Message from Mike
As I have visited most of NASA's Field Centers over the past few weeks, I thought that now would be a good opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you. During these visits, I learned to appreciate even more acutely the vital and unique role each NASA Center plays. Indeed, NASA's strength lies in the strengths of its Centers. A heartfelt thanks to those of you who made these Center visits so insightful for me. Some concerns were raised during the course of these visits where people asked my perspective on a range of issues affecting the entire NASA workforce. While I attempted to answer the questions and concerns raised at each of the Centers, perhaps it would be best to address them here in a widely disseminated e-mail. Hopefully, this will be helpful to you and not considered to be more spam from NASA Headquarters.
First, the Vision for Space Exploration is a multigenerational program. It will require decades. The people who will be taking us to Mars and beyond are in elementary and middle school today. Contractors and businesses come and go. They succeed and they fail. The government ownership of the intellectual property that sustains our aeronautics research and space exploration journey will be with us always, as long as there is a government. Naturally, where competition makes the most sense, it will be the first choice, and such decisions need to be made on a case-by-case basis. However, I believe the core capability, the core intellectual property that will sustain this journey, must reside within NASA as an organization, and particularly within the NASA Field Centers. I am committed to maintaining and to restoring capability where it makes sense. I am committed to changing the skill mixes of the Centers as we transition over the next five years from a Space Shuttle operations culture at some Centers to the development culture required for the new vehicle systems we must bring about. In the process of adjusting the details of how the Field Centers accomplish their missions and what they do, I am committed to retaining strong Field Center capability. I firmly believe that more program management authorities need to be delegated to the NASA Field Centers, and you will be seeing reorganization plans being issued over the coming weeks. For this reason, I decided to forego the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Systems Engineering and Integration procurement to align with the need to retain strong Field Center expertise.
With that perspective, I realize that a number of Centers are dealing with potential, near-term decisions to shape the magnitude and pace of potential civil servant and onsite contractor layoffs. These potential layoffs are due to a number of factors with the agency's budget and strategy for carrying out its missions. To be clear, the agency has NOT yet decided whether involuntary layoffs of NASA's civil servant workforce (otherwise known as Reduction-In-Force or RIFs) will be needed in the future. I have tasked the Program, Analysis and Evaluation Office to organize a team to provide me an assessment of NASA Center workforce needs along with options for how to proceed in the next few weeks. I plan to hear from Center Director leadership on this issue during this time. All options are on the table, but as a team, we are trying to be sensitive in balancing the needs of the agency's workforce with the missions the agency is directed to conduct on behalf of the nation.
Second, before I arrived, NASA Headquarters tasked the Field Centers to investigate the possibility of converting the operations and management of some NASA Centers to other organizational models like Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, Government Corporations or university consortia. This investigation was one recommendation from the President's Commission chaired by former Undersecretary of Defense Pete Aldridge last summer. Each NASA Center has a unique role and character, so this recommendation is more applicable to some Centers than others. However, there are several hurdles to overcome to effect such a conversion where they would make sense. The next step of this analysis is up to each Center's leadership team to decide whether work and issues at their respective Centers would benefit from alternative organizational models. We should not assume that conversion of an entire Center is always possible or desirable. Center Directors should let me know in time for the next Strategic Management Council if they wish to pursue further analysis of these alternative organizational models.
Third, several Centers have increased their interest in performing work through reimbursable Space Act Agreements, proposals to other government agencies and other, more entrepreneurial, efforts such as partnering with universities or private institutes to increase their business base. It is important that we all work from common ground rules when determining the appropriateness of working for others, and we must remain consistent with existing legal requirements in carrying out work for others. I encourage Centers with "uncovered capacity" workforce to pursue new work within the agency and with external reimbursable customers using previously published guidelines to cover their personnel costs until I have approved additional guidance to NASA Centers in the coming weeks. I would appreciate your creative ideas on how to implement these improvements. My Headquarters POC for this new guidance is Chris Shank, and I ask that you work with your Center leadership or e-mail Chris with your ideas for how your Center should proceed.
Again, I hope this clarifies my position on some major issues facing several NASA Centers. Difficult decisions will need to be made in the near future, and some dislocations may be necessary. I have been laid off twice in my own career. It is painful. I will try to keep you informed as much as humanly possible in how we're formulating our decisions.
However, during this difficult time, I don't want the agency to lose sight of the noble mission our nation's leadership has provided us and we are chartered to carry out -- conducting results-oriented aeronautics research and development, exploring the solar system to include our own planet Earth and advancing human knowledge in space science. We have a lot of work to do. Let's get on with it.