National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Executive Summary

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established in 1958 in response to the Soviet challenge in space. However, the realities of the Cold War that shaped NASA's mission no longer exist. Today, NASA and many other federal agencies are reconfiguring themselves to meet the realities of the 1990s. Both NASA's missions and its methods are changing in response to increasing global competition in the high technology arena and decreasing federal resources.

Today, NASA and other government agencies struggle to be constructive players in an era of new national and global challenges and corresponding political imperatives. Increasing congressional oversight, annual or biannual budget cycles, and centralized administrative controls all impose frequent accountability and political mediation on already overburdened government agencies.

Until now, a compelling and encompassing purpose for NASA comparable to that which challenged the agency in the early 1960s has been elusive. NASA needs to develop a mandate much like that of the 1960s to draw NASA scientists and engineers again toward a single purpose. NASA's commitment to fulfill Mission to Planet Earth represents an important aspect of NASA's broad commitment to enhance the quality of all human life through scientific endeavors. To prepare for the challenges of the 21st century, NASA is also committed to staying at the forefront of technology development through its pursuit of the humans in space program, aeronautical science, cutting-edge technologies, transfers of those technologies to industry, and the search for commercial applications of its programs wherever possible.

The National Performance Review (NPR) has worked closely with NASA to explore innovative ways for the agency to clarify its missions and strengthen its management. Ultimately, NPR and NASA found ways to reduce bureaucracy, cut costs, and improve efficiency. The NPR has identified five issues for discussion in this report, and made recommendations for further action. These issues and recommendations highlight fundamental concerns facing the agency, as well as key reinvention principles.

To get the best possible return on the taxpayer's dollar and to overcome the red tape that seriously inhibits NASA from effectively competing in a fast- paced technological arena, the NPR encourages NASA to use performance-based contracts, to contract wherever possible for data instead of hardware, and to use cooperative research agreements to effectively exploit high-performance computing technologies. These recommendations should allow NASA to benefit from market dynamics by becoming a more viable competitor.

In the face of legal and administrative obstacles that often discourage industry from working with government to develop technologies, the NPR recommends: (1) temporary protection for certain data collected from joint NASA-industry research and development (R&D) activities; (2) faster reviews of technology export applications; and (3) expanded technology transfer activities that encourage, instead of discourage, R&D partnerships. NPR also supports NASA in its initiatives to develop a stronger relationship with the U.S. civil aviation industry to maintain U.S. leadership in the global aeronautics arena.

The NPR also recommends that NASA apply the management principles developed for the redesigned space station program agencywide. Therefore, the NPR encourages NASA in its efforts to restructure program management to reflect the agency's strategic plan, to identify facilities actually needed, and to initiate staff reductions. Since the Mission to Planet Earth Program (MTPE) represents a major investment in a long-term research program, NASA must take steps to ensure that the program is properly managed to provide the greatest possible benefit to this country and the international community.

NASA has an ongoing program to restructure itself. These efforts have taken on a greater impetus with the advent of the NPR. The NASA reinvention labs initiated reforms in management, procurement, the MTPE program, and shuttle and payload processing at the Kennedy Space Center.

The post-Cold War highly competitive technological era provides NASA with a compelling opportunity to combine the strengths that led to the dramatic technological advances of a decade ago with the wisdom required to maintain this nation's leadership in the global arena. Through MTPE, one of NASA's highest priority programs, the agency will take the lead in greatly expanding human understanding of the earth's environment using the unique perspective of space and high-altitude atmospheric vehicles. NASA, restructured for the 1990s and beyond, will stay on the forefront of a continual commitment to humans in space, pursue aeronautical science and cutting-edge technologies, contribute new knowledge and tools to enhance the nation's society and economy, and achieve these goals effectively and efficiently.

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