WASHINGTON -- Taking up the delicate topic of NASA's much maligned management culture, NASA's new boss says much of what needs to be done to ensure openness and sound decision-making boils to down to "common courtesy."
"What I see that we need to focus on in NASA in terms of mending the culture -- to the extent that it needs to be mended -- are traits that we were taught at kindergarten: listen to what other people have to say; pay attention to their opinions; give them the respect of hearing them out and hearing them through and encouraging them to speak and making sure all that the viewpoints are heard," NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told about 175 people gathered for a May 3 breakfast speech sponsored by Women in Aerospace.
Griffin's remarks are likely to have special resonance so close to the recently rescheduled return to flight of the space shuttle, the first launch since the 2003 destruction of Columbia. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board cited NASA's management culture as a major contributing factor in the accident.
"In a bit of tongue-in-cheek sort of way I've often defined management as the art of making decisions with less information than any fool would like to have. That is what we get paid to do. But in order to make decisions with less information than you would really like to have, it is at the very least important to hear all the information you can get," Griffin said.
He said NASA must make sure that employees "know that there is encouragement and not retribution for having something to say which is different from what might have been the thought of the common herd. We need to be encouraging about that."
Griffin said he has been "incredibly impressed by the robust quality of the technical discussions and the airings of all views" in four days of meetings he took part in about return to flight issues.
"If we can just keep going like that we are not going to have any problems with our management culture," he said.