Published in “Impact” – LESA BULLETIN 2002-003 IFPTE LOCAL 28 AFL-CIO & CLC. Reprinted by permission

IFPTE LOCAL 28 Op Ed: “You Mean Everything Isn’t Beautiful?”

by Dr. William H. Jones

I recently had a colleague, who has been away through much of the transition to the
new Administrator, remark that he had expected morale to improve with the departure of
the former Administrator. Instead, it was his clear judgment that morale had markedly
declined. Since I write for the union and seem to articulate the popular rage well, he
naturally assumed that I would know. To be honest, I do not know. I do not interact
with any significant portion of the Agency. I am not privileged to have the grand view of
the whole. I know only the little bits and pieces that float by my door. This will not, of
course, prevent me from pontificating upon the subject just as though I did know.

Simply put, morale is low because the Agency is in utter chaos. There is no
consistent theme or pattern upon which to build long-term plans of action. Big-time
projects with goals and budgets come and go in the technological blink of an eye.
Politicized managers are so absorbed in watching for programmatic plums to snatch out
of the general jumble that no technological sense is made of anything. Even more
discouraging is the fact that Mr. O’Keefe does not seem to recognize the morale crisis in
which he is drowning. He thinks that because he meets a seemingly endless stream of
very bright, motivated, enthusiastic people, that morale is high. I am bright, I am
motivated, I am genuinely enthusiastic about what I think I can do for this Agency, but I
am also discouraged to the point of early retirement because I do not see an Agency in
any condition to use what I can do. I know many others in exactly the same condition.
In my view, the present chaos has its real roots in the political nature of the Agency.
In some distant past, the Agency, then the National Advisory Committee for
Aeronautics, was perhaps nearly free of politics; it was thought to be a good thing for
the Government to devote a little money towards learning what flight was really all about
so that our aeronautical industry could grow and mature, and that was about all the
attention it got. With the coming of the missile gap, and with the gigantic push President
Kennedy gave to that issue, NASA became a political instrument of world-spanning and
unassailable importance. The unfortunate truth, though, is that the moment Neil
Armstrong’s foot touched the surface of the moon, that all evaporated. We had met the
challenge, we had reached the goal, and the question of every day since then has really
been “Why waste any more money on space?”.

One of the things that always irritates me is how poorly the people at the top answer
those questions. Why do we need a space station? What is it going to do for us? Why
is it worth the twenty-four billion dollars we’ve spent so far and the four or six or eight
billion more they say it may cost? Even when the question is asked by a Congressman
utterly disposed to sending another couple billion to the Great States of Boeing,
Johnson, or Marshall, the answers always seem squeamish and unconvincing: to do
world-class science, to improve life here, to extend cost overruns there, to boldly go
home from this hearing alive (I may have some of these mixed up). These are the
answers of the politician talking to the politician.

To the technologist, the answer to why is far easier: to get mankind off this rock.
This planet Earth is finite: no matter how harmoniously we live with our environment, no
matter how thoroughly we utilize its every resource, it will run out. If we do not find our
way off this planet and into the infinity of space, we will overpopulate this planet into a
living hell in which the “mercies” of Mother Nature will finally control all and force upon
mankind the solutions demanded by a finite world. The knowledge and technology to
get mankind off this planet will be beyond anything ever imagined by Gene
Roddenberry. The space program does not exist to do world-class science, the worldclass
science exists to do the space program.

It is because the political answers are used in a political Congress that the Agency
drifts on from crisis to crisis. It is because the political answers are used that
management has become, very nearly to the grass roots level, political rather than
technical. Key decisions costing and distributing millions and billions of dollars are
made on a political basis rather than a technical one. Political achievement is
rewarded, not technical achievement. Frosting over all of this is the utter hypocrisy
pushed constantly by our leaders that the opposite is true, that technologists are wanted
and valued and desperately needed when even a blind technologist can see the plain
truth before him.

Did Mr. Goldin help this state of chaos along? Yes. Certainly. He eagerly accepted
budget cuts, without the political difficulties of commensurate mission cuts, in a
business that had no budget to spare. He decided in his own mind that sufficient
chanting of the right mantra could make up for all the talents and resources that he was
happily tossing away; he erected a framework of management by psychotic episode the
like of which has probably not been seen since the Roman Emperors. And Mr. Goldin
did have help from President Clinton who, perhaps rightly, decided to trade away a little
of the Agency’s cohesion for the political purpose of stabilizing the Russian
technological community (at least a little) by internationalizing the space station, a move
that most agree has seriously harmed the project itself.

And what of Mr. O’Keefe? Why hasn’t the arrival of someone with every appearance
of sanity and competence brought order to this house? To start with, change, even
from bad to good, when made with sufficient speed is, in fact, chaos. The fact that the
present course may take us to a more rational state does not mitigate the fact that
nobody seems to know what is going on or what is going to happen next. A few months
ago the Space Launch Initiative was an assured, massive program that was going
forward; this month it is being carved up to obtain money for the aging and decaying
Space Shuttle system. Whose program will be next and when will that axe fall?
Are we on a course to a more rational state? Personally, I doubt it. The curse of
politics, with all that that entails, is upon us and while this is so the morale of the
technologists will decline; they will leave the Agency and the program, as I personally
hope to do, and the disasters which so many foresee will come to pass. I do not see
Mr. O’Keefe as the one to throw politics off the back of this Agency. Mr. O’Keefe is
seen and acknowledged not as the one man uniquely qualified to lead NASA, but as a
sound, sensible administrator. His name has been mentioned as a possible head of the
Department of Homeland Security. This thought, however remote, attests to the fact
that he is one of those managers that can manage anything well rather than a man with
one, and only one, mission in life.

Dr. Jones is available through e-mail at and also reads
the news group regularly; however, he reserves the right to say nothing at his

LESA dues paying members in good standing are encouraged to submit articles for
review and possible publication for a future IMPACT Bulletin. Please send your articles
by E-mail to Alice Martinez, with a c.c. to LESA, or by mail to IFPTE, Local 28, MS 15-
10 Attn: Office Manager, Alice Martinez.

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Next union meeting Wednesday, September 11, 2002
Building 15, Room 101
12 Noon