Job interview questions for the next NASA administrator

The GAO released a report Monday on “eliciting nominees’ views” on various management challenges facing government agencies, including NASA. The NASA section, which starts on page 96 (p. 101 of the PDF document), features 13 questions divided into five themes the GAO had previously identified facing the agency in the transition: retirement of the shuttle, balancing investments across agency programs, completing and using the ISS, developing next-generation launch vehicles and spacecraft, and improving financial management. That means there are no specific questions about topics like Earth sciences, aeronautics, and space sciences, but some deep questions for anyone interested in running the space agency. Some examples:

  • Regarding the shuttle: “Do you have any experience in shutting down a major project or program? What actions or steps are key to implementing a successful exit strategy?”
  • About the ISS: “How has your prior work prepared you to manage a multibillion-dollar project with multiple international partners?”
  • About cost and schedule issues with Constellation: “What qualifications do you have that would suggest you may be able to help rein in some of this uncertainty and reduce the risk of cost growth and schedule slippage?”
  • On developing commercial alternatives to ISS access: “What skills could you bring to encourage greater participation by the aerospace industry in developing private orbital transportation services to send cargo and transport crews to the International Space Station?”

5 comments to Job interview questions for the next NASA administrator

  • Doug Lassiter

    So the GAO, under the direction of a Bush Comptroller (actually Acting Comptroller), in response to a request by the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, provides a set of questions for a prospective NASA Administrator that deeply reflects the priorities of the current administration. Not sure one should read a lot into that, even if the office is functionally independent. Also, the questions invited bear specifically on issues that the GAO has been asked to investigate recently, which is largely what the questions they provided are.

  • Outraged Voter

    “What qualifications do you have that would suggest you may be able to help rein in some of this uncertainty and reduce the risk of cost growth and schedule slippage?”

    You are interviewing the wrong person. Many people voted this president into office because he presumably had enough intelligence to reconize the problems, enough character to publically acknowledge those problems, and the physical stamina to lift the pen and sign his name on the dotted line.

    There is no ‘saving’ the VSE and Constellation. The obvious solution is to consign it to the scrap heap of history with a simple signature, like nearly all of the illegally implemented illegal policies of the Bush administration.

    To even suggest that these programs are worth salvaging reveals a profound misunderstand and ignorance of engineering principles.

  • Al Fansome

    I think the GAO may be going a little bit over the line with these questions … if not they are getting pretty close to the line. The questions show a significant amount of bias (e.g., just implement the current agenda within the lines, don’t change anything at the strategic level). But this is probably par for the course, considering that the transition teams will be getting lots of input from each agency, and from many other parties, with their own bias

    A more detailed examination of the 13 questions suggested by the GAO:

    * Absolutely none of the listed questions deal with having a VISION, or the *explicit* ability to lead strategic change. (Considering that Obama won the election on a change mandate, the lack of the word “change” in the questions is striking.)

    * One question is an IQ test (question #1).

    * Just one question deals with ability to understand commercial industry and creating a commercial space strategy (8). This implies something strategic thinking.

    * Three questions are “chief accountant” operational questions (11-13), which tells you where the GAO’s priorities are.

    * One more operational question is about being a project manager (5)

    * Two more operational questions are “chief engineer” questions (9 & 10)

    * Four more operations/implementation questions are about managing large groups of people on technical projects (2, 4, 6, 7).

    Nobody should expect that GAO to be strong in the VISION or STRATEGY fronts.

    Hopefully, the Obama administration will look first for somebody first who shares his vision for change. That person can then hire a team (Deputy/Assoc. Admin.) to help him/her implement the new vision.


    – Al

  • Doug Lassiter

    As I said, a GOP Acting Comptroller, chartered by a GOP Senator, produced a set of questions that seems to have some current administration bias. No surprise.

    Nobody should expect that GAO to be strong in the VISION or STRATEGY fronts.

    Congress routinely asks GAO for commentary on and evaluation of management strategy issues. Challenges in workforce/human capital management, ISS completion, Constellation progress, and shuttle transition were major issues they dealt with over the last few years, and GAO was being asked by Voinovich to provide questions that related to such issues. They did that. I don’t think you’ll find any report by them over the last few years in which they addressed NASA’s “vision”, so I wouldn’t be looking for any questions from them on that subject.

    That there were other reports they did, on earth science in particular, that they did not supply questions on, can be considered the place where administration bias might be creeping in.

  • Al Fansome

    Brian Berger of “Space News” is reporting on some questions from the Obama transition team that must be keeping Mike Griffin awake at night. The story has been picked up by Fox.,2933,459465,00.html

    Obama May Cancel Space Shuttle Replacement
    Monday, December 01, 2008

    WASHINGTON — U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s NASA transition team is asking U.S. space agency officials to quantify how much money could be saved by canceling the Ares 1 rocket and scaling back the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle next year.

    The article has many other details, most of which I can only pray will come to place in the Obama administration. I encourage others to read it.


    – Al

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