Consolidated Findings and Recommendations
The preceding chapters outline the committee’s response to the study charge and offer perspectives on the roles and value of mission-enabling activities in NASA’s space and Earth science programs; discuss concerns and opportunities for management improvement; delineate criteria for making portfolio allocations and metrics for evaluating program effectiveness; and suggest best practices for managing an effective mission-enabling program. In this chapter the committee consolidates those conclusions into a set of three principal findings and recommendations.
Finding 1. The mission-enabling activities in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD)—including support for scientific research and research infrastructure, advanced technology development, and scientific and technical workforce development—are fundamentally important to NASA and to the nation.
NASA’s mission-enabling activities constitute an integral part of the nation’s overall R&D effort, and they play essential roles in maximizing the scientific return on investment in space and Earth science spaceflight missions and in providing a foundation for an effective and robust program for the future. Mission-enabling activities have had remarkable impacts over the history of NASA’s space and Earth science programs, and there continue to be opportunities and needs to build on that record in the future.
Recommendation 1. NASA should ensure that SMD mission-enabling activities are linked to the strategic goals of the agency and of SMD and that they are structured so as to
Encompass the range and scope of activities needed to support those strategic goals,
Provide the broad knowledge base that is the context necessary to interpreting data from spaceflight missions and defining new spaceflight missions,
Maximize the scientific return from all spaceflight missions,
Supply a continuous flow of new technical capabilities and scientific understanding from mission-enabling activities into new spaceflight missions, and
Enable the healthy scientific and technical workforce needed to conduct NASA’s space and Earth science program.
In recommending that SMD’s mission-enabling activities be linked to agency and SMD goals, the committee does not intend that the totality of the program be so constrained that innovative blue-sky ideas be frozen out. Instead, the committee argues in Chapter 4 that some small fraction of resources should be set aside to support high-risk/high-payoff technology development and research projects.
Finding 2. Adoption of an active portfolio management approach is the key to providing an effective program of mission-enabling activities that will satisfy the intent of this committee’s first finding and recommendation.
Recommendation 2. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate should develop and implement an approach to actively managing its portfolio of mission-enabling activities.
Active portfolio management should include the following elements:
Clearly defined science division mission-enabling mission statements, objectives, strategies, and priorities that can be traced back to the overall strategic goals of NASA, SMD, and the division.
Flexibility to accommodate differences in the scientific missions and programmatic options that are most appropriate to the different science discipline divisions.
Clearly articulated relationships between mission-enabling activities and the ensemble of ongoing and future spaceflight missions that they support.
Clear metrics that permit program managers to relate mission-enabling activities to strategic goals, evaluate the effectiveness of mission-enabling activities, and make informed decisions about priorities, programmatic needs, and portfolio balance.
Provisions for integrating support for innovative high-risk/high-payoff research and technology, interdisciplinary research, and scientific and technical workforce development into mission-enabling program strategies.
Active involvement of the scientific community via an open and robust advisory committee process.
Transparent budgets that permit program managers to effectively manage mission-enabling activity portfolios and permit other decision makers and the research community to understand the content of mission-enabling activity programs.
Finding 3. The NASA SMD headquarters scientific and technical staff is not adequately sized to manage mission-enabling activities effectively.
Recommendation 3. NASA should increase the number of scientifically and technically capable program officers so that they can devote an appropriate level of attention to the tasks of actively managing the portfolio of research and technology development that enables a world-class space and Earth science program.
The committee believes that action on Recommendation 3 is essential if NASA is to be able to respond properly to Recommendation 2. The committee is also convinced that having mission-enabling program managers divide their time between mission-enabling activities and duties related to spaceflight programs is desirable and that it improves their ability to be effective in both roles. Furthermore, because NASA center scientists and technologists compete with outside researchers for support for participation in mission-enabling programs, management of mission-enabling activities is properly a NASA headquarters, not a NASA field center, function.
The committee estimates that the size of the current SMD headquarters program manager staff falls short by between 35 and 75 percent. While some fraction of the shortfall can be remedied by the use of rotators and detailees, the committee believes that a workable solution will also need to include an increase in the SMD civil service ceiling.