3

Summary

The charge to the task group had four main elements:

  1. Assess the current OSS approach to and process for technology development and how well it meets agency needs.

  2. Assess OSS's response to the intent of recommendations regarding technology development outlined in Managing the Space Sciences.

  3. Assess the extent to which the new OSS approach addresses concerns expressed by Congress with regard to ATD in support of NASA's science programs.

  4. Recommend changes or new approaches that NASA should consider to improve ATD efficacy.

Chapter 2 addresses the first item and provides groundwork for items 2 and 3. This chapter summarizes the task group's assessment for items 2 and 3 and, in response to item 4, includes a summary list of all of the task group's recommendations to NASA.

RESPONSE TO MANAGING THE SPACE SCIENCES

The first technology recommendation in Managing the Space Sciences (NRC, 1995; see Box 1.1) addresses the need for integrated planning and effective interaction between scientists and technology developers. NASA has made good progress here, especially through the work of the Chief Technologist to develop an integrated NASA technology plan and through the new OSS technology roadmaps and the planning process being established by the AT&MS Division. There is more work to be done, however, to increase and improve the involvement of the broad scientific community in establishing consensus plans and priorities for cross-cutting and long-term technology activities. There also is still a need for having the NASA Chief Scientist as a key senior participant in the planning process along with the Chief Technologist.

The second recommendation addresses roles and responsibilities for near-term technology development. NASA's assignment of responsibility for mission-specific technologies to the individual enterprises is fully consistent with this recommendation. In the case of OSS, the planning process for mission-specific, near-term technology development appears to be working well, especially for the focused-programs element. Nevertheless, the task group remains concerned that there appears to have been little response to the portion of the recommendation that states “all categories of technology development [including near-term] should be undertaken by the best-qualified individuals or teams within NASA, industry, or academia,” as determined by external review (see Box 1.1).

The third technology recommendation in Managing the Space Sciences addresses the potential of far-term technology development to significantly enhance future mission cost-effectiveness or even revolutionize some aspects of space science. The transfer of the cross-cutting technology program formerly under the Office of Space Access and Technology to OSS



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Assessment of Technology Development in NASA's Office of Space Science 3 Summary The charge to the task group had four main elements: Assess the current OSS approach to and process for technology development and how well it meets agency needs. Assess OSS's response to the intent of recommendations regarding technology development outlined in Managing the Space Sciences. Assess the extent to which the new OSS approach addresses concerns expressed by Congress with regard to ATD in support of NASA's science programs. Recommend changes or new approaches that NASA should consider to improve ATD efficacy. Chapter 2 addresses the first item and provides groundwork for items 2 and 3. This chapter summarizes the task group's assessment for items 2 and 3 and, in response to item 4, includes a summary list of all of the task group's recommendations to NASA. RESPONSE TO MANAGING THE SPACE SCIENCES The first technology recommendation in Managing the Space Sciences (NRC, 1995; see Box 1.1) addresses the need for integrated planning and effective interaction between scientists and technology developers. NASA has made good progress here, especially through the work of the Chief Technologist to develop an integrated NASA technology plan and through the new OSS technology roadmaps and the planning process being established by the AT&MS Division. There is more work to be done, however, to increase and improve the involvement of the broad scientific community in establishing consensus plans and priorities for cross-cutting and long-term technology activities. There also is still a need for having the NASA Chief Scientist as a key senior participant in the planning process along with the Chief Technologist. The second recommendation addresses roles and responsibilities for near-term technology development. NASA's assignment of responsibility for mission-specific technologies to the individual enterprises is fully consistent with this recommendation. In the case of OSS, the planning process for mission-specific, near-term technology development appears to be working well, especially for the focused-programs element. Nevertheless, the task group remains concerned that there appears to have been little response to the portion of the recommendation that states “all categories of technology development [including near-term] should be undertaken by the best-qualified individuals or teams within NASA, industry, or academia,” as determined by external review (see Box 1.1). The third technology recommendation in Managing the Space Sciences addresses the potential of far-term technology development to significantly enhance future mission cost-effectiveness or even revolutionize some aspects of space science. The transfer of the cross-cutting technology program formerly under the Office of Space Access and Technology to OSS

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Assessment of Technology Development in NASA's Office of Space Science appears to be a sound approach, although, as noted above, more progress is still needed to enhance scientific participation in the planning and priority-setting process. Also as noted above, use of open competition and rigorous external review for all aspects of the program is still needed. Technology recommendation 4 focuses on the roles of headquarters and the Centers. Establishment of the position of Chief Technologist in the Office of the Administrator to coordinate technology activities agency-wide and the creation of the OSS AT&MS Division to manage the OSS ATD program, including all competitions for cross-cutting activities and OSS-specific far-term activities, are consistent with this recommendation. It is important, however, to clarify the relative roles and responsibilities of the Chief Technologist and the director of the AT&MS Division. The task group was concerned also about inherent conflicts of interest in situations in which a Center is making make-or-buy decisions or managing competitions for technology development when that Center is also a competitor. Finally, proper implementation of the essential headquarters role of administering full and open competitions will require adequate headquarters staff and resources. Technology recommendations 5, 6, and 7 in Managing the Space Sciences address the roles and character of Center, industry, and academia participation in technology development. These recommendations urge NASA Centers to identify those technologies that require in-house research and development, to rely more on outside organizations for research related to other technologies, to develop aggressive programs for changing the insular culture of Centers, and to use open competition to identify and use the nation's best talent available to conduct both near-and far-term technology development. The task group was pleased to see efforts to reduce duplication between Centers and to build partnerships both among Centers and between Centers and outside organizations. As indicated in Chapter 2, however, the basis for NASA's designation of centers of excellence and of Center core competencies is not always clear, and the need for more rigorous metrics and regular external review to evaluate competence and excellence are just as critical as when Managing the Space Sciences was published in 1995. There is also a need, at least at some Centers, to pare down the core competencies to an attainable number. NASA representatives noted that for the programs transferred from the former Office of Space Access and Transportation to OSS, a transition period would be needed before the program could be put entirely on an openly competed basis so as to avoid having to precipitously cancel projects in progress. The task group accepts that rationale but remains concerned that there seems to have been very little progress toward the transition from an approach that was largely earmarked for the Centers to one that engages the best available institutions through competition. Technology recommendation 8 pertains to the need for incentives for technology utilization so that flight program and project managers would not view new technologies as threats to mission success. Here the task group saw good progress. In spite of some difficulties with the first missions in the queue, the New Millennium Program offers a promising opportunity to provide flight validation for new technologies. The task group supports the process of having flight project offices and the AT&MS Division jointly fund technologies as they are handed off from development to infusion into missions. Likewise, the OSS policy of not committing to a new start for a mission until specified technology readiness milestones are met is sound. Finally, the task group supports the plan to appoint an AT&MS Division “transition and infusion” manager to facilitate the process.

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Assessment of Technology Development in NASA's Office of Space Science The final technology recommendation in Managing the Space Sciences addresses technology budgets and the need to have adequate resources to take technologies from the laboratory bench to flight readiness. As noted above, the creation of the New Millennium Program and the recent growth in OSS technology budgets (see Table 2.1) are very positive steps. If there is a notable weakness in the OSS technology budget, it is the very low funding level for science instrument technologies compared to budgets for spacecraft systems and information systems. ADDRESSING CONGRESSIONAL CONCERNS The Congress has provided explicit direction to NASA (see Appendix A) regarding competition in making ATD awards, saying that not less than 75 percent of all ATD funds should be allocated through broad announcements of opportunity. Methods cited for meeting this direction include greater use of external reviews, greater use of guidance from advisory bodies representing the scientific community, and application to management of ATD of the approach traditionally employed for management of space science research grants. NASA officials described a plan to gradually move the ATD program from its current position with less than 50 percent of the funds awarded through open competition, to a level of nearly 70 percent by fiscal year 2000 and ultimately to a steady-state level of 75 percent, the minimum level directed by Congress. The task group believes that achieving this goal will require a concerted effort by headquarters. Also, there are no compelling arguments for stopping at 75 percent, and the task group believes strongly that a fully competitive program will best serve the interests of NASA and the space sciences. LIST OF RECOMMENDATIONS In response to the fourth task in the charge to the task group, the task group offers the following recommendations. Planning Recommendation 1. NASA's advanced technology development (ATD) planning process should be formally evaluated in 12 months, after changes that are just now being completed have had time to mature. Factors to be considered in the evaluation should include (1) responsiveness to input from the outside research community and (2) the extent to which program balance is addressed regarding such dimensions as technology push versus program pull, near-term versus far-term applications, and science instruments versus spacecraft systems. The evaluation should be conducted by an independent, external body such as the NASA Advisory Council. Recommendation 2. The planning process for cross-cutting technology should be modified so that it mirrors the process used by the Office of Space Science for space science technologies.

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Assessment of Technology Development in NASA's Office of Space Science Key attributes are the use of technology roadmaps that are linked to enterprise science roadmaps and that are developed with the broad participation of the research community. Implementation Recommendation 3. NASA should establish a comprehensive Center evaluation process that includes regular, objective, external evaluations of core competencies. Those internal core competencies essential to achieving a Center 's mission should be identified and appropriate recommendations made to achieve and maintain excellence. As a result of these evaluations, NASA will have to make difficult choices about limiting internal research emphasis in some areas. External organizations with world-class capabilities should be selected competitively to complement the in-house work and ensure maintenance of NASA's centers of excellence. ATD funds should not be set aside to provide support for in-house capability but should be earned by Centers through open competition with outside organizations. Recommendation 4. With the support of external reviewers, NASA headquarters should conduct make-or-buy decisions and competitive procurements for all long-term ATD. Recommendation 5. For near-term technology development needed to support ongoing programs already under the direction of a particular Center, that Center should conduct make-or-buy decisions. However, if the Center decides to buy, then NASA should avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest by either administering the competition and external review from headquarters or excluding from the competition all in-house organizations located at that Center. A Center decision to “make” should have headquarters concurrence. Recommendation 6. NASA should ensure that adequate resources, especially personnel, are available for headquarters to organize, conduct, and respond to the needed number of external reviews to support competitive ATD procurements. Infrastructure Recommendation 7. NASA should foster increased workforce mobility among Centers and between NASA and industry, universities, and other government agencies to facilitate the transfer of information, obtain fresh points of view, and maintain the expertise of its workforce. Expanded use of Intergovernmental Personnel Act exchanges and cooperative agreements should be considered to facilitate these efforts. Recommendation 8. NASA should take prompt action to re-staff the Office of the Chief Scientist. Recommendation 9. Full-cost accounting is essential to effective management of ATD programs, and NASA should provide sufficient resources to complete and implement a full-cost accounting system. NASA should also determine how it will address workforce issues that may

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Assessment of Technology Development in NASA's Office of Space Science be raised when funding allocations are guided by full-cost accounting and organizational excellence, as determined through full and open competition. Performance Measurement Recommendation 10. NASA should identify performance measurement approaches (including independent external reviews) and metrics (including adequate investment data) needed to effectively manage its ATD programs. The findings and recommendations of external reviews of the Centers should be reported to headquarters as well as to senior Center management. Investment data should cover the current program, and these metrics should be tracked for future use. Recommendation 11. To ensure accountability, NASA should formally respond to the recommendations contained in this task group report. Regular status reports should be made to external bodies, such as the NASA Advisory Council. REFERENCE National Research Council (NRC). 1995. Managing the Space Sciences. Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. Committee on the Future of Space Science. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

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Assessment of Technology Development in NASA's Office of Space Science APPENDIXES

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