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NASA's Perception of Size and Commerce

By Keith Cowing
October 21, 2011
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Keith’s note: This comment from NASA’s Phil McAlister via Jeff Foust on Twitter from the ISPCS (International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight) is somewhat revealing as to NASA’s preceptions in terms of the appropriate size of a government oversight office.
@Jeff_Foust: McAlister: Comm’l Crew office capped at 250, which for NASA is a very lean program; “not a standing army but a platoon.” #ispcs
According to Wikipedia (and other references) a platoon contains 26-55 individuals. McAlister is off by a factor of 5 to 10. What McAlister is actually talking about is an organization that is somewhere between a large company or a lean battalion in size.
I’d love to see a NASA management tree and job description for each of these 250 positions in the commercial crew office. If NASA was truly interested in the use of commercial means to accomplish its mission – but also interested in the underlying managerial philosophy inherent in private sector operations – then NASA would learn to mirror the way that the private sector works. Or at least try. These comments make me question if they ever will. I wonder what the government/supplier ratio will be in terms of government oversight for Shuttle Vs commercial crew and cargo flights. Add in the people across NASA matrixed to the commerical crew office and I will bet that the total workforce greatly exceeds 250.
Reader note: “Someone check my math but the full taxpayer cost of 250 NASA civil servants is approx. $75 M per year. Does this come off the top of the appropriated funds (Senate Appropriations recently set at $500 M for 2012)? That’s a 15% overhead for the program office alone – not to mention the Center technical oversight.”
Reader note: “250 CS employees would be about $55M. I know our center uses about $220k for an FTE. Don’t know the exact number since it changes. $300k/FTE is way high.”
Keith’s 21 Oct 8:37 am EDT Update: Early this morning Anlyn Bankos from NASA’s commercial office sent me an email with two reports attached “NASA’s Return on Investment Report October 2011” and “CCDev 2 Milestone Schedule”. When I sent an email asking for the URLs at the NASA Commercial Office I got this message back from Bankos “I will be out of the office from Wednesday, February 16-Friday, February 18.If you have any questions, please contact Dick Smart.”. Wow. Its October. I guess they are not very busy – at least not busy enough for their “customers” to notice that this message is 6 months out of date.
Keith’s 21 Oct 2:00 pm EDT Update: NASA’s Return on Investment Report October 2011 and CCDev 2 Milestone Schedule are now online at NASA. It took 6 hours for them to make a simple website update.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.