During his presentation to PCAST members last week, NASA
Administrator Daniel Goldin gave his strong endorsement to the
just-released report of the NASA Federal Laboratory Review Task
Force. Twenty-six people participated in this task force, chaired
by Dr. John S. Foster.
Foster's cover letter accompanying this 95-page report summarizes
the task force's findings: "In view of the austere budget
realities, it is even more important that an aggressive effort must
be undertaken to create a lean organization from top to bottom. We
propose that Headquarters define its expectations of the Centers so
that it can reduce its staff, delegate performance to the Centers,
and cease detailed management. Center missions should be narrowed
to focus on those fundamental areas of expertise which are
critically necessary for NASA's future. Duplicative capabilities
that permit each Center to function independently of the others
should be deleted."
Research and development programs at ten NASA Centers were reviewed
in the context of the agency's five Strategic Enterprises:
Aeronautics, Human Exploration and Development of Space, Mission to
Planet Earth, Scientific Research, and Space Technology. The task
force does not recommend that any center should be closed, although
it acknowledges "perhaps some will be closed." The task force
instead focuses on preservation of NASA's critical programs, and
reducing costs by quickly downsizing.
The report provides brief descriptions of current conditions across
the centers, as well as for each of the Strategic Enterprises.
Over-all recommendations are made, in areas such as narrowing the
breadth of Center missions, reducing redundant capabilities,
developing metrics, strengthening technology transfer, privatizing
as appropriate, and reducing audits.
Other sections cover specific findings and recommendations for each
of the five Strategic Enterprises. The section on scientific
research is six pages long (life and microgravity sciences are
included in another enterprise; Mission to Planet Earth is a
separate enterprise.) The task force found fragmentation of
scientific research within NASA. It recommends continued work on
astrophysics, space physics, and fundamental earth science at the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Goddard Space Flight Center.
Research at other NASA Centers should be evaluated for transfer or
closure. A total of eleven recommendations are made in this
section, most of which are administrative or managerial.
Goldin's PCAST presentation left little doubt that he supports the
general findings of the report. He acknowledges that to implement
these changes he must traverse some "thin ice" by convincing people
that NASA's vitality should not be measured by the size of its
budget or number of its employees.
This report is not available over the Internet. To obtain a free
printed copy, write to NASA Headquarters; Washington, D.C. 20546;
Attn: News Room.