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Now, we have, as you know, in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA's only such contract-operated laboratory. This in a way represents a part of our experimental approach to how to do the job best as well as a strong need for this team in the program at this time.
Mr. KARTH. There is really no doubt in your mind as to which way is best, is there, Mr. Webb? If you had the choice to make right now as to whether or not JPL should operate on the same basis as Goddard and Lewis and Langley, I believe there is no question but that you would not choose to establish the kind of relationship that presently exists between NASA and JPL.
Mr. WEBB. I would say, Mr. Chairman, that it would not appear wise to try to transfer Goddard or Lewis or, particularly, any of these large centers like the Marshall Space Flight Center or the Manned Spacecraft Center, to contract operation.
Our Centers are charged with managing a very large industry participation, and providing an interface between this Government group, the industry group, and advanced engineers and scientists in other institutions like universities and nonprofit institutions.
I would consider it a very unwise proposal to turn those operations over to contractors.
In connection with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I believe it would be quite unwise to start out on an effort to convert this into a civil service laboratory as the others are. I think there is a great value in experimenting to determine exactly how the relationship with the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory can add something to the system we have in the other areas, and I think you might well suffer a severe loss in the lunar and planetary program through an effort to force a transition to civil service at this particular time.
What we are doing is evolving through several contract phases to a solution that will be more satisfactory to both the California Institute of Technology and to NASA than the interim arrangements have been, although I must immediately say that we must not, in focusing on that small area of difficulty, either with respect to the flight of Ranger VI or with respect to the total operation of this Laboratory, ever forget that a very, very large proportion of the work is entirely satisfactorily handled-in fact, is outstandingly handled-and that there are men there who have done and are doing work more technical, more complex, more difficult than is being done in almost any other place by the human race.
I would say this: You are going to find as time goes on the involvement of new factors, new people, new relationships, and that our purpose here is to build on those that exist rather than to try to make some radical change with respect to management.
Mr. KARTH. Where you have a specific program being carried out by one of NASA's centers, however, don't you feel, Mr. Webb, that it is important to exercise sufficient management control over that center, regardless of what its name might be JPL or something else?
Mr. WEBB. It depends, Mr. Chairman, on the capability in the center, on the relationship of the center with the industrial contractors who actually do most of this work, and the center's ability to furnish either direction or to obtain a meeting of the minds as to
what it is best to do. I would not say there is any general requirement along that line, but I would hasten again to add that as this organization has grown, you have had to face a large number of administrative and management problems as well as get the technical job done. Generally speaking, those people who are most expert in solving the technical problems, who have the most brilliant ideas as to how to design and test equipment of this kind and fly it, are not as interested in administration, in the housekeeping requirements, in the total, shall I say, body of rules and regulations that relate to the management of property, or to the handling of organization and management procedures.
These interests seem to be only in rare cases combined in the same people, so our job has been not to lose the technical competence and the ability to make the advances in the state of the art required in the hardware and the accomplishment of the missions, but at the same time constantly to improve the management qualities and techniques, and we find that this differs even in our own civil service centers.
There is no general rule here, but the policy, to see that both are done, is inherent in our management approach.
Mr. KARTH. Yes, sir, I understand that. However, I believe that JPL in the case of Ranger is in quite a similar position in certain respects to other major contractors. I assume that companies like Hughes, Aero Jet, Lockheed, and Boeing, all have tremendous inhouse capabilities, scientific, technological, management; but they, unlike JPL, are very closely supervised by another highly qualified and technically professional team from one of the NASA centers. I was simply wondering whether or not this kind of supervision wouldn't also be good practice and good policy with respect to JPL.
Mr. WEBB. I thought, Mr. Chairman, you were going to draw the comparison with a prime contractor when you said other contractors. Actually, none of our other centers are contractor-operated, as I am sure you know.
On the other hand, we do use prime contractors who have to work with many other resources such as subcontractors, and highly qualified individuals, whether scientists or engineers, and I think you have a different kind of a problem with respect to the organization and administration where you are dealing through a prime contractor than you have where you are dealing with a NASA civil service center, which in turn manages a number of contractors.
Mr. KARTH. Yes, sir. I guess I switched my question from NASA's relationship with one of our centers to NASA's relationship with its prime contractors, which, in fact, JPL is, so far as Ranger is concerned. Mr. WEBB. Yes, you used the word "contractor," and I wanted to make sure what you had in mind.
Mr. KARTH. In effect, JPL is the prime contractor on programs such as Ranger.
Mr. WEBB. This is correct.
Mr. KARTH. And JPL operates in a manner quite similar to prime contractors such as those that I mentioned earlier. My question was whether or not a good strong technical team, acting for NASA, to oversee or supervise, not just management practices at JPL, but technical approaches as well, would not be as wise in this instance as it is in dealing with other prime contractors.
Mr. WEBB. I think it would be just as wise, and I think this is the direction in which we are moving. I think what we are endeavoring to do is to create a relationship that doesn't lose these other qualities that JPL and Cal Tech have and still does not suffer a loss of the kind of overall management and supervision and responsiveness that you have indicated as important.
In many cases the technical problems become more difficult if you also have difficulty with the administrative problem.
Mr. KARTH. Yes, but you testified that the number of people has increased at JPL, and that most of these people have not come directly from Cal Tech. Therefore, I assume that the JPL people are recruited pretty much on the same basis as other prime contractors recruit their personnel.
Mr. WEBB. They are the same kind of people, but recruited on a somewhat different basis, Mr. Chairman, because they do have the opportunity at JPL to be a part of the total operations of the California Institute of Technology, and have a little more freedom not only to work on the specific project, such as Ranger, Surveyor, or Mariner, but also to participate to some extent with the fluxing group that is advancing the state of the art and doing research somewhat similar to a university laboratory. They have somewhat of an advantage in recruiting, frankly, over industry in this regard for certain types of people.
Mr. KARTH. What you say may be true but I wonder if there ought not be much closer supervision by NASA over the activities at JPL, just as other prime contractors get close technical, professional and management supervision from NASA personnel at one of the centers on specific projects that are assigned to them. This is my question.
Mr. WEBB. Yes, sir. Could I state it in a slightly different way? We believe in the senior management group at NASA that there should be an increase in the management proficiency devoted to specific projects such as those you mentioned.
Now, if it can be obtained within the framework of the JPL/CIT prime contractor and university laboratory relationship, then we would have less to do in the NASA Headquarters, and we are most anxious not to create a situation where we must continuously monitor this effort in totality, but rather to see that the university and JPL increase their own management capability.
Our general policy, Mr. Chairman, as you so well know, is not to provide crutches for our contractors. We do not create outside things to help fill in weak places. We try to get the strength where it can be done without this kind of intervention and monitoring by our own management.
However, we try to get the job done, too, and we try to close in the gaps in any way we can, looking ultimately toward total strength, so our effort now is to get more of that done by JPL and to follow it as closely as we need to within NASA.
We have a very small headquarters group on all of these projects, you know, compared to the size and magnitude of the program.
Mr. KARTH. I understand that, but in the case of Ranger, according to the testimony that has gone before, NASA has some 7 technical people on location at JPL as opposed to 150 or more from NASA on GD/A on the Centaur program, just to give you one illustration.
Apparently NASA has found it to be in the best interests of both the agency and the taxpayers of the country to do this.
I certainly can agree with you, Mr. Webb, that in areas where you try to encourage creative minds to work on whatever they would like to work on, with all their imagination for future programs, or to make breakthroughs in certain technological areas, it is advantageous and desirable to leave them alone. I personally support this kind of an approach; but my question goes to the situation where you have a specific project assigned where we need more of the engineering and professional technical type person as opposed to the academic-oriented mind searching for something new and something different. In that case, it might be more advantageous to have strong technical guidance, management and professional, similar to what other centers give to prime contractors.
Mr. WEBB. First of all, Mr. Chairman, as you have clearly indicated, some advance work must be done, both with respect to the state of the art, and with respect to the scientific side.
Now, I believe it is true, increasingly true, that the relationship of the engineers on specific projects with those people who are advancing the state of the art is quite important. In my 8 years with the Sperry Gyroscope Co. we had a problem of this kind because we were early in the industrial laboratory game, and I have seen it develop in companies like McDonnell, and also at the university level. But I think we are finding more and more that you may advance the project itself, and advance the application in an engineering solution of new knowledge, if there is a very close working relationship with the people who are doing the out-in-front work.
But now to go specifically to your question, we have felt, and I believe the testimony given your committee has been along this line, that there was not as strong project direction at JPL as there was going to be required.
Now, generally speaking, the JPL group felt they could get the job done within their own form of organization, and we have not felt that we should put Government people in to simply state "You must do it this way."
If we were going to do that, we probably would have wanted to go to some stronger form of direction, such as, perhaps, another center, but we certainly don't want to create a Government center to oversee JPL as a prime contractor. This I believe would not be an effective kind of an organization.
I think it is fair to state that we and JPL have been considering this question with great care, that we know more about the problems it would create for them and the values they do not wish to lose than we did a year ago, and I think it is also clear that they have found that we had learned a good deal from all our other projects, and that the discussions we were having with them and our indications of concern at their not moving rapidly to develop strong project office leadership, but rather letting it develop, was not the best course. I think we both have learned a good deal in the process.
Mr. KARTH. Yes, sir, I appreciate that. The only thought that occurs to me at this moment is that according to the testimony that has gone on before, and as we explored some of the criticisms that previously have been leveled toward JPL or the Ranger program, we found,
for example, that certain components were used where more sophisticated, more reliable components could have been used; inadequacies or deficiencies in design, and so forth.
Previous witnesses have answered that criticism this way, and I thought somewhat satisfactorily, "Well, it is all right to have an advance in the state of the art, but some place along the line when you have a specific project you have got to get on with the project; you have got to turn what has been created up to that point into hardware, otherwise you will never have a flight article but will constantly concern yourself with advancing the state of the art, and since advances are continuous, you will never get into the program."
It appeared to me this was a valid argument in defense of certain inadequacies that have been pointed out; so while I recognize the importance of the interface that you have been talking about, I also call your attention to the fact that those who are working on the Ranger program feel that while certain deficiencies or inadequacies have now come to light, it is just the better part of hindsight as opposed to foresight, and inasmuch as this program is now some 4 years old, they had to get something in hardware, and they utilized the best design and components available at the time.
That is exactly what they have done, and now we can look at the spacecraft and say this piece, or that component, or this design is not optimum; it is something considerably less than optimum, but it is something we have got to live with just because we had to get something in production.
I wonder if in this instance the interface that you talk about is quite as important as would be implied? This was the purpose for my questioning.
Mr. WEBB. Would you wish me to comment?
Mr. KARTH. If you would like, sir.
Mr. WEBB. I think, Mr. Chairman, another way to think about this is that this organization has shown very great competence. I don't need to amplify the testimony already given with respect to Mariner and many other projects. We always concentrate on the areas of difficulty because we want to make further progress.
I think the matters you are referring to, insofar as an increase in strong action by NASA Headquarters to force changes in organization is concerned, would not necessarily have made very much difference in the Ranger VI flight.
I think, however, the learning process we have gone through will undoubtedly make a very great difference over the next 12 months. I think there is a difference, as you have so well pointed out, between the necessity to agree on how you are going to make a piece of equipment, how you are going to fly it, how you are going to get the data back, and how you are going to use such equipment as is available, and a hindsight look at what might have been, including what might have been in the technical field and what might have been if a stronger project system had been in existence.
I don't think there is any evidence to indicate that a stronger project direction-had we, in essence, said to California Institute of Technology, "We will cancel the contract unless you do put in a stronger organization," would have made a real difference in the reliability of the equipment that we are using.