With catastrophic level risks accumulating across the program, and a steadfast refusal to accept reality, it's become clear to me that as bad as things are they are going to have to get a whole lot worse before the pieces can be picked up and we can get something that works.
At the highest levels, there seems to be a belief that you can mandate reality, followed by a refusal to accept any information that runs counter to that mandate. I'm sure you can all think of multiple examples (having nothing to do with CAD) without trying very hard. This reminds me of Clark's law: "Sufficiently advanced cluelessness is indistinguishable from malice" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clark%27s_Law). I've heard others use terms like "arrogance combined with ignorance".
If you've seen the recent NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel report, one of the things they point out is how low morale is at such an early stage in the program. Early on, expectations and excitement are supposed to be at the highest. To me there seems to be a connection. A number of you have said to me words along the lines of "if I do my part well, then maybe I can hope all these other problems will get worked out." I hope they do get worked out, and I'm sorry that my contributions are no longer desired.
Then between us workers and the highest levels of management another problem exists. As one person put it: "Where does the bad news stop going up?" Again, I'm sure you all know of situations where people are trying to raise red flags, but somehow they never get addressed. It reminds me of the old joke about promoting growth with powerful effects.
http://www.thejokejukebox.com/jokes/817.php (S-word warning). One group I know of is considered a success at the highest levels, not because they've achieved anything, but only because they've voiced problems. Program level management is so amazed at getting actual input from workers that it doesn't matter that the news itself is bad.
And I regret that, despite mandatory "No Fear" training, retaliation is real even if kept strictly legal. I've been here awhile, and am not naive enough to expect much thanks for helping maintain the critical path for the last 3 years. However I didn't expect a threat of personnel actions that typically lead to firing. I didn't expect to be personally badmouthed by an ED manager in public (when I was not there) on more then one occasion. However I'm not surprised that the fact that I talked to the IG was relevant in determining if I would get the one job that might have kept me at NASA. When I first started arguing that MSFC had made a bad decision it was with the sure knowledge that it might cost me my job. For the past 3 years I've wondered if I'd still be here 6 months later, and now that time has come - despite the fact that things are arguably worse then we predicted 3 years ago.
I am relieved that I can put this stress behind me. And I'm glad that I can leave with a clear conscience. I've done everything I could for NASA that anyone, especially myself, could ask. I can leave knowing that I am not turning my back on NASA, but that NASA is turning its back on me. NASA has a big reality check coming and I can't begin to guess how it will all turn out.
I've loved NASA since I was a kid. The attached picture was drawn when I was 10 (if I remember right). If you can't read my 10 year old handwriting (or my 40+ handwriting for that matter :) ) it says:
"If I had a lot of money, I would like to go to the moon. the reason is I like things in space, and I could study the moon. However if I couldn't go to the moon, I would like to go to NASA and stay a few days."
I guess 7000 or so days counts as a few, so I've achieved that childhood goal.
So again, thank you for being who you are, and for reading my little cathartic message here. Thank you for being such good people, for teaching me so many things, and for making me wake up and want to come to work for so many years. You deserve a healthy and robust space program, and I hope you get it.
I'm sure I've left off people that I should have sent this to, and I apologize for that. If you have this forwarded to you rather then getting it directly, please forgive my mistake in literally losing track of all the great people I know here.
I am looking forward to leaving the stress behind, doing some very interesting and varied engineering work (probably a little more analysis then I've done in the past), and being able to help our country in a very immediate and meaningful way.