Bolden Overhauls NASA Organization, Centralizes Chain of Command

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WASHINGTON — NASA field center directors and mission directorate chiefs will report directly to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden under organizational changes Bolden announced Feb. 23 in a memo to senior agency officials.

The heads of NASA’s 10 regional field centers and four headquarters-based mission directorates currently report to NASA Associate Administrator Chris Scolese, the agency’s third-highest-ranking official. That reporting structure was put in place by Bolden’s predecessor, Mike Griffin.

Scolese — a highly decorated engineer who served as acting NASA administrator for half of 2009 — will continue to be responsible for “integrating the technical and programmatic elements” of the agency, but NASA center directors and mission directorate chiefs “will report directly to the Administrator rather than through the Associate Administrator,” said Bolden’s memo, a copy of which was obtained by Space News.

“While Center Directors do not hold programmatic budget authority they are responsible for providing support and guidance to programs and projects in resolving technical and programmatic risks,” Bolden wrote. “I expect Center Directors to proactively work with the Mission Directorates, programs, and projects to find constructive solutions to the problems we discover. This requires access and depth of penetration into mission program and project management. The Center Directors are expected to address this need within the Center’s operating framework.”

The roles and responsibilities of NASA’s four mission directorates — Aeronautics Research, Exploration Systems, Science and Space Operations — will not change, according to Bolden.

Other changes outlined in the memo include:

  • The Office of Program Analysis & Evaluation, a Griffin-era creation, will be renamed Independent Program and Cost Evaluation.
  • The Office of Strategic Communication will be disbanded and the heads of NASA’s legislative and intergovernmental affairs, education and public affairs departments will report to Bolden.
  • A Mission Support Directorate will be created and put under the direction of an associate administrator — reporting to Bolden — who will be responsible for operations management, construction of facilities and infrastructure funds. The Mission Support Directorate will absorb many of the functions of the Office of Institutions and Management, which will be disbanded.

The memo also formalizes the re-establishment of two offices that were vacant during Griffin’s tenure: The Office of the Chief Technologist and the Office of the Chief Scientist.

Bolden introduced Georgia Institute of Technology researcher Robert Braun as NASA chief technologist during a Feb. 3 all-hands meeting at agency headquarters here. NASA spokesman Michael Cabbage said Feb. 24 that Bolden had yet to name a chief scientist.

Bolden said the headquarters changes should be completed by late March and the field center changes by late April.

NASA Associate Deputy Administrator Charles Scales, a long-time NASA employee who previously led the Office of Institutions and Management, is leading a transition team responsible for implanting the organizational changes.

“These changes will strengthen NASA’s capability to successfully execute our programs and projects,” Bolden wrote. “I look forward to working with a more integrated team and functioning together to advance our Nation’s goals on Earth and in space exploration for the benefit of humanity.”