questionable oversight, including heavy attendance of monitoring staff at project meetings. Redundant oversight in a period of constrained budgets can impose especially severe penalties.
Historically, a hallmark of NASA management has been rigorous engineering oversight and penetration into all high-value space flight projects extending well beyond the safety-critical human flight programs. This management practice was established early in the Apollo Program and grew in intensity with mission complexity, becoming identified within NASA as a key component and major contributor to early agency success. High-visibility accidents such as the Apollo Command Module launchpad fire, Skylab meteoroid shield failure, and the 1986 Challenger accident only reinforced the belief that active independent program oversight was necessary for success. The Rogers Commission Challenger report10 was particularly critical of decentralized NASA management, so that attention was further focused on strong Headquarters oversight, short rein on center authority, and an independent review process to balance the decision-making process. Delegation of program execution exclusively to project managers at field centers was not viewed as compatible with the oversight requirement, and program management was centralized at NASA Headquarters with a Levels 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4 chain-of-command architecture (Administrator's Office, associate administrator, lead center, center project office, and contractor management, respectively). A strong argument can be made that this heightened oversight worked, but not without costs. The practice has penetrated most of NASA' s programs, bringing with it the bureaucracy necessary for its implementation. The Space Shuttle and Space Station programs have clearly been subject to this renewed management style fashioned during the Apollo era; however, science programs within the agency have also seen tighter control and oversight from Headquarters, especially since the Hubble Space Telescope mirror problem.
For a number of reasons, management decisions being made at NASA over the past several years are reversing this trend. Reasons include declining budgets, substantial NASA staff reductions, and an emphasis on shorter development cycles and smaller-scale projects. Greater responsibility and accountability for project execution are being given to contractors. The large human space flight programs, the Space Shuttle and Space Station, have also seen decreased centralization and delegation of authority to the field sites. These delegations are consistent with the movement of Total Quality Management principles to the forefront of both government and industry, where the intent is to build in quality from the beginning, rather than try to achieve it through intensive oversight.
Recommendation 4-10: NASA should maximize delegation of project responsibility to the executing agents of its space science programs (center, laboratory, university, or industry) and minimize redundant NASA oversight. This practice can yield excellent results at an affordable cost. High-value, one-of-a-kind space science missions may justify increased independent oversight. If necessary, this increased oversight should be clearly established in the program definition stage and should not be permitted to creep or evolve with program maturity. The committee makes no recommendation regarding oversight, delegation of responsibility, or privatization in the human spaceflight program.
Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, Washington, D.C., 1986 (5 volumes).