Clarifying NASA’s Management Structure

In response to the June 23 Commentary by Daniel Baker [“The Need for Restoring Forces at NASA,” page 19], we would like to clarify several points about NASA’s budget and the relationship between the agency’s projects and field centers. This clarification provides a more balanced view of NASA’s budget challenges and the effectiveness of the agency’s management structure.

NASA’s accomplishments over the past several decades have highlighted the remarkable successes of the manned exploration and science programs within a constrained federal budget. Despite the refocusing of the space policy in 2004 and the expansion of the exploration program, the budget and content of NASA’s science mission continues to be funded today at about the same percentage of NASA’s total budget as it was then.

The implementation of full-cost accounting in fiscal year 2004 did not change the underlying budgets for the missions; the transition merely transferred the bookkeeping entries and tracking for existing activities and accounts. For example, the budget from the salary accounts for science personnel was transferred to the science budget. Similarly, then-existing salary budgets were redistributed to each of the other underlying mission and program activities. This has strengthened project management and cost discipline at NASA, because people who work on a program now are paid by that program. All costs must be identified and managed. Any changes to budgets, science or otherwise, are specifically identified and included in NASA’s budget requests.

Clearly, past cost overruns of science projects have adversely affected their content and schedule, as well as NASA’s overall science program. Efforts to fit too many projects with too many instruments into unrealistic schedules and budgets have occurred far too often.

As mandated by NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, the agency now requires explicit decisions on cost confidence levels when projects are confirmed at their preliminary design review. While this increased rigor may mean starting fewer projects and canceling those that overrun, it has renewed confidence that NASA will finish what it starts, reduce disruptions to the science community and its academic and industrial partners, and provide more effective results for the American taxpayer.

NASA also must balance the near-term program interests of mission directorates with longer-term national interests to assure we retain the technical capabilities of field centers, upon which the larger space community relies. While it is true that program offices at field centers manage 24 of 29 NASA programs, center directors and mission directorate heads each independently report to the administrator. directorates do not have institutional oversight of centers or the resident technical authorities. Center directors do not provide programmatic direction to programs or projects. This separation of authority provides the necessary checks and balances for effective management, assuring the short- and long-term vitality and success of the nation’s aeronautics and space programs.

Ron Spoehel, NASA Chief Financial Officer

Scott Pace, NASA Associate Administrator for Program Analysis and Evaluation