NASA should focus on leap-ahead technology, says O’Keefe

NASA will cut programs that duplicate research being conducted in the private sector, the space agency's new administrator said Wednesday. Speaking to reporters on his sixth day on the job, new NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said NASA must focus on developing "leap-ahead" technologies and generally leave research that promises more moderate returns to the private sector. The agency should not explore space for the sake of exploration alone, he added, but to achieve specific scientific objectives. "We need to think in terms of the results, objectives and accomplishments we want to pursue…and less in terms of defining missions by specific destinations," said O'Keefe. For example, NASA should only strive to send astronauts to Mars if it has a scientific rationale for the mission, he said. O'Keefe plans to use the Bush administration's competitive sourcing initiative to refocus NASA on cutting-edge research. He said space shuttle operations are a good candidate for public-private job competitions, and that he will review other NASA functions that could possibly be carried out by private companies. When asked if he had already selected programs to shift to the private sector, he said, "stay tuned." O'Keefe said he would give his "best effort" to make sure NASA meets the competitive sourcing goals set out by the Bush administration. In his previous job as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, O'Keefe instructed all agencies to compete at least 5 percent of federal jobs considered commercial in nature by October. On Wednesday, O'Keefe spoke enthusiastically about how competitive sourcing could revitalize an organization. "When you liberate any entity from a particular means to accomplish a result…what you get is a whole different way of looking at how you accomplish the task. And that's the fascinating part of competitive sourcing in my mind," he said. O'Keefe also touted the Bush administration's larger management agenda, which he helped craft while at OMB. President Bush was heavily involved in the creation of the agenda and instructed OMB to choose a few governmentwide management reforms to focus on, he said. "[President Bush] said I want to be really careful about what it is we pick and send signals we're serious about," said O'Keefe. O'Keefe said NASA will pursue a closer collaboration with the Defense Department on technical projects and will continue a review of the agency's research centers begun under the agency's former administrator, Daniel Goldin. O'Keefe will visit each research center in the next six weeks, including the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where he will witness his first space shuttle launch. He was sworn-in as the 10th NASA administrator Dec. 21.
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