Bad Management at NASA?

BAD MANAGEMENT AT NASA?….The final report on the space shuttle tragedy was released today. Here’s the Washington Post headline:

NASA Culture Blamed For Columbia Disaster

Jeez, I could swear that this is exactly the same headline used for stories about the Challenger explosion two decades ago. Sure enough, it is:

In a report that cited disturbing “echoes” of the shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986, investigators said, “NASA’s organizational culture had as much to do with this accident as foam did.”

….At a news conference, some of the board members referred to the Challenger disaster and subsequent calls for increased emphasis on safety at the space agency. “It didn’t get fixed last time,” said Steven B. Wallace. “There has to be a different approach.”

….”These repeating patterns mean that flawed practices embedded in NASA’s organizational system continued for 20 years and made substantial contributions to both accidents.”

This has now happened twice, and both times the investigating commissions have come to the same conclusion, so obviously there’s something to this. And yet, there’s a tiny niggle in the back of my mind that can’t help but wonder if NASA is really any worse than any other large bureaucracy, the main difference being that their failures are considerably more spectacular than most. After all, how many organizations wouldn’t end up looking awfully bad if they were put under the same kind of microscope as NASA? How about yours?

In the end, maybe space flight is just inherently dangerous, and we should get used to the fact that we’re simply not willing to spend the kind of money it would take to avoid disasters altogether. As Maj. Gen. John Barry said, “NASA had conflicting goals of cost, schedule and safety,” but this is hardly something unique to the space program. It’s just a fact of life.

I’m just musing here, not really expressing any opinions. But I’d sure want to know more about how NASA’s record stacks up against similar organizations before I went too far overboard in joining the piling on. Has anyone ever done such a comparison?

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