Friday, January 25, 2008

Love American Style

Queue fireworks. Roll music. Grab your neighbor and hug.

Now please sign your "Relationship Agreements."

That's how the minions are trying to get along these days. No kidding. So, grab a cup of joe, sit back, and let us tell you a story that could only be told about our favorite dysfunctional government agency.

Back when the Emperor ascended to the throne, his "build CEV from the inside out" approach resulted first in the creation of the CEV Project Office. Then Project Manager Skip Hatfield and his folks didn't waste any time moving out. They defined requirements, processes, and tools to be employed in the course of their work. In fact, they sprinted far ahead of the so-called "Level 2" or Constellation Program folks who were just finding their seats in building 1 at JSC.

After Queen Marsha convinced the Emperor to appoint Viceroy Hanley to take command of the Constellation bridge, he set about to take back control of the individual project offices (ORION, ARES, etc.). Soon his blooming organization found resistance in trying to guide the very projects they were/are responsible for. Its hard to turn a job over to someone less competent than yourself, and the project folks were by now so far behind in their ill-conceived schedules that they had no time to train their superiors anyway.

Level 2 calls went unanswered. Meeting notices were ignored. Name calling ensued. Tensions flared. What to do? What to do?

Enter Viceroy Hanley's "Program Excellence Team (PET)." The PET was constituted by the level 2 and 3 deputy managers to deal with Constellation's "social issues." Their charter was to look at the program/project organization chart and define how the various boxes on the chart should communicate with each other. Six hundred and forty, that's right, 640, rules of engagement were created to provide a framework for establishing cordial arrangements between the minions. These rules are now being turned into something akin to prenuptial agreements between the involved parties. The "Relationship Agreements" codify the the expected social behaviors with which civil servants will work together.

No kidding.

Our society is partially responsible for this situation. Just ask any veteran of the early space program. It was expected, in fact, respectable, for the minions to argue technical issues at length. The work was important, the projects were the right ones, and the country depended on them. Those discussions were often heated, but always focused on the technical issues. No one got carted off by HR for a reprimand for making a point in the strongest terms, or dismissed for some innocent name calling in the heat of the battle. Everyone knew the limits and they were established by the leaders, by example. The Krafts, Kranzs, Fagets, and Von Brauns set the tone. At the end of the day, the hotheads cooled off with six or five beers at the Outpost. And they showed up the next day to do it again. And again. Until finally, we planted the stars and strips on the moon.

Those days are long gone.

Today, the Emperor walks around his 9th floor throne room looking for someone to talk to. When they see him coming they scatter. His Viceroys hand out out teddy bears. The minions closest to the technical work are demoralized by the knowledge that the very things they are working on will never fly. They are pressured from above to extract maximum effort and hours out of their contractors working no-win scenarios. And sometimes they go over the line and press too hard. Eventually someone snaps. Witness the murder-suicide at JSC last year.

Despite a reasonable approach to dealing with the aftermath of the incident, its not getting any better. Ask JSC Center Director Mike Coats how many OTHER incidents involving firearms being pointed in the heat of an argument have occurred SINCE the incident in Building 44. He will tell you that eight times since then, guns have been pulled to settle arguments at the manned spaceflight center. Eight times in the last year! We wonder if the tourists going through the center know that its more dangerous there than riding in a space shuttle?

Prenups have never stopped a divorce. Relationship Agreements and metal detectors are not going to stop another shooting. It is time to redress the root cause of these incidents. A change in leadership, superior technical projects, and non-violent escape valves that allow for the passionate to have his/her say without being carted away for nonconformist behavior. We hope someone in Congress takes notice of this open sore and demands answers before the American taxpayers, and another innocent victim, falls prey to this unfortunate situation.


Ed said...

I've been reading your blog for a while, and everytime I think that NASA has bottomed out you come out with something else that shows it is even worse than I thought.

Can you prove all that you've written here? Because the Vice-President needs to know what the hell is going on in the agency.

Rocket Man said...

Just ask Mike Coats. He made his comments in a public forum last week.

As for the RA's and such, ask Jeff Hanley about the PET. It's pretty hard to deny when his deputy program managers are involved.