NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said April 25 he will go to China this autumn to open a dialogue with leaders of the country’s national space program.

“The Chinese have offered an opportunity for me to visit with them and discuss the beginnings of cooperation between us and them,” Griffin said during a hearing before the Senate Commerce science and space subcommittee in Washington. “The president advises me that he wishes me to accept that invitation. And I look forward to it.”

Top officials with the China National Space Administration (CNSA) invited Griffin to their country in early April. NASA officials said then that the U.S. space agency chief was considering the invitation , which came from CNSA V ice A dministrator Luo Ge during a trip to the United States that included an informal visit to NASA headquarters in Washington and a stop in Colorado Springs, Colo., to speak at the National Space Symposium.

Griffin’s announcement that he would be going to China to open a dialogue on cooperation between the two space faring nations follows an April 20 meeting in Washington between U.S. President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

While a formal date for the trip has yet to be set, Griffin said after the hearing that the trip would occur this autumn. Griffin also told reporters that he had received no direction from the White House or State Department about what he can or cannot discuss during his visit.

“I don’t have any guidelines as yet,” Griffin said. “These are just entry-level discussions. We are meeting for the first time. No one has any real good idea where everything will lead.”

Earlier in the day, speaking at the Inside Aerospace conference in Washington organized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Space Foundation, Griffin said NASA contractors carry bloated payrolls that are unsustainable in an era of flat civil space budgets.

“We don’t get enough back for what we spend,” Griffin said. “We have too many people doing every job we do,” he said, adding that he did not plan to try and trim the work forces on the space shuttle and international space station programs.

Griffin said NASA and industry must find a middle ground between the somewhat tarnished faster-better-cheaper model and the traditional program management approach as they begin work on new programs.

“We need a different path,” Griffin said, adding companies must comb through their ranks and identify those people whose work is crucial to a job and trim those who are at the periphery . And they must make sure individuals are responsible for the decisions they make, he said.

“Not everyone needs to be a stakeholder,” Griffin said, pointing to what he said was a tendency in the aerospace industry to create committees to avoid taking personal responsibility for failures. “These are cultural matters and we can fix them,” Griffin said.

He made clear to his audience — which applauded heartily at the end of the speech — that he and NASA were not blameless. “Any finger I’m pointing points both ways, ” he said.

Staff writers Colin Clark and Brian Berger contributed to this story from Washington. Comments: