Mocking Cost Overruns And Schedule Slips At NASA (Update)

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2019/hertz.jpg

Keith's note: This Powerpoint chart (enlarge) was shown yesterday by NASA Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz to the Astro2020 Decadal Survey Committee Meeting at the National Academy of Science where they are working on the next decadal plan. At the heart of this plan is a strategic discussion of what resources can reasonable be expected to be available during the time frame under consideration and how to prioritize their wish list accordingly. We're all familiar with the immense cost overruns and schedule delays for the Webb Space Telescope.

I have watched Paul Hertz make these sort of presentations over the years. It is obvious that he has spent far too much time inside the alternate reality bubble at NASA and is unaware how charts like this can be interpreted by external eyes or, via webstreaming, that his words can be heard by external audiences. To be certain this is one chart from a larger presentation that I did not hear. That is the problem with NASA Powerpoint charts and their stilted language. When they escape into the wild they stand on their own without context as this chart has. But the words say what they say. Nowhere do we see words to the effect that cost overruns and schedule slips are bad and are to be avoided. Why state the obvious, eh? Maybe if it gets stated more often people at NASA will start to pay attention to these delays/overruns.

As NASA Administrator Bridenstine noted in testimony before the Senate yesterday "NASA has not been good at realistic budgets and schedules. We need to get better at that. ... We have a long history at NASA for cost and schedule not being set in a realistic way and that leads to a lack of confidence in people - such as this committee." Whether it is Webb or Mars landers or SLS NASA has some major work to do to restore confidence in its budgeting and program management.

As such you would think that official NASA presentations would take the matter seriously and not be flippant or try and debunk cost overrun "myths" or negate their impact as not being all that bad. Moreover, one would think that the Administrator's concerns would translate into a more serious tone about the budget realities that lie ahead and not feed the collective denial among space scientists who think that they are running all of their programs just fine and more money is always available.

Just sayin'

I sent a request to Paul Hertz, SMD, and PAO asking "Can you provide me with the background information used by SMD to reach the conclusions stated on this chart? Also: are there any charts in your presentation that state that cost overruns and schedule slips are bad and are to be avoided?" Hertz will ignore my request.

Keith's note: Response from Paul Hertz (surprised me): "My complete chart set is posted at https://www8.nationalacademies.org/pa/projectview.aspx?key=51398#MeetingId11211.

You posted Chart 59.

"Are there any charts in your presentation that state that cost overruns and schedule slips are bad and are to be avoided?" -- See charts 69-72.

"NASA has always spent 55%-70% of the annual budget on developing large missions." - See Chart 58. This statement is only about Astrophysics (that was clear in the context of the presentation, but it is not explicitly stated).

"When a flagship overruns, it delays the next flagship. NASA protects R&A and the Explorers from flagship overruns to maintain a balanced program." - See Chart 36 (amount of funding for R&A or Explorers during period of Webb overruns). This statement is only about Astrophysics (that was clear in the context of the presentation, but it is not explicitly stated).

"The reduction in Explorer launch rate around 2010 was due to a reduction in the overall Astrophysics budget." - See Chart 36 (top line from FY09 to FY13)."

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Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium September 10 - 12, 2019






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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on July 18, 2019 10:38 AM.

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