Profile: Assessing Risk, Ensuring Quality

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  Space News Business

Profile: Assessing Risk, Ensuring Quality

By JEREMY SINGER
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 06 April 2008
05:17 pm ET






Randolph
R. Stone


Director for Safety, Quality and

Mission
Assurance

U.S.
Missile Defense Agency

While the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) already had quality control personnel embedded in its program offices around the country, Randy Stone was the only agency official assigned to that task full time when he arrived at MDA headquarters in October 2002.

Today, Stone, who reports directly to Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, MDA’s director, has a full-time staff of around 270, including embedded personnel, and a budget of around $25 million. While Stone has the flexibility to bring on more contractors or personnel from federally funded research centers prior to major reviews, he describes his staff as “small, lean and mean” compared to agencies like NASA, which has more than 1,000 people dedicated to quality control.

Stone provides the MDA director with risk assessments before a test and makes recommendations up to and including termination of a test if he is concerned about risk to personnel, property or the success of the mission.

Before coming to MDA, Stone spent nine years as NASA’s flight assurance manager embedded at Boeing’s Delta launch vehicle facility in
Huntington Beach
,
Calif.
, where he was repeatedly recognized with honors, including the NASA Silver Quality Award, for his work. Prior to that, he worked as a spacecraft tester at TRW Corp. for projects including the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory spacecraft and a classified satellite. He performed a similar role at Rockwell International in
Seal Beach
,
Calif.
, where he performed testing and integration on the first GPS navigation satellite.

Stone says his experience “in the bowels of industry” makes it difficult for companies today to “pull the wool over” his eyes.

“There’s nothing they can do – or not do – that I don’t know,” he said. “If they say ‘we can’t do it, it’s not in our contract,’ I can say where to look.”

Stone believes that MDA has made significant strides in improving quality assurance in recent years, and the agency recognized his contribution with the MDA Star in 2005. He talked about his role at the agency during a March 12 interview with Space News staff writer Jeremy Singer.

What are the top items on your agenda?

Successful flight tests of course. I don’t really have one main focus on the agenda – there’s too much to do. Obviously, the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System is always our top priority – it’s our largest, most complex mission and most valuable asset.

How would you grade MDA’s performance on quality assurance today versus where it was a few years ago?

We’re in a much better position than we were three years ago. We put very robust processes in place, and literally changed the culture.
Mission
assurance is now ingrained in people doing the execution of programs, not just the quality assurance people.

Look at the success rate on intercept tests before and after the establishment of my office – it’s gone from something like a 35 percent success rate to 26 successes in the last 27 shots dating back to September 2005.

What are some of the things you’ve done to change the culture?

In many cases, it’s things that you don’t see. We’ve changed the way we do business, building mission assurance into contracts for award fees. It used to be that the program offices determined award fees; now I’m on all the award fee review boards, with Gen. Obering as the determining official.

The program office now gives recommendations, and we give it a full review before rewarding the contractors. The No. 1 criteria is mission assurance. You cannot just say that you made it to a preliminary design review or critical design review and expect to be given the award fee.

What are some areas where you have increased quality control?

We’re paying more attention to our targets. They were a lower priority. We were focusing our limited resources on interceptors. Now we have the interceptors working well, we’re working on improving the targets.

The attitude used to be “why put a lot of mission assurance resources into targets that you shoot down,” but if a test has to stand down for three months because of a failed target, you have to fix the mission assurance.

We’ve got people who are embedded with some of our target providers, forcing robust process discipline, making sure they are operating to the letter of the quality law. We like to help our suppliers get well by having government experts in their facilities who can lead them and show them what we expect. We’re also putting more requirements into target contracts, and doing things that will pay off six to eight months down the road.

Do you have any specific quality assurance concerns as MDA moves forward with work on a European interceptor site?

Not really. Frankly, the European interceptor program is probably going to be the best yet. There are years of lessons learned rolled into that work. We’ll have the most stringent requirements in the contract from the beginning, based on corrective actions taken from work with existing hardware.

Are there any quality assurance implications with MDA’s plan to use the Multiple Kill Vehicle as a common kill vehicle for its interceptors?

It makes my job easier. With fewer different products, we have less variability, which allows me to focus my resources better.

With any product like a space or missile defense system, you have hundreds of components going in, and you have to do quality control throughout the whole supply chain. The more kill vehicles we have, the more difficult it is to get your arms around everything with the prime and all the subcontractors.

The Government Accountability Office noted in a recent report that MDA has had an anomaly with each Ground Based Midcourse Defense System flight test since 2001 that has not prevented success, but has yet to be resolved – what’s the problem here?

It’s classified. We have what I’d call a 98 percent solution. We’ve done all kinds of modifications to preclude it from affecting performance of the interceptors, and there is no reason to believe it will do so in the future. We feel pretty darn good about the fix we have in place.

What kind of reaction have you gotten from within the government to your work?

We’ve been audited by the Government Accountability Office twice, and they’ve given us glowing reports. We’ve also gotten glowing reports from audits by the MDA and Defense Department inspectors general. Everyone who has looked at what we’re doing loves it.

I’ve made presentations on numerous occasions to the heads of other agencies on how we do things here at MDA, and in some cases other agencies are incorporating lessons from what we’ve done to their own quality assurance work.