NASA Chief Sees Space As Inside Job

NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin, right, with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, wants to rely less on contractors for strategy and to lure top scientists to NASA with ambitious space exploration plans.
NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin, right, with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, wants to rely less on contractors for strategy and to lure top scientists to NASA with ambitious space exploration plans. (By Dave Einsel -- Getty Images)
By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 27, 2005

If Michael D. Griffin has his way, going to the moon won't be outsourced.

Space travel and exploration are too important to be defined by the Bush administration's pro-private-sector dogma, the still-new NASA administrator said. Only government has the gravitas and permanence to lead the way.

"NASA has relied more than I would like to see on contractors for technical decision-making at the strategic level," Griffin said in a recent interview at his headquarters office. "The issues of what we are doing and how we go about it are inherently governmental, because the space program is multi-generational. Contractors come and go."

In only nine weeks on the job, Griffin has turned NASA inside out, ordering wholesale changes in virtually every one of the nation's major space programs even as he replaces a small army of senior managers. He has radically altered new initiatives, reaffirmed his faith in venerable hardware and, less than a month before the first shuttle launch in 2 1/2 years, shaken up the human spaceflight program.

Griffin's aim is to restore NASA's Apollo-era luster by hiring the world's best space scientists, rekindling public support for space travel -- especially human space travel -- and doing whatever is necessary to ensure U.S. leadership in space far into the future.

"That will not be a debatable goal," Griffin said. "The issue will be ways and means -- what do we need to buy today, what do we need to defer for next year? I want [human spaceflight and exploration] to be a core part of our culture."

By upgrading NASA's in-house technical competence, Griffin expects to keep project planning and other key strategic and policy functions inside the agency instead of farming them out to civilian contractors. He is bucking a core Republican principle by strengthening government instead of outsourcing it.

At this stage, it is difficult to find anyone who has anything bad to say about Griffin. "We expected him to be a forceful leader from the first day. That's what was needed, and that's what he's doing," said David Goldston, chief of staff for the House Science Committee, which has asked Griffin to testify tomorrow on "the future of NASA."

"As far as I can tell, he's got very strong support" from both parties, Goldston added. "There's a feeling that he's someone who's really engaged, has the expertise to know what he wants and the candor to say so."

Many sources, especially within NASA, also note that for now, at least, Griffin, a scientist, is benefiting from the contrast with his predecessor. Sean O'Keefe was a former White House budget specialist and Navy secretary who arrived with a mandate to straighten out NASA's troubled finances and move the agency forward during a time of tightening budgets.

Despite Congress's willingness to give Griffin some extra funding in the short term, the budget strictures have not disappeared, nor have NASA's accounting troubles. As hard choices are made about which programs to close and how many of NASA's 9,700 jobs will be cut, Griffin's comfort zone could shrink dramatically.

"We're in a 'wait-and-see' mode," said J.P. Stevens, vice president of the Aerospace Industries Association, a leading aerospace trade organization. "He knows he's going to need more money."


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