Evolution of Evaluation Office

This is to provide a minor correction to an otherwise excellent article [“NASA Creates Office for Program and Cost Evaluation,” June 27, page 4] on NASA’s new Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation (PA&E). The PA&E function has been sited at the Langley Research Center for the last decade. The Independent Program Assessment Office provides [NASA] headquarters officials with program progress evaluations and independent cost estimates.

Prior to its relocation to [Langley] , the PA&E function was a critical element of the support provided to the administrator by the Comptroller’s Office. From the early 1970 s through mid-1990 s, the PA&E group enabled the [NASA] administrator to receive early warning alerts on program and cost problems, and compare a program office’s estimate for proposed new starts to an independent cost estimate for programs.

The office also led or participated in studies of alternative program and institutional strategies. Technical and management experts from across NASA were employed — as they are today — to complement the small group of program analysts and cost estimators. The staff resources of the chief engineer and comptroller worked closely together on studies, ranging from the human spaceflight program to robotic science missions. For example, the new administrator, Mike Griffin, used these resources when as chief engineer he led a study team on heavy-lift launch vehicles and later in the 1993 space station redesign.

With few exceptions, such as the 1987 Space Station Freedom independent cost estimate, the products generated by the PA&E group were provided only to the administrator and key staff. In 1990, the panel on the future of the civil space program, led by Norman Augustine, recommended that the administrator would benefit from having a separate office that was decoupled from the budget formulation process.

Augustine was a firm believer in published program analyses and cost estimates. This was a contested issue, because the comptroller believed in the value of infusing the strategic and tactical budget decisions process with the independent analytical products. Separating the two groups would make this a more difficult coordination process. The administrator decided to keep the PA&E group within the newly-named Office of the NASA Chief Financial Officer.

In 1992, Dan Goldin became administrator and established a somewhat different program management structure that led to the establishment of the Program Management Council. The Program Management Council was set up to review the status of programs, providing a forum where the program associate administrators could present their assessments of program status.

When I became acting chief financial officer and comptroller in 1993, I was a member of the Program Management Council , and certainly influential, but less so than my predecessors. Goldin wasn’t a big fan of the cost-estimating process, believing that the estimates reflected the bias of past program experiences. He referred to the process as “estimating looking out of the back window of a bus.” He preferred establishing “affordability” targets that the programs and projects would be stretched to achieve, using innovative ways of doing business.

In a decision coupled to the downsizing of the headquarters in 1995, I had to agree that it was possible to relocate the cost-estimating group — by then numbering about 10 — to a geographically separate location. The quid pro quo was that the office would be able to use the engineering talent of the Langley Research Center to add a greater engineering analysis flavor to their products.

As a result, the Independent Program Analysis Office was created at Langley, and has been doing program and cost evaluations since then in support of the Program Management Council . Administratively, the decision was to have it report formally to the Office of the Chief Engineer, with a dotted line connection back to the comptroller.

During my tenure as comptroller, I worked with the chief engineer to pre-review the program analysis products, especially cost estimates, that the Independent Program Analysis Office generated. These products were then given the Program Management Council.

Malcolm L. Peterson, Former acting NASA chief financial officer and comptroller

PA&E Function Existed

Whereas a focused office at NASA for Program Analysis and Evaluation (PA&E) is appropriate and welcomed, in 1995, NASA added to the Chief Engineer’s Office the requirement to establish a “small, elite civil service staff” to perform independent cost and program analysis for the administrator.

This staff was organized and stationed at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., reporting to and funded by the Chief Engineer’s Office. The office reported to the administrator through the Program Management Council, which was chaired by Deputy Administrator Jack Daily. The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) subcommittee on management reviewed the status of the Independent Program Assessment Office several times in the late ’90 s and was pleased with the process for reviewing the key NASA programs.

The office was and still is called the Independent Program Assessment Office. This office has per formed the intent of the Augustine Commission’s recommendation for the last 10 years and now reports to the newly formed PA&E Office along with other functions, such as the Cost Analysis group.

The added tasks for the PA&E office, which has not been done independently by a permanent organization at NASA is to formulate or independently assess strategies such as those mentioned in your article [“NASA Creates Office for Program and Cost Evaluation,” June 27, page 4], ( how to terminate shuttle and accelerate the Crew Exploration Vehicle, optimum outcome of Hubble, etc). This function is very important and will improve decision making in the agency. The assessment of ongoing programs and their ability to meet their cost, schedule and performance commitments will continue as it has since 1995.

Keith Hudkins Senior advisor to the NASA chief engineer