NASA cancels $10 million culture change contract
Behavioral Science Technology of Ojai, Calif., is 16 months into a three-year campaign to reform NASA's safety climate and culture in the aftermath of the February 2003 accident that destroyed a $2 billion space shuttle and killed seven astronauts.
"The BST contract is going to be curtailed, but NASA continues to maintain its strong safety culture and commitment to a safe work environment," agency spokesman David Steitz told Government Executive Wednesday. "Our commitment to safety is constantly evolving, and we will adjust our activities in this area as appropriate."
The decision came from NASA's Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation and the agency's Office of Institutions and Management, with approval from Administrator Michael Griffin. Agency officials did not provide specifics about what led to the move.
Steitz said NASA has paid out about $4.5 million of the $10 million that BST could have earned under the five-year contract, which was awarded in February 2004, a year after the Columbia disaster. The contract stipulated measurable improvement in NASA's safety culture within six months and broad changes by 2007.
The culture change initiative was prompted by the Columbia accident investigation. An official report on the accident, released in August 2003, decried NASA management's unwillingness to hear bad news and said a lack of upward communication contributed to the orbiter crash.
Through attitude surveys of 45 percent of NASA's civilian workforce, BST determined that employees were afraid to speak up about safety. The consultants recommended that change come from the top. They began the first phase of starting the process with what they described as an "intervention" among the 10 to 15 most senior executives at NASA's Washington headquarters in April 2004.
The group included former Administrator Sean O'Keefe, who resigned his post in February. Days before his departure, O'Keefe suggested the change process might never end. "Once asserted that the culture is challenged," he said in an interview with Government Executive, "it is virtually impossible to reverse that view."
By September of last year, the consultants had moved down through the NASA hierarchy at five field installations. They did some work at Florida's Kennedy Space Center and Maryland's Goddard Space Flight Center, but focused their efforts at Glenn Research Center in Ohio, Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and Johnson Space Center in Texas.
In its latest progress report, issued in February, BST noted that in spite of measurable improvement, a significant segment of the population at the targeted field installations did not perceive change. "These results reflect what one would expect at the early stage of change," the consultants wrote.
As of Wednesday, NASA's Washington headquarters and all 10 field installations had undergone at least one round of surveys and workshops designed to gauge and modify employee attitudes. A second round was under way at headquarters and five field installations. The consultants were scheduled to complete all in-house work, including behavioral observation and training across the agency, within about three weeks.