Effective management of cross-cutting technologies by OSS requires improved collaboration and communication among enterprises and individuals, even if many of the latter are already stretched. The task group recommends a planning process that mirrors the one used by OSS for the space science technologies.
The 1995 report made a number of recommendations regarding the selection and management of technology programs using the best-qualified individuals or teams within NASA, industry, and academia as determined by peer review. The report went on to note that where NASA in-house capability is unable to compete on the basis of quality, NASA should decide whether to abandon the activity or to improve its quality so that it can compete. The task group believes that true, world-class competency is required to compete on such a basis and does not believe that NASA's current definition of “core competency” would meet this test of competition in many of its technologies. For one thing, some NASA Centers2 claim that their core competencies cover an extensive and broad range of technologies. No organization that has realistic fiscal constraints can hope to be competitive or world class across such a sweep. Modern industrial organizations are confining their core competency technologies to those that are key to their competitive survival and that are not available to be purchased at a lower cost on the outside. NASA should develop equivalent constructs for defining the core competencies of the Centers. NASA should recognize that when a technology important to its missions is available on the outside from either academic or industrial organizations, this fact represents a NASA success. In many cases NASA provided the vision and funding for that technology sometime in the past. NASA should now leverage that success and confine its core technologies to those needs that can not be met better by outside developers. External review can assist NASA in defining its core competencies, but competitive results in terms of degree of innovation, advances in the state of the art, and impact on cost and performance will be the ultimate test of those competencies.
Some of NASA's core competency groups are already world class and should be able to compete successfully with external groups for technology programs. Other areas may require some nurturing before achieving true core competency status. In such cases it may be necessary to target some limited ATD funds for this purpose, but a deadline should be set for accomplishing the objective, not to exceed 3 years. ATD funds should not be used more broadly to bolster in-house capability.
A narrowing of core competencies to those that meet stringent criteria will mean that NASA personnel will not be the performers in all technologies that support the principal mission responsibilities of a particular Center. In the past, NASA has relied on the “smart-buyer” argument for maintaining many of these technology development activities even when they may have been available externally. Neither the concept of core technology nor NASA's budget constraints should be invoked simply to support the continuation of past practice. Further, there is ample evidence that there are alternatives to maintaining in-house, hands-on R& D programs that can be used to achieve smart buying. The variation in approaches used by agencies of the Department of Defense such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the three military services demonstrates that there is no single avenue for procuring technology. Each agency, including NASA, can point to stunning
To distinguish between NASA Centers (e.g., Ames Research Center or Goddard Space Flight Center) and NASA's centers of excellence, the former is capitalized (“Centers”), and the latter is referred to in lower case (“centers”).