MOD has hope in a post-shuttle follow on program despite workforce cull

by Chris Bergin

Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) Director Paul Hill has attempted to rally his troops, following the announcement of six hundred job losses – whilst noting his belief there will at least be a “follow on program” in the human space flight future, post-shuttle. MSFC acting director Robert Lightfoot also addressed his workforce, noting the center will be involved in NASA’s future plans – regardless of what vehicle will succeed the shuttle.

Paul Hill Address:

The MOD head held his All Hands meeting in front of a packed audience of around 700 workers in the Teague Auditorium, Johnson Space Center (JSC), last week, outlining the job losses that begin as early as this August, prior to a large scale reduction next October. Full video, charts and associated memos available on L2.

The news is a hammer blow to the contractor community involved with MOD – mainly United Space Alliance (USA) workers – who will take the brunt of the losses.

The losses are the result of the current end date planned for the Space Shuttle Program (SSP), Constellation milestones continually slipping to the right, a slow down in MOD workers moving on in their careers, and budget constraints imposed on NASA by lawmakers.

“Let me remind you what our priorities are, what the focus is for MOD management, and the types of things that guide us,” noted Mr Hill in his opening remarks. “First, on the mission, it’s about MOD continuing to be bullet-proof steely-eyed missile men and women.

“It’s all about mission prep, training, execution, doing the right thing for the programs that are relying on us, and more importantly the men and women who are betting their lives on us being good at what we do. That hasn’t changed, that remains the thing that drives us.”

Noting the need to ensure MOD provides value for money throughout the remainder of the shuttle and ISS programs – and through to the work on Constellation – Mr Hill moved on to the fallout for MOD based on the downstream budget.

“For the bean counters amongst us, it means our operating plan has to come in on budget. We have to have plans that are capable of doing the work in the budget we are given, this year, next year and all future years,” Mr Hill continued.

“All the charts I’m going to show you are budget related, which I think is kinda a sad event – I’d much rather be talking about rocket science.”

y2One chart in particular showed the reason for the job losses, with a hole in the post shuttle budget impacting on MOD funding, an impact that the previously expected attrition rate was expected to counter.

“This red part here is the shuttle program budget – and it’s no mystery to anyone that at the end of FY (Financial Year) 10 the shuttle budget drops off to nothing.

“The green bar is our Space Station budget. The yellow bar is the Constellation development budget, and in the blue is our Constellation plan/train/fly budget. So this gives you an idea of our budget as it transitions from FY08 to FY12.

“The (most) significant thing to notice is the hole we see in the white space. For those of you that talked to me five months or so ago, you’d of heard me – or you’d of heard the management team – saying things like ‘our attrition is generally steeper than the reduction in our budget’.

“In non-bean counter speak, our expectations until around five months ago was that as our budget “trailed off” at the end of the shuttle program going into Constellation, (so) the transition happened slowly enough that our natural attrition was actually higher. So we were still hiring folks to make up the difference when we came down this slope.”

Now that the previous plan – which involved no workforce reduction – is not longer viable with a large reduction in the current attrition rate, MOD will have to dismiss hundreds of it staff to stay on budget – a budget Mr Hill confirmed has been under strain due to an increase in Constellation costs, at a time the overall budget has been reduced.

“The Constellation budget, and some of their milestones, have slipped out to the right. Also with the economy, our attrition rate has dropped off – from 12 percent to 3.5 percent, significant change. The upshot of this is that 15 months from today MOD is going to be 600 people smaller.

“In the next couple of months, we have a problem making sure we can come in on plan for FY10. So the more current news is by September of this year, MOD will have to have a workforce reduction of between 60 and 80 folks.

“The next couple of years are going to be tough on all of us, and we have known this for some time. It doesn’t surprise any of us that the shuttle program is coming to an end. Going through that is going to be a difficult time for all of us.

“Just to put it into perspective, I said by October 2010 MOD will be about 600 people smaller, shuttle program wide they are looking at a number that is closer to 11,000. This is going to be a tough year for the human space flight community.”

y3Out of MOD’s 3000 workers, 600 jobs losses comes in at 20 percent total. However, 500 of the 3000 are civil servants – and won’t be subject to the losses. And out of the remaining 2500 MOD contractors, 1200 work on shuttle – which is the main target for the jobs cuts, meaning around half of the MOD Shuttle contractor workforce will lose their jobs in just over a year.

However, Mr Hill still hopes such large jobs losses may be avoided, based on the current plan, versus the findings of the Augustine Commission review – which may, for example, recommend to lawmakers that the shuttle program is extended by one, two or even four years. Sources note shuttle extension is now a major player at the commission.

“There are things that could change that plan. Augustine panel is expected to come back and report in the late August timeframe. Their recommendations and the effect they have on the White House, Congress and national space policy could relate to budget.

“We might see some of those technical milestones driven back to the left, which would fill in some of that white space in the FY10, FY11 timeframe.”

Mr Hill also noted the potential for a swift improvement in the economy, which may “afford the opportunities” that were previously available outside of MOD and NASA to return for the workforce, allowing the attrition rate to rise – reducing the impact of the upcoming job losses.

y4The most interesting element of Mr Hill’s speech related to what he believes is the future direction of MOD and the Agency as a whole, again making reference to the ongoing Augustine Commission

“If I had some read of the tea leafs, even unofficially on what I thought was going to happen, if we had some indication on where that was going to go, I’d be telling you. Fact is, that’s still some kind of an open map,” he noted.

“Personally, I have strong confidence that we’re not going to be cancelling a follow on program. We’re not going to cancel the ISS program, that we’ll fly out shuttle and be done with human space flight – which would, no kidding, by the worst case (scenario).”

Mr Hill made no direct reference to Ares throughout his 30 minute address, and went further by noting he isn’t sure what the “follow on” program will be – just his confidence there will be one.

“I am confident we will have a follow on program at the end of the shuttle program. Now, what that program is going to be, it’ll be interesting to see what the Augustine panel reports. It’ll be interesting to see what the White House and the Congressional response to that is.”

Robert Lightfoot Address:

Addressing the MSFC workforce, Mr Lightfoot also made reference to the Augustine Commission, speaking of his confident in the outcome of the panel’s “thorough review” on Ares – a vehicle that is major part of Marshall’s future.

Titled “We will continue the path we’re on” – the e-mailed address had an overly positive tone throughout, but did concede there may be “changes” to NASA’s “exploration goals.”

y5“An independent review of NASA’s human spaceflight activities has started with a goal of providing options that will ensure that the nation’s human spaceflight program remains safe, innovative and affordable in the years following the space shuttle’s retirement,” Mr Lightfoot noted.

“The panel will examine Constellation and possible alternatives, working closely with NASA and seeking input from the Congress, the White House, the public, industry and our international partners.

“The results of the review will support an administration decision by August 2009 on how to proceed. NASA may provide a budget update to the Office of Management and Budget reflecting any changes to the administration’s exploration goals resulting from the review.

“The review panel is led by one of the most experienced leaders in the aerospace industry, Norman Augustine. Dr. Michael Hawes, associate administrator of NASA’s Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation, will lead NASA’s team supporting the review. With Norm’s and Mike’s leadership, I’m confident that it will be a thorough review.”

Interestingly, Mr Lightfoot overview of the downstream budget showed the major difference between Marshall’s future and that of MODs, with no mention of job losses for MSFC.

“The budget also confirms the great confidence that NASA continues to place in us. Marshall’s FY2010 budget request is $2.9 billion – a 10 percent increase over FY2009 and one of the largest budgets in NASA. It’s clear that Marshall will continue to be NASA’s ‘go to’ Center for designing and developing space and launch systems to support the Agency’s science, operations and exploration missions.”

Stressing the center will continue on the current plan, Mr Lightfoot outlined forward work on both Ares I and Ares V, despite the futures of both vehicles very much in the balance.

“Based on the work assigned to us, we will thus continue the path we’re on, focusing on six priorities: Flying the space shuttle as safely as possible until its retirement. Supporting completion of the ISS and manage science payloads.

“Developing the Ares I rocket for Initial Operational Capacity. Continuing planning for Ares V. Managing the Lunar Quest program, including work on GRAIL, LADEE and the International Lunar Network. Continuing science and instrument development efforts.

“This is a busy time for us. We’ll continue to justify the tremendous confidence that NASA and our nation have placed in us. As long as we fly in space, the Marshall Center is going to be involved in it.”

L2 members: Documentation – from which the above article has quoted snippets – is available in full in the related L2 sections, now over 4000 gbs in size.

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