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NASA Internal Report: Readiness Assessment of the Glenn Research Center

Status Report From: Glenn Research Center
Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2006

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February 22, 2006

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Executive Summary

This report summarizes the Organizational Readiness (OR) assessment of the Glenn Research Center (GRC), which was chartered and co-sponsored by the Offices of Program Analysis & Evaluation (PA&E) and Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD). The OR's charter authorized it to answer the following two questions:

  1. Assess the overall readiness of the GRC to perform the Liquid Oxygen/Methane (LOx/CH4) propulsion tasks assigned by the ESMD.
  2. Recommend actionable measures to improve and strengthen GRC's ability to take on a larger role for future Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) missions.

Key Findings

Readiness for LOx/CH4 Project

GRC was ready and able to meet the objectives specified in the LOx/CH4 Project Plan. The GRC technical and project management workforce assigned to this effort was qualified and displayed a high level of motivation and enthusiasm for its successful accomplishment. The level of project management experience assigned to the leadership of this effort was appropriate.

Readiness for Other Major VSE Projects

  • Senior Leadership. As NASA turns its focus toward VSE projects, GRC faces a fundamental difficulty due to its lack of a strategy to position itself as a meaningful contributor to the pursuit of the vision. The failure to develop and implement such a strategy led the center to become dependent on the declining aeronautics, microgravity science, and space technology programs for its future health and viability. This failure was due in part to the fact that the majority of its senior management team did not have space flight experience. It therefore neither fully appreciated nor possessed the knowledge to build the skills and rigors necessary for space flight development and management. There was little recognized capability to lead space flight projects at GRC. Except for the efforts of the Deputy Center Director, there had been limited advocacy for new space flight projects on behalf of GRC to HQ and other centers.
  • Organization. The GRC organizational design was inappropriate for a large space flight system development. The space systems expertise that exists was fragmented among many organizations. There was no senior executive at the Directorate level to serve as the focal point to plan, advocate for, and execute space flight development projects.
  • Workforce. The GRC workforce was capable and ready for a major VSE project, and included a good base of project managers upon which to build. However, the technical competency at GRC was deteriorating at a fast pace with civil servant staff losses increasing and support service pool rapidly disapearing. Morale was generally low across the Center, and became more so with the decision to stand down the LOx/CH4 project.

Recommendations

  1. Redesign the GRC organizational structure to consolidate discipline expertise and establish clear lines of communication, responsibility, and authority necessary to perform a major space flight development assignment.
  2. Recruit and assign experienced space flight systems development personnel to Space Directorate head and key Division Chief positions.
  3. Commit to the assignment of significant space flight project work to GRC.
  4. Depending on the project(s) assigned to GRC, recruit and assign Project Managers with experience in the development of relevant space flight systems.
  5. Establish and implement an integrated Human Capital Management Plan that enhances programmatic and technical capability within the Space Directorate.
  6. Develop and implement a plan to achieve compatibility in systems, tools, and processes between GRC and its partner centers in executing the space flight project assignments. This compatibility should be pursued in the area of engineering design and analysis, and project and business management.

For GRC to fit within the Administrator's vision of ten healthy centers, it needs to be major VSE role. The degree to which any project assignments can improve institutional health depends heavily on their nature and timing. A decision on a flight project assignment to GRC should be made quickly, followed by a Mid-Term review (notionally June 2006) of GRC's progress toward addressing its shortcomings. This review would provide Agency leadership an opportunity to take any corrective action.

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