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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.