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Town Hall: Aligning Center Work with Agency Goals
By: Jim Hodges

At a Town Hall on Monday, Lesa Roe, Langley's center director, offered a glimpse of the future when she outlined a strategy that offered a more focused look at the center's work and how it fits with NASA goals.

A Langley Technology Council to develop, coordinate and communicate technology for future NASA missions, as well as help integrate and manage resources to accomplish those technological goals, is part of the plan. So is a new way to charge for fabrication work to offer more competitive service.

Town Hall with Lesa Roe.
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Center Director Lesa Roe, held a Town Hall meeting at NASA Langley to discuss the new 20-year Center Revitalization Plan, the recent off-site retreat, the new technology council, on-center fabrication, the updated center strategy and ongoing reorganization efforts. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

The meeting, before a full house at the Reid Conference Center, was in response to various employee surveys that questioned how some programs fit with the agency's overall plan. It also was a follow-up to a March executive retreat at Wallops Island that developed a priority order for work, according to NASA's vision and the six strategic goals outlined to realize it.

It also was a response to an idea floated earlier to reorganize Langley.

At a program managers retreat in December "we went around the tables, and at each table everyone said almost unanimously 'don't wholesale reorganize the center,' " Roe said. "So we chose not to do that, but they did say that there were some gaps in the prioritization of our business line. What are we really focused on? How do we make good decisions on what work we go after?"

From that mandate, management outlined a "contribution map" of various work done at Langley and how it applied to which of the agency's goals. For example, under NASA's Goal 1, "Extend and sustain human activities across the solar system," the Langley management team listed "apply 'Aerospace Flight Systems Development' capability to enable MISSE-X and other ISS payloads and systems."

The Langley led Materials on International Space Station Experiment-X series has tested more than 4,000 samples and specimens on the ISS over the past decade.

The team also listed "Develop competitive opportunities for the commercial community to provide best value products and services to LEO (low-Earth orbit) and beyond."

On and on it went, listing Langley activities that contributed to the other six agency goals.

The plan then offered decision criteria ranging from agency goals to growth potential to center reputation to national challenges that were used to put those activities in a priority list that fed Langley's vision, which fed that of NASA.

Called "Strategic Focus Areas," an example was "radiation protection" work at Langley contributing to both Goal 1 and Goal 3: "Create the innovative new space technologies for our exploration, science and economic future."

"Langley really contributes to all of the agency goals," Roe said, adding that it might be the only center to do so.

Among the goals is No. 4: "Advance aeronautics research for societal benefit," and it is being supported by various Langley activities, including a recently spurred autonomy function for unmanned aerial systems.

"Autonomy is one we've got to move on now," Roe said. "I've already asked the mission director if we can lead that area."

The management group also set out a "strategy to implementation" of the center plan. In that strategy is a demand for action plans for each of the Strategic Focus Areas.

Another part of the implementation was a rollout of a 20-year Langley "Infrastructure Revitalization Plan," which will culminate in an addition of 604,000 square feet of new laboratory and research support space and demolition of 1.21 million square feet of out-of-date buildings.

That plan was discussed further in a separate meeting led by its creator, the "Vibrant Transformation to Advance Langley" (VITAL) group.

"If we don't do something, it's going to happen anyway," Roe said of a center in which one building is 80 years old. The average age of Langley's buildings is 44 years.

"It's probably not going to happen in the way we want it to happen," Roe added of the need to be proactive in changing the future of Langley's infrastructure.

The revitalization has begun with an investment of $48.5 million in investments to upgrade existing research facilities.

Also, New Town Phase I, the center headquarters building, opened last spring. Phase II is scheduled to begin construction in May, and Roe said NASA has approved funds for Phase III – a Measurement Sciences Lab – that is scheduled to begin construction in 2015.

A future "Workforce Strategy" plan in being developed separately from the VITAL group effort.

Roe stressed that the plan she outlined Monday was fluid.

"We'll need to re-look at it annually," she said. "And, quite frankly, throughout the year, some new business opportunity is going to come in, and we're going to have to weigh that new business opportunity, apply those decision measures against it and see where it falls out.

"We'll decide if that's really something we want to invest in, or something we don't want to do right now."

In that way, opportunity can drive change, as it has since Langley began 95 years ago.

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