Like most government organizations, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) passed through several stages of development and bureaucracy. Upon its creation in 1958, the agency was run with a combination of research freedom and tight management. This combination helped foster a strong, integrated organizational culture within NASA.
Since then, however, NASA has grown into ten separate research agencies situated around the country. Each agency was run as an autonomous unit, with its own vision, research tasks, staff and organizational culture.
The last few years have seen another shift in NASA's organizational culture, as the organization implements "ONE NASA," a plan to move towards a more implemented space organization.
This first part of this paper examines the current structure of NASA, and the problems that are spawned by its fragmented structure. The paper then looks at the goals, obstacles and potential benefits of the One NASA program, paying special attention to the Integrated Financial Management Project (IFMP). It examines whether the IFMP -- an agency-wide effort to overhaul NASA's financial and administrative systems and processes - can have a positive effect in building a more integrated organizational culture within the space agency.
By providing the organizational and technological bases for integration, it is believed that the IFMP can foster an organizational culture similar to that of early NASA - an organizational culture that gave birth to projects like the Saturn V rocket, which eventually placed a man in the moon.
Review of literature
Several studies have been written examining NASA's history. Howard McCurdy's Inside NASA: High Technology and Organizational Change in the U.S. Space Program, however, focuses on the changes in both NASA's structure and organizational structure. The book is an invaluable resource in understanding the cultural and historical bases for NASA's organizational culture. McCurdy shows how modern government creates conditions which inevitably altered the organizational culture of the young NASA, bringing about the agency's decline in performance.
Another book by Howard McCurdy -- Faster, Better, Cheaper: Low-Cost Innovation in the U.S. Space Program - presents NASA as a beleaguered agency dealing with budget cuts while trying to improve mission frequency and performance.
It examines sixteen NASA missions since 1990, and shows how the lack of government funding have contributed to a management policy of "faster, better, cheaper." As a result, NASA's focus shifted from large-scale space science projects to the smaller, less expensive and less expansive missions of today.
Although not specifically about NASA, Herbert Kaufman's The Forest Ranger: A Study in Administrative Behavior is a seminal study in shifts in organizational culture, with conclusions that have strong resonance with NASA. Kaufman studied the U.S. Forest Service in the 1950s, concluding that due to distance and scope of responsibilities, the forest ranger profession should lend itself towards fragmentation. However, the forest rangers were unified by a common culture that tends to "tighten the link binding him to the organization." Such a common culture was characteristic of the early NASA, although the space agency eventually succumbed to specialization and fragmentation.
Structure of NASA -- Description of NASA Headquarters and Centers
NASA is not a single monolith. Instead, it is composed of several field centers scattered across the country. Each center has its own staff, origin and research focus (Bromberg 1999).
Ideally, these field centers work together with their headquarters, situated in Washington, DC. After all, as seen in the following description of their responsibilities and duties, many of the centers have overlapping mandates, duties and projects. However, more often than not, Headquarters and the individual centers are in conflict, resulting in duplication of effort and a waste of resources.
NASA Headquarters - The NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC responsible for the leadership and management of the agency's four Strategic Enterprises, namely space sciences, earth sciences, human exploration and the development of space, and aeronautics and space technology.
Headquarters also acts as a liaison between NASA and Congress. It acts as a centralized unit for the agency's accountability, communication and interactions with outside organizations. In addition, Headquarters is responsible for budget, the agency's long-term investment strategies, policies and procedures and for providing NASA with a strong leadership. Currently, NASA Headquarters employees 981 civil servants (Bell).
Ames Research Center - The Ames Research Center was founded in 1939 to conduct aeronautics research. The Ames Center currently develops aerospace technologies and does research in the life and space sciences. Their projects delve into fields like astrobiology, gravitational biology and information systems that aid in technology programs for NASA missions. The Ames Center currently employs 1457 civil servants in its location at Moffett Field, California.
Dryden Flight Research Center - As implied by its name, the Dryden Research Center conducts research studies on aeronautical flight. In addition to space missions, their findings are also applicable to commercial civil aviation. The Dryden Center, which is situated in California's Edwards Air Force Base, also provides support services for Shuttles and aids in developing future space vehicles (Bell).
Glenn Research Center -- The Cleveland-based Glenn Research Center is NASA's turbo machinery arm. Researchers at the Glenn Center conduct studies on chemical and rocket propulsion, electrical power in space and communications technology for space systems. Their findings also have applications within the planet, such as technology to reduce aircraft engine noise and emissions (Bell).
Goddard Space Flight Center - The Goddard Space Flight Center is designated as NASA's "Center for Excellence in Scientific Research." The diverse research responsibilities of the Maryland-based Goddard Center include astrophysics, Earth sciences and satellite tracking. Goddard currently controls more than two dozen spacecraft, which gathers date for projects including the Earth Observing System. The Goddard Center is best known for the Hubble Space Telescope, which is still gathering data regarding the origins and structure of the universe (Bell).
Jet Propulsion Laboratory - This Pasadena-based center is currently being operated by the California Institute of Technology under a NASA contract. The JPL specializes in studies of deep space systems. JPL has designed and operates spacecraft to explore the solar system. It also operates the Deep Space Network, a group of large ground-based dishes that communicate with spacecraft (Bell).
Johnson Space Center -- The Johnson Space Center is almost a cultural icon, having been popularized in countless repetitions of the phrase "Houston, we have a problem."
The largest NASA center employs 3,300 civil servants and has served as the center for "Human Operations in Space Flight" since 1961. The Johnson Space Center manages the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station programs. They are responsible for mission control and planning, astronaut selection and training and are still studying the lunar samples collected by the Apollo program (Bell).
Kennedy Space Center - The Florida-based Kennedy Space Center serves as NASA's primary launch and landing site. The Kennedy Center prepares the Space Shuttle orbiters for launch and provides maintenance service and manages the agency's Expendable Launch Vehicle programs.
Langley Research Center - The Langley Center was established in 1917, making it the country's first aeronautical research laboratory. Many of the most important aeronautical advances of the 20th century - including safety structures, airframe systems and airplane designs - were developed in this Virginia center. The Langley Center still continues to develop designs to aid in space travel as well as general aviation.
Marshall Space Flight Center - Based in Alabama, the Marshall Space Flight Center serves as NASA's research arm for space propulsion. It was the Marshall Center which, under Wernher von Braun, developed the Saturn V rocket that made the man on the moon a reality.
Stennis Space Center - The Mississippi-based Stennis is NASA's lead center for testing rocket propulsion. It also conducts support systems for the Space Shuttle Program, and, together with outside organizations, works to develop remote sensing technology.
Wallops Flight Facility -- Also based in Virginia, Wallops conducts and operates sub-orbital and small orbital payloads. It also serves as a test site for new, potentially low-cost technology.
Inspector General Offices -- Similar a police department's Bureau of Internal Affairs, the Inspector General is tasked with investigating fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement within NASA programs. All NASA offices have an Inspector General office (Bell).
Changes in NASA Culture
This current fragmented NASA is a far cry from the first generation of NASA employees responsible for the Mercury and Apollo Missions. In Inside NASA, Howard McCurdy saw a NASA characterized by "exceptionally high levels of performance for tasks very difficult to perform" (159).
McCurdy attributes the success of the early NASA to several factors. This included an in-house, hands-on philosophy that meant NASA had to develop and maintain its own technologies. This meant that NASA employees themselves had to work with the machines and conduct the scientific research themselves.
As a result, NASA attracted exceptionally talented people who were raised during the Great Depression and who shared a "frontier mentality" (161). The strong emphasis on developing its own technology meant that NASA also encouraged risk and tolerated failure. All these factors combined to create "a culture in which…