Status Report

Responses to NASA Special Notice: Transforming the Private Sector Role in Space Operations

By SpaceRef Editor
August 20, 2004
Filed under ,

Reference: NASA Special Notice: Transforming the Private Sector Role in Space Operations

Responses to


RFI Questions

NASA appreciates the thoughtful responses and questions submitted during the early phase of this RFI. It is important to keep in mind the purpose of this RFI, to gather ideas on what alternative management models might be feasible for NASA’s field centers. There is not just one way to organize ourselves to accomplish the exploration strategy, hence we are gathering and studying multiple ideas. We have answered the questions we believe to be within the scope of this RFI, listed those we believe to be beyond the scope of this RFI, and in a few cases, provided alternate sources of additional information. We look forward to your creative and thoughtful ideas.

Response Format

1) What is the preferred format for the information requested (e.g., are “white papers” acceptable)?

A White Paper which is 20 pages or less and includes an executive summary as detailed in the RFI would be an acceptable response.

Use of Responses

2) Will the responses to this solicitation be treated as proprietary?

Yes, if appropriately marked.

3) Will the information provided in response to this RFI be made available publicly?

At this time, NASA does not plan to make the responses received via the RFI available to the public.

4) The notice states “Responses to this Request for Information (RFI) and ideas may lead to a decision to compete study contracts or other follow-on work to implement this recommendation.” What range or limits are envisioned for the scope and funding level for such follow-on work?

NASA has not developed a scope of work or funding levels for possible follow-on solicitations.

Aldridge Report

5) Given this RFI seeks an analysis of just one of the Aldridge Commission Report recommendations, how does NASA envision managing this effort? Will it be managed independent of other NASA change efforts?

Many aspects of the transformation effort are integrally related. While each recommendation is being individually addressed, the entire set of response efforts is being managed in an integrated manner.

6) The President’s Commission (referred to in the RFI) focused on the “space exploration” role dominant in NASA. Will the “aeronautics” (terrestrial, non-space) activities undertaken by NASA continue to have a priority in any proposed transformation?

Aeronautics is one of the four Missions within NASA’s transformed organizational structure.

7) How can completely scrapping the existing agency into FFRDCs, with the resultant turmoil, uncertainty, stress, and time to implement an entirely new organization, be worthwhile? Isn’t it best to continue to identify the weak and problems areas in the agency and to continue to incrementally improve and correct those?

NASA has not determined which model is most advantageous and is researching alternative organization models. There are many options, including FFRDCs, University Affiliated Research Centers, Institutes, other models, as well as enhancements to the current NASA organization. NASA’s transformation effort is specifically examining opportunities for continuous improvement, with the intent to implement change at an appropriate pace.

Appropriate Range of RFI Responses

8) Is NASA willing to consider different solutions for different Centers? Specifically, would NASA entertain converting some Centers to FFRDCs while adopting other organizational improvement techniques for others?

Respondents should offer any recommendations that could help Centers become more flexible and nimble in implementing the Agency’s mission. This includes the possibility of different solutions for different Centers.

9) Can the scope of consideration be less than a complete NASA center, i.e. some function or group of functions within a NASA center?

Yes, NASA is interested in receiving comments and ideas on how Centers might more effectively implement NASA’s mission, even if these responses only apply to a subset of the Center’s activities.

10) Is the offeror free to establish its own compensation strategy for its employees?

Respondents should offer any recommendations that could help Centers become more flexible and nimble in implementing the Agency’s mission. Any strategy for employee compensation should be consistent with this goal as well as the NASA values and any Federal regulations relating to employment and compensation.

11) Is the RFI limited to information that supports a presumption that FFRDC management approach will be implemented? In other words, is information that challenges the FFRDC approach acceptable?

A response that proposes any organizational model, including FFRDCs or modifications to the current structure, is acceptable.

12) The notice cites the objective “to transform its Centers to FFRDCs or other alternative management structures”. Does this encompass any form of non-Government Organization management approach?

A response that proposes any organizational model, including FFRDCs, other models, or modifications to the current structure, is acceptable.

13) What statutory or other administrative restrictions will limit the acceptability of ideas to this RFI?

Concerns about changes in legislation or other administrative rules should not limit the responses to this RFI. However, responses will be more useful if they note enabling requirement for change, including the need to implement new legislation.

Results of Existing or Ongoing NASA Studies

14) We understand that NASA is conducting an internal study of options for transforming NASA’s Centers. Will the results of that study be shared with the external community and when? Will NASA make available any internal reports, which discuss the problems and solution options within the organization, as identified by current staff and management, and if yes, at what stage will this be done?

This RFI is part of the NASA study. NASA employees are being informed of study progress throughout the transformation process. The external community will be informed of decisions regarding Center transformation as it becomes appropriate.

15) It has been stated in the media that there is a plan and timeline for conducting a review of possible options by study contract starting in September 2004 leading to preparation of recommendations in Fiscal Year 2005. Please further elaborate on these plans, explain how they relate to the subject RFI and anticipated next steps?

If NASA chooses to review options by study contract, a solicitation will be posted accordingly. No timeline has been established. Responses to the RFI may be used in formation of such a solicitation.

16) Has JPL been established as the best model?

NASA has not established any single model or existing organization as “the best model,” and is studying many different models.

17) Have any detailed analyses around the Centers’ mission/functional profiles, overlapping processes, and/or infrastructure challenges been conducted? If yes, can this information be made available?

No detailed analyses are available at this time.

18) Why would FFRDCs be better than the existing NASA organization?

NASA has not determined which model is most advantageous and is researching various alternative organization models. There are many options, including FFRDCs, University Affiliated Research Centers, Institutes, other models, as well as enhancements to the current NASA organization.

19) What is the cost-benefit analysis of converting NASAs Centers into FFRDC’s? How much will it cost to implement FFRDCs at NASA? How does the cost of converting NASA Centers to FFRDCs compare to the current way of doing business?

NASA does not have all of the necessary information at this time to comment.

Implementation of Transformation

20) Does NASA have a timetable for reconfiguring the Centers? If so, could it be provided to prospective respondents?

NASA does not have a timetable for Center transformation. Any timetable for transformation depends on the methods chosen.

21) What kind of acquisition methodology is NASA intending for the FFRDC? Would NASA entertain a long-term Co-operative agreement?

NASA has not developed implementation plans for transformation of Centers. Responses may include recommendations related to acquisition methodology, including cooperative agreements.

22) Is it correct to assume that any private non-governmental organization selected as an FFRDC to manage a NASA Center(s) will receive full indemnification and be held harmless with respect to the health and safety of, or loss of, any space flight vehicle or hardware?

It is too early to determine what indemnification would be needed, but the selected contract mechanism would include the appropriate liability provisions.

23) Who owns the intellectual property developed at a FFRDC?

The disposition of rights in intellectual property created at a transformed Center would be determined by the selected contract mechanism. For inventions, it is standard practice for contractors to have the first right to pursue patent protection to inventions made under the contract. While small businesses and educational institutions may elect to retain title to inventions, large businesses (i.e., other than small business or educational institutions), must petition NASA to waive title to inventions in order to pursue patents. Regardless of whether the election or wavier process is used, the government obtains a nonexclusive, nontransferable, irrevocable, paid-up license to practice or have practiced the invention for or on behalf of the Government. For data, the government generally obtains unlimited rights to data first produced under the contract. Copyright may, or may not, be asserted by the contractor. Again, the contract mechanism will determine the disposition of rights to copyrightable works.

24) Will there be sufficient government oversight of the contracts and work to be done, or will the government lose more oversight responsibility?

Issues relating to the implementation of a transformed Center would be determined by the selected contract mechanism.

25) What fees can be expected to be paid to the parent organizations of FFRDCs?

Issues relating to the implementation of a transformed Center would be determined by the selected contract mechanism.

26) Will the FFRDC contractor be delegated authority to administer the benefits for the civil servants assigned to the Center?

Civil service benefits are administered by the government.

27) What procurement regulations does NASA intend to impose on the FFRDC for the acquisition of goods and services?

Issues relating to the implementation of a transformed Center, including procurement regulations, would be determined by the selected contract mechanism.

28) Are there any legal constraints known, specific to NASA’s current constitution, that are likely to significantly limit future transformation options for NASA – whether as an FFRDC or other alternative?

Concerns about changes in legislation or other administrative rules should not limit the responses to this RFI. However, responses will be more useful if they note enabling requirements for change, including legislation.

29) Is foreign participation in the future work or management of NASA likely to be allowed or encouraged (consistent with any specific security requirements)?

The Vision for Space Exploration specifically calls upon NASA to “pursue opportunities for international participation to support U.S. space exploration goals.”

Safety and Security

30) Will employees have the freedom to speak out about issues and safety concerns or will they be more unwilling to do so for fear of reprisal and intimidation in losing their jobs?

All of the NASA extended family is encouraged and expected to speak out on safety issues.

31) What about security issues? How will security clearances and classified information be treated?

Security clearances and classified information will be handled according to law and established procedures.

NASA Workforce

32) Has NASA defined any set of functions that must uniquely be performed by government employees?

No policy has been formulated regarding the unique functions that must be maintained within NASA beyond those that are inherently governmental as defined by OMB Circular A-76. Respondents may recommend sharing of roles between government and non-government.

33) Are there any guidelines/requirements regarding the transition of NASA employees?

The employment of civil service staff is governed by statute and multiple regulations. NASA will seek appropriate legislation if required.

34) How would NASA maintain veteran’s hiring preference under the FFRDC model?

If employees are hired outside of the civil service system, veteran’s hiring preference does not apply.

35) How many NASA managers and employees will eligible for hiring and be hired by the contractors?

Conversion of civil service employees will depend on the application of alternative models to NASA.

36) Can NASA risk losing critically experienced and knowledgeable scientists and engineers?

One of the goals of transformation will be to retain core competencies and skills for future needs.

37) How does the new NASA maintain a cadre of skilled people and educated buyers, with career ties to the agency, that can evaluate the FFRDC contractor’s performance and assure the agencies ability to respond to new opportunities?

Maintaining civil servants to fill “appropriately governmental” roles, as well as to sustain core competencies, is included in NASA’s transformation objectives.

38) Will employees’ salaries and benefits, including health care and retirement, be similar in an FFRDC?

Specific issues relating to implementation have not been predetermined.

39) Will employees be legally able to unionize in FFRDCs, and do it without the threat of losing their jobs?

Federal and state labor laws will continue to apply in a transformed organization.

40) Will employees be more loyal to NASA or to the universities and companies they work for?

NASA is looking forward to creative responses to the RFI that deal with difficult issues such as these.

41) Why should NASA consider further reductions in NASA’s civil service technical workforce given the CAIB concerns?

NASA is considering all possible options that could improve the ability of the NASA workforce to do its job and is soliciting ideas on the feasibility of various options. No decisions have been made regarding reduction of the civil service workforce. Transformation of a Center would not supersede CAIB or any other safety concerns.

42) Why is NASA not living up to your promise to reinvigorate NASA’s technical civil-service workforce that you made to Congress when asking for drastic changes to Title V in the NASA workforce flexibility act of 2003? (Clearly the reforms to Title V were not meant for non-CS employees.)

Although the new legislative flexibilities have been available to NASA for only a few weeks, our Centers have already begun using them to help address their workforce needs. NASA remains committed to ensuring that it has the talent it needs to accomplish its challenging mission. The authorities in the NASA Workforce Flexibility Act of 2004 will be critical to the Agency’s efforts to hire and retain civil servants with the right competencies, and reshape the workforce to ensure that employees are placed where their skills can be used most effectively.

43) Why is management complaining about inflexible civil-service regulations when NASA has yet to fully utilize the powerful new authorities accorded the Administrator by Congress only a few months ago?

NASA is pleased with the recent legislative flexibilities provided, and we are taking advantage of these new authorities. Although there are differences between rules governing employment of NASA civil servants and rules and practices governing employment of individuals in the non-public sector, that is not the focus of our interest in soliciting opinions about alternative management structures. We are looking at the broader issue of determining the form of organization that will best enable innovation, stimulate economic development, and enhance working with industry and academic communities. Personnel rules and benefits are only one aspect to consider.

44) How is a massive transfer of civil servants to non-government entities consistent with the workforce plan NASA management delivered recently to Congress?

To assume a massive transfer of civil servants to non-government entities would be presumptuous. We have not made any assumptions or decisions regarding transfer of civil servants to non-government organizations. We are researching options for creating more efficient and effective organizations. We have not determined which model is most advantageous. There are many options—including FFRDCs, University-Affiliated Research Centers, and institutes—as well as the option of enhancing the current NASA organization. If a decision is made to transform a Center (or Centers, or elements of a Center) to conform to another model, the Workforce Plan will be revised and submitted to Congress in accordance with the provisions of the NASA Flexibility Act of 2004.

45) What will be the impact of violating NASA’s tenure covenant with its current workforce on its future credibility for recruiting and retaining “the best and brightest”, who can expect full tenure at Universities?

NASA’s recent experience in recruiting young professionals indicates they are much less interested in the longevity or permanence of a job than they are in other factors such as opportunities for interesting and challenging work, educational advancement, and similar considerations. Job seekers today expect and, perhaps, even look forward to multiple job changes during their careers.

Other Topics

46) Mission Offices have been created as a feature of the reorganization of NASA. Have the Mission Offices defined prospective roles and responsibilities for the existing NASA Centers? If so, please provide those findings.

Mission Directorates and Mission Support Offices have established relationships with the Centers that continue to evolve, see NPR 1000.3 A for details. Specific questions regarding roles and responsibilities should be addressed to the appropriate Mission Directorate Office or Mission Support Office.

47) As the exploration of space becomes an ever more commercially attractive proposition, will NASA continue to maintain independence from major aerospace Primes?

This RFI assumes that NASA will remain a government entity. We look forward to engaging the private sector to implement the Vision, consistent with Federal Acquisition Regulations.

48) Are there any givens regarding ownership of existing NASA facilities?

Responses that propose alternate facilities ownership or management structure would be acceptable and should include implementation for any suggested ownership transfers.

49) Would existing Center roles and missions be impacted by the decision to reconfigure Centers as FFRDCs?

Some NASA Center roles and missions are currently undergoing change as part of the new Vision. Reconfigured Centers should be better able to fill their roles in NASA’s mission. Missions should not change to fit the organization, but the organization may change to meet the mission.

50) Is NASA able to prioritize the four desired outcomes described in the RFI (e.g., aligning performance with mission needs, enhancing personnel management practices, stimulating private sector involvement, reducing cost by eliminating duplication)? If yes, can you please provide the priorities?

There have been no rankings placed on the four desired outcomes described in the RFI. The RFI is not an evaluation process, but a mechanism to gather information for possible future solicitation.

51) Will different FFRDCs with different universities and contractors be able to work effectively together? How will proprietary information sharing and technology transfer function with different universities and companies?
NASA is looking forward to creative responses to the RFI that deal with difficult issues such as these

These questions are considered beyond the scope of this RFI.

52) Why is NASA not considering re-federalizing currently outsourced activities that contributed to the Columbia disaster?

CAIB related questions should be directed to Mr. Walt Cantrell at

53) Why should NASA contract out more of its technical activities when the CAIB report already pointed out that it cannot manage its current contracts properly?

CAIB related questions should be directed to Mr. Walt Cantrell at

54) Are Americans willing to commit that much in resources for the estimated potential gains and associated risks for landing a human crew on Mars? Are humans’ lives worth the risk associated with travel to Mars when much of the work can carried be out by robots as NASA is currently now doing with the Mars rover missions?

55) What are the overriding compelling reasons to land humans on Mars and to justify the enormous costs and associated risks?

56) What message does the government send to its employees and the rest of the nation when it decides to essentially eliminate the NASA work force in favor of contractors?

57) In the agency-wide survey back in June, exactly how many centers voted Recommendation 3-3 as a “top-three priority” for consideration?

58) How many NASA Civil Servant employees, fully technically qualified to be assigned to Exploration efforts, will nonetheless have their salaries “uncovered” in the near future because they have not been so assigned given the arbitrary earmarking of Exploration monies for the private sector?

59) Why is NASA earmarking the majority of new Exploration funding for the private sector, effectively blocking its expert civil servants from taking a lead

SpaceRef staff editor.