– NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told an aerospace industry audience here Jan. 11 that awarding contracts for development of the Ares 1 rocket remains his top procurement priority for 2007 notwithstanding the
space agency’s suddenly diminished budget prospects for the year.


NASA’s major planned procurement activities for 2007 include awarding separate contracts for the production of the Ares 1 upper stage and avionics unit, building a satellite to replace the Landsat 7 Earth-imaging satellite and ordering new Tracking and Data Relay Satellites to replenish the constellation already on orbit.


But with Congress planning to fund most federal agencies at their 2006 levels again this year rather than passing new spending bills, NASA’s challenge will be to keep those procurements on track with a budget roughly $500 million less than it was expecting.


Asked which procurements NASA intends to pursue this year, Griffin said he hoped to do them all but that the highest priority would be to put the Ares 1 work under contract.


“Until the Congress tells me otherwise I intend to do them all. My highest priority of course is the Ares upper stage and the whole Ares vehicle,”
said following a speech at a breakfast here sponsored by the Space Transportation Association.


said setting the agency’s priorities for the year would be done in consultation with the White House and Congress, noting that the legislature has the final say on spending matters.


To the extent to which I get a vote, replacing our ability to put our own people into space by our own means and to do so reliably and above all else safely is our number two priority at NASA,” Griffin said, referring to the agency’s efforts to field the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and its Aries 1 rocket no later than 2014 – four years after the space shuttle is due to be retired. “Our number one priority is to finish assembly of the international space station and continue to fly the shuttle safely.”


“Everything else comes after that and I hope to do as much of all of the rest of our priorities as Congress allows with the budget that they pass,” he said.


To help make up the anticipated $500 million shortfall -‑ and to put the agency on a leaner footing for the possibly tight budget years ahead -‑
has ordered an internal “Mission Focus Review” to scrutinize the agency’s mission directorates and mission support offices for savings.


NASA is organized into four primary mission directorates (aeronautics, exploration systems, science, and space operations) and a half-dozen mission support offices that handle everything from financial management and information technology to public affairs, educational outreach, and compliance with government contracting rules and regulations.


“Quite simply, our view is that NASA as an institution should stop doing those things which have grown up within the agency during less focused times, things that do not directly contribute to our mission,”
said during his speech. “This is not an approach to doing more with less; we simply need to do less. We need to eliminate activities which are less important, in favor of those which are more important.”


also called for creating “technically strong, but numerically smaller, project offices” within the mission directorates.


“We all know that significant cost reductions on a given task are only possible if we can reduce labor costs,” he said. “There are few savings to be had in the cost of raw materials. Our tooling and manufacturing processes are largely dependent on the technology of a given era, and thus are not commonly subject to short-term improvements. So, unless we all want to work for lower salaries, we must turn our attention to the number of people we allocate to doing a job.”


Following his prepared remarks, a member of the audience reminded
that previous internal reviews aimed at wringing savings out of nonessential activities proved politically tough to implement.


said he had no intention to flout the will of Congress, but beyond that had no compunction about eliminating activities nonessential to the agency’s mission objectives.


“Obviously if an activity has such a strong political constituency that Congress tells me not to eliminate it, then I won’t,”
said. “But other than that, I don’t know whose opinion I care to hear. I’m a lot meaner than most people that you know.”


“We are taking a very fine-tooth comb to the things being done at NASA and saying, ‘Does this contribute to getting space station built? Does this contribute to getting us to the Moon? Does this contribute to getting us to Mars? Does it bring home an important piece of scientific work? Does it help [the James Webb Space Telescope]? Does it help Mars Science Lab? Does it help aeronautics?’ And if it doesn’t help one of those things, why are we doing it?” he asked. “It’s really got to earn its way into a spread sheet.”


cited as one example of wasteful spending the large number of “glossy brochures printed up to elucidate some aspect of life at the agency.”


“I know you know how in touch I am with feelings, right? That should give you some clue for how much I will care when we eliminate some of these things,” he said.