NASA Creates Office for Program and Cost Evaluation

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It has taken 15 years, but NASA finally has a program analysis and evaluation shop to guide strategic decisions and help keep the U.S. space agency’s wide array of projects in line as it sets out to return to the Moon.

The idea for NASA’s newly created Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation dates back to 1990, when a commission headed by former Martin Marietta chief Norm Augustine issued its landmark report on reinvigorating the U.S. space program. Among the recommendations of the Augustine Commission was the establishment of a “small, elite civil servant staff” to perform independent cost and program analysis for the NASA administrator .

But NASA never followed through , a point not lost on Scott Pace, then a young space policy analyst at the U.S. Commerce Department who thought the recommendation an especially good one.

Today, Pace is working for NASA and recently was named the agency’s first associate administrator for program analysis and evaluation.

In a June 13 teleconference with reporters to discuss the new office, Pace said his job is to help NASA Administrator Mike Griffin make the best possible policy and budget decisions by serving as an independent, objective source that Griffin can turn to for timely analysis and evaluation of the agency’s broad array of programs.

The new office is designed to be purely advisory, said Pace, and will have no authority over program budgets or management.

The Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation is based at NASA Headquarters here and will be made up of individual groups dedicated to performing cost analyses , planning strategic investments, gauging organizational readiness and conducting independent program assessments.

The office also will lead special studies for Griffin, including two that are already under way: the Exploration Systems Architecture Study and the Shuttle/Station Configurations Options Team.

The Exploration Systems Architecture Study, also known as the 60-day study, was initiated by Griffin in late April to recommend an overall technical approach for returning to the Moon, including the type of Crew Exploration Vehicle and launchers the agency will need. The study is due to wrap up by mid-July.

The Shuttle/Station Configurations Options Team, led by recent NASA hire Pat Ladner, has been working since early May on plans for retiring the space shuttle as soon as possible, but no later than 2010, and assessing options for completing the international space station. NASA had planned as many as 28 more space shuttle flights to complete the space station, but Griffin has said that number is too high if NASA wants to retire the fleet before the end of 2010 as called for by the White House.

Pace echoed that point during the teleconference.

“Our goal is to transition off of the shuttle as soon as possible, and no later than 2010,” Pace said. “In doing that we have to look at what are realistic flight rates and what can’t be accomplished in that period of time.”

Pace declined to provide any details or insights on either ongoing study, other than to say that they would wrap up this summer and that NASA would discuss the results then.

Looking ahead, Pace said the Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation likely will weigh in on the future of the Hubble Space Telescope, which needs new batteries and gyroscopes if it is to remain in service beyond 2008. Griffin has said NASA will decide sometime after the space shuttle fleet returns to flight this summer whether to authorize a shuttle mission to refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope.

“The issue of Hubble will come up after we’ve had a successful return to flight,” Pace said. “We look forward to making that decision after we have some successful missions under our belt.”

Pace and his office also will be digging into the cost overruns plaguing the $3.5 billion James Webb Space Telescope. NASA is wrestling with $1 billion in cost growth on the project and is considering scaling back the mission to get the costs under control.

“The administrator has asked for a special assessment of the James Webb Space Telescope program,” Pace said. “We are concerned about that cost growth in and of itself and the effect it might have on other parts of the Science Mission Directorate’s portfolio of programs.”