Last week’s election results are in, and as predicted the House will change political leadership when the next Congress convenes in January. Speculation is rampant in the news (see this, this, this, and this) that the new leadership will push for cuts in non-defense discretionary spending to 2008 levels. As I wrote last time, for NASA that might mean a reduction in its budget for the current fiscal year from the $19 billion in the President’s budget and NASA Authorization Act of 2010, to something around $17.3 to $17.5 billion once it is passed (the difference is whether one takes inflation into account, or not).
Really, this question about funding levels for NASA is nothing new.
NASA is often lumped by critics into the largesse that typifies their view of all federal spending. Despite the fact that NASA’s fraction of both the total budget and of non-Defense discretionary spending is going down (currently about 0.5% of the total federal budget, and less than 3% of just the non-Defense discretionary spending piece), it is viewed as part of the larger problem of Government spending out of control, period.
This critical view has influenced me throughout my career here, and whether directly or indirectly I’ve made it a part of my approach to always seek ways to optimize how tax dollars are spent. In my current role, I’m getting the opportunity to practice what I preach on a larger scale, by leading the development of strategies within mission operations that reduce cost while improving performance. This is an extremely difficult task due to two interrelated factors: (1) much of our budget is devoted to maintaining a highly-skilled world-class workforce; and (2) at what point does reducing cost begin to “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” and jeopardize the half-century of excellence that we’ve been known for?
For me, the road to success is to be a part of the solution and not of the problem. The way to do that is to think of the solution, not of the problem. As I see it, such a solution will start with creative and innovative approaches to how human spaceflight operations are conducted in partnership with the commercial sector in sustainable ways. Holly G. Green, author of More than a Minute, recently wrote in her blog about the importance of building clarity around the following for any strategic planning effort:
- The mission statement (why you exist)
- Guiding principles (how you will behave)
- Value propositions (what you offer to key stakeholders)
- Destination points (where you’re going)
- Strategic priorities (areas of focus for the organization)
- Key initiatives (what you will do to get there)
I’m using her excellent ideas along with others I’ve accrued over the years to define a framework for seeking a creative, innovative approach to further reduce the recurring costs of human spaceflight while identifying the right kinds of lasting partnerships to build with the commercial sector that will improve the overall performance of human spaceflight. This framework states why mission operations exists, what our guiding principles are (which I’ve written about before), what we have to offer value-wise to stakeholders, where the organization is headed, and what the strategic priorities are for the organization. Furthermore, success has to be predicated around casting this framework in a larger perspective that goes beyond the self-interests of the organization and addresses what is best in the interests of human spaceflight.
In other words, I’m striving to be a part of the solution, not the problem.
Defining a strategic planning framework is a good start towards thinking of the solution, not the problem. What other ideas do you have that I can do, or that I can read, or whom I can ask?