NASA urged to get serious about 'faster, better, cheaper'

NASA's "faster, better, cheaper" management strategy needs to rise above a mere management philosophy and become a defined part of the agency's mission, according to a new report from the agency's inspector general. In 1992 NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin launched the "faster, better, cheaper" initiative to decrease mission cost and time, and to increase the number of missions and their scientific results. Under the new approach, he moved work to private industry and minimized government oversight. He also reduced NASA's infrastructure to the point that the agency's role shifted from mainly technical support to contract administration. Though Goldin's policy is used to manage programs and projects, it has yet to be included in the agency's strategic goals and performance plans, NASA Inspector General Roberta Gross said in her report, " Faster, Better, Cheaper: Policy, Strategic Planning and Human Resource Alignment." "NASA considered [faster, better, cheaper] to be a philosophy that did not need to be formalized into written agency policies or guidance," said the report. "Without written policies or guidance, NASA cannot effectively communicate [the concept] to program and project managers and contractors, which could negatively affect mission success, weaken accountability for results, and lead to increased cost and delays." The report also criticized NASA for failing to link its human resources efforts with strategic goals. "NASA has not determined the appropriate number of staff and competencies needed to effectively carry out strategic goals and objectives for its programs, most notably the... Mars Program, and may lose core competencies," the report said. Gross recommended that NASA develop policies and guidelines to define "faster, better, cheaper" and address its implementation at the agency. NASA officials should also incorporate that management policy into strategic plans, include the results in annual performance reports and perform strategic human capital planning, the IG's report said. While NASA officials agreed that the "faster, better, cheaper" approach should be included in strategic goals and performance plans, officials disagreed that it should be a specific subset of those plans. Agency officials strongly disagreed with the "perspective that [faster, better, cheaper] is responsible for 'keeping the staffing low,'" the report said. Rather, the combination of downsizing and increased workloads resulted in skill imbalances, agency managers said. The IG's report follows several other reviews of the faster, better, cheaper policy. In 1999, Goldin commissioned several independent reviews to examine the new approach and recent mission failures. A March 2000 review by the NASA Integrated Action Team concluded that too much emphasis on cost constraints and schedule deadlines had hurt NASA project quality.
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