Griffin: Changing NASA Culture Boils Down to 'Common Courtesy'

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 sounddecision-making boils to down to "common courtesy."

"What I seethat we need to focus on in NASA in terms of mending the culture -- to theextent that it needs to be mended -- are traits that we were taught atkindergarten: listen to what other people have to say; pay attention to theiropinions; give them the respect of hearing them out and hearing them throughand encouraging them to speak and making sure all that the viewpoints areheard," NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told about 175 people gathered for aMay 3 breakfast speech sponsored by Women in Aerospace.

Griffin's remarks are likely to have special resonance so close tothe recently rescheduled return to flight of the space shuttle, the firstlaunch since the 2003 destruction of Columbia.The Columbia Accident Investigation Board cited NASA's management culture as amajor contributing factor in the accident.

"In a bitof tongue-in-cheek sort of way I've often defined management as the art ofmaking decisions with less information than any fool would like to have. Thatis what we get paid to do. But in order to make decisions with less informationthan you would really like to have, it is at the very least important to hearall the information you can get," Griffinsaid.

He saidNASA must make sure that employees "know that there is encouragement and notretribution for having something to say which is different from what might havebeen the thought of the common herd. We need to be encouraging about that."

Griffin said he has been "incrediblyimpressed by the robust quality of the technical discussions and the airings ofall views" in four days of meetings he took part in about return to flightissues.

"If we canjust keep going like that we are not going to have any problems with ourmanagement culture," he said.

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Colin Clark
Contributing Writer

Colin Clark, the founding editor of Breaking Defense, also started, the world’s first all-online defense news website, He covered Congress, intelligence and regulatory affairs for Space News; founded and edited the Washington Aerospace Briefing, a newsletter for the space industry; covered national security issues for Congressional Quarterly; and was editor of Defense News. Colin, an avid fisherman, grill genius and wine drinker, lives in his native Washington, D.C. but will eventually be relocating to Australia where he will report on Asia and Pacific defense matters for Breaking Defense.