Garver: No Change for the Sake of Change

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PASADENA, Calif. — NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver says she and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden have spent much of their first 60 days in office preparing the agency to chart the course it will pursue under U.S. President Barack Obama.

“We didn’t come here to have change for change’s sake, but to more effectively manage NASA’s unique capabilities and resources for the better of the country,” Garver said in a Sept. 16 interview here. “We are … formulating a plan for going forward and obviously working with the mission directorates to see that they are going to be willing to take on the challenges of where it is the space agency plans to go under this administration.”

The White House and NASA are busy mulling the results of the human spaceflight review former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine led over the summer. Of the five options presented to White House and NASA officials Sept. 8, three would dramatically alter the agency’s five-year-old plan to replace its retiring space shuttle fleet with rockets optimized for the Moon.

Although Garver declined to answer questions related to the Augustine panel, she said she and Bolden have been balancing day-to-day decision-making and drafting big-picture strategies.

With no significant budget boosts expected under the Obama administration, Garver said NASA may lean more on international and private-sector partnerships to accomplish missions. She noted NASA has a more open attitude toward international cooperation and commercialization than it did when she served under the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

“While we were heading in that direction in the ‘90s, a lot of progress has been made,” said Garver, who served as associate administrator for NASA policy and plans.

As an example, Garver cited international agreements Bolden signed mid-September that will ease future cooperation with Canada and Europe. She also touted the agency’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration program as a good model for doing business with private companies.

“I think we’re a lot more open to outside commercial partnerships,” she said.

As NASA moves forward with commercial initiatives, Garver said the agency will apply lessons learned from some of the commercialization missteps it made in the 1990s.

“For NASA to have pushed some areas in commercialization where there was not yet the pull by an outside market is a lesson learned. I also feel that, unfortunately, we have been not lucky in our timing,” she said, citing VentureStar, Lockheed Martin’s failed effort to combine federal funding and private capital to bring a single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle to market. “In my view, that’s no reason not to keep trying.”

Garver said NASA should outsource only those areas where industry is “actively wanting to take over” and willing to invest private money. “And then NASA has to be willing to somewhat step aside and not provide the direct oversight that we do when we’re a direct contractor,” she said.

In addition, NASA might need to rely more on international cooperation and private-sector partnerships to accomplish a slate of climate-monitoring missions that look to be more expensive than estimated by the National Academy of Sciences.

Garver, who was sworn into office alongside Bolden July 17, described her role at NASA as the chief operating officer, focused on the agency’s management.

Since she left NASA for the private sector in 2001, the agency has undergone multiple management overhauls. NASA today is divided into four mission directorates and seven mission support offices. Its 10 field centers report to a third-in-command associate administrator position re-established under former NASA chief Mike Griffin in 2005. Griffin also reshuffled NASA’s workload and made sure each field center had a stake in the success of the Moon-bound Constellation program.

“Constellation has been embedded in many, if not all, of the centers,” Garver said. “So when I left we had centers of excellence and centers reported directly to mission directorates. And that is no longer the case. And that brings with it challenges.”