NASA chief sets leadership example, report says

Federal managers could learn a lot from the example set by Daniel Goldin, NASA's longest-serving administrator, according to a new report. Goldin has guided the agency through major reform and into the 21st century by adapting his management style to suit the needs of the organization, the report, "Transforming Government: Dan Goldin and the Remaking of NASA," said. The report was published by the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government.

Goldin, who was appointed in 1992 by President George H. W. Bush and is still at the helm, "shook up the agency" when he came aboard, according to report author W. Henry Lambright, a professor of political science and public administration at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. "In the history of NASA, Goldin will likely stand out as a man who preserved the agency by forcing it to change," said Lambright. While his tenure has been marked by both successes and failures, Goldin's legacy will be his ability to capitalize on accomplishments, learn from failures and adapt his management style accordingly, the report said. "He worked intensely, was quite intelligent, learned quickly about Washington politics, and was utterly relentless in pursuit of his aims," said Lambright. "He has lasted a long time in office, outlasting many of his adversaries." According to the report, Goldin's success as an agency leader is due to his ability to:

  • Align a long-term mission with short-term goals: Goldin viewed space exploration as NASA's primary mission, but knew that maintaining NASA's management and technological innovations would be the means to that end.
  • Use adversity and crisis as opportunities for change: Budget cuts and the fate of the international space station were some of the trials Goldin used to build a constituency of support for his leadership and NASA, and to reform the agency.
  • Identify agency weaknesses: Goldin used independent panels to assess NASA's problems and solutions, and eventually used that strategy to modify his own administrative style, which had contributed to communication problems within the agency.
Lambright emphasized that Goldin's ability to implement change, but also to learn how to wield that power wisely, is, ultimately, Goldin's legacy as a leader. "There are limits to change imposed from the top, and Goldin found those limits," said Lambright. The report credited Goldin with saving the international space station, revamping the unmanned space science program and pursuing an aggressive management reform agenda that helped steer the agency into the next century. Goldin's "faster, better, cheaper" approach to unmanned space flight proved successful with 1997's Pathfinder mission to Mars, and his emphasis on space exploration as NASA's primary mission helped focus the agency on a specific long-term goal. His strong-willed, aggressive personality also helped reorganize NASA and build support in the administration and Congress for NASA initiatives. But, sometimes Goldin pushed too hard for change and the "faster, better, cheaper" approach was not always the best tack to take with the Mars program, the report said. Goldin also failed to solve NASA's access to space problem and alienated many employees inside NASA with what his critics saw as insensitive tactics and an abrasive personality, the report said.
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