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10 Overarching Issues and Recommendations In the course of reviewing the overall quality of the to the Senior Management Council (SMC) recommending space communications program of NASA’s Space Opera- that the fractionated space communications management tions Mission Directorate (SOMD), the committee made structure within NASA headquarters be replaced with a more observations on a number of issues that seemed to be signifi- centralized approach. The resulting SMC decisions have not cant to the overall program. been finalized; however, the SOMD recommendations seem to have been accepted. Final SMC decisions are expected to be in place in late spring 2006. It was not within the LIMITS OF REVIEW committee’s purview to review the advantages and disad- The statement of task for this study called for the com- vantages of consolidating NASA space communications mittee to assess the quality and effectiveness of the SOMD management functions. However, the committee made sev- space communications program, and the report has thus nec- eral observations in this area, noting that: essarily focused on the various elements that fall within the Space Communications Office (SCO). However, as noted • Centralized NASA headquarters management and elsewhere, much of the space communications work at funding of space communications worked well for NASA NASA takes place in directorates other than SOMD and for more than 30 years until 1996. therefore was outside the purview of this study. As a result, • The planned reorganization apparently will central- the committee did not review the Exploration Communica- ize space communications requirements and architectures tions Architecture, Deep Space Network Interplanetary and realign the associated budgets, thus affecting visibility Communications Architecture, Alternate Communications into and management of very large current and future NASA Approaches under the Science Mission Directorate, and sev- programs for generations to come. eral communications technologies managed by other direc- • Changing management structures is not a panacea. torates. This limited scope of work eliminated significant Reorganizations are often disruptive, countering the ex- communications programs that the committee believes pected benefits. For instance, the last shift in space commu- would have benefited from a review, and also prevented the nications management resulted in the loss of 90 percent of committee from providing a comprehensive review of the the space communications program management experience overall architecture of NASA’s work in space communica- base that had previously existed at NASA headquarters. Most tions. As discussed further below, NASA has recently begun personnel either retired or were reassigned to unrelated pro- making plans to consolidate all of its communications func- grams. tions within a single office or directorate. Once this consoli- dation is accomplished, NASA might wish to consider car- Recommendation: Major changes in modus operandi, such rying out a more complete review that covers all of the as realigning top-level management and funding responsi- agency’s space communications programs. bilities, should be preceded by a transition plan that outlines the objectives of the changes and ensures that past corpo- rate knowledge is considered by the new organization. The CENTRALIZED SPACE COMMUNICATIONS committee recommends a thorough review of the lessons MANAGEMENT WITHIN NASA HEADQUARTERS learned from past reorganizations so that NASA can avoid In March 2006 the SOMD presented a decision briefing repeating unsatisfactory consequences. 71
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73 OVERARCHING ISSUES AND RECOMMENDATIONS and the reimbursable funding needed from outside the In presentations made to it the committee heard many agency. comments on the difficulties caused by the manner in which The committee notes that the projected reorganization funding for government staff is accounted for in budgets. of space communications management at NASA offers the The committee did not review this issue, but the comments opportunity for an end-to-end review of the requirements indicate fairly widespread concerns within the workforce. validation process across all space communications pro- grams at the agency and the development of consistent best Recommendation: One of the early reviews to be conducted practices that can address the potential issues cited above. by the newly centralized NASA headquarters space commu- nications management should include a detailed analysis of the personnel needs of the space communications program. NASA WORKFORCE This review should consider the minimum civil service staff- The committee’s review revealed an overarching con- ing levels needed, likely upcoming retirements, availability cern regarding the NASA workforce. At NASA headquar- of comparable replacements, the impact of full-cost account- ters and at the centers, the committee found a highly experi- ing on the ability to hire civil service replacements, and the enced staff that was efficiently supporting multiple programs proper mix of civil service and contractors required to per- from an efficient matrix organization. The committee also form the mission. found strong working relationships with customers, contrac- tors, and external organizations and judged that these rela- PROGRAM PLAN tionships had been critical to the current success of the SOMD space communications program. The committee NASA spends a great deal of money on space commu- noted, however, that some elements within the SCO had nications in order to provide a capability that is critical to the minimal civil service staffing and were relying heavily on success of human spaceflight and science missions. The contractors to accomplish the program’s mission. The com- committee found that formal planning documents exist for a mittee was unable to identify opportunities for further gov- number of individual elements, or aspects of elements, ernment personnel reductions in these elements. within the SOMD space communications program. How- To the contrary, the committee noted that much of the ever, there was no overarching plan for the conduct of that communications workforce, and particularly its leadership, space communications program. is nearing retirement. NASA has young, very talented pro- fessionals awaiting their turn to move up in the organization, Recommendation: The committee recommends that NASA but they are too junior to fill the vacuum that could well take the opportunity presented by the impending reorgani- occur in the next few years as the current leaders retire. In zation of space communications to develop a program plan addition, it is likely that as the agency’s veterans of space and vet this plan with the participating centers and NASA communications retire, the interpersonal relationships that headquarters elements to ensure that it is executable and fits currently facilitate their success will no longer exist, and within the vision expressed in the NASA strategic plan. In higher staffing levels will be required in the future to accom- addition, those elements of space communications that cur- plish the same tasks with more junior, less experienced re- rently do not have formal element-level planning documents placements. This problem is not unique to NASA space com- should develop plans that are tailored to the size and com- munications work, but it is one that must be dealt with if the plexity of the activity in that element. agency is going to continue to provide the superior level of performance that the public has come to expect.
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