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Bowles' New Job Requires a New Look at Langley
By: Jim Hodges

Dave Bowles was sitting in a financial performance monthly review meeting in late February when it hit him.

"(The FPMR) is where we come and kind of review all of the organization budgets from across the center, and I was there with her," he said of Cindy Lee, who chaired the meeting.

"Before, I was on the other side of the table. I would come to these things, but I never paid much attention to anybody else's stuff. I understood my stuff."

On Monday, Bowles took over for Lee as NASA Langley's associate administrator, which meant everybody's "stuff" at the FPMR is his "stuff" now.

Dave Bowles becomes associate director.
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In his new job as associate center director, Dave Bowles has to look at NASA Langley from a different direction. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith.

"It was quite a learning experience," he said of the realization, perhaps three or four presentations through the meeting, that his role was going to be different.

The experience will continue for a while.

"I had no idea of some of the things she did," Bowles said of Lee, who had the job for about a decade. "I had interacted with her primarily on facilities and core competency studies, but she had a whole other range of things she did in dealing with personnel."

Lesa Roe, Langley's center director, laughed when she recalled Bowles saying, "Wow, she does a lot."

Roe decided to move Bowles from a post as head of what was then the Exploration and Space Operations Directorate. Now it's the Space Technology and Exploration Directorate, with Steve Sandford as its head.

"It was not an easy choice, and not because of Dave," Roe said. "Dave is great. But we had a list, and I had to factor in the fact that Charlie Harris was leaving and Ajay Kumar was leaving (both are retiring at the end of the year), and Cindy Lee was leaving, so I had to think through what I might do with some of those other boxes."

Roe hastened to add that replacements for Harris, who heads the Research Directorate, and Kumar, who leads Systems Analysis and Concepts, "are not written in stone."

"I ended up believing Dave would be best for this job. Aeronautics, exploration, space technology, research -- he has this broad knowledge and it made him the top candidate," Roe said.

Lee came to Langley as her second job after finishing at Virginia Tech, an alumni affiliation she shares with Bowles.

"I turned NASA down at first because I wanted to move away from home," said Lee, a Hampton native. "I went to work at Patuxent River, Md. I was there six months, and NASA called again. I said to myself, 'they're not going to call three times. You'd better make a decision.' "

She decided to come back home.

"It's the best thing I ever did," Lee said.

Among her jobs has been chairing various diversity efforts, and that falls to Bowles, who welcomes it.

"I'm a huge advocate for diversity and am looking forward to picking up that banner because Cindy has done such a terrific job with it," he said.

The new job is radically different from that Bowles has been doing over the past decade: advocating for space exploration work for Langley.

"We've had to make people understand at the space flight centers and operations centers that, hey, we're not just a research center, though that's obviously a big part of what we do," Bowles said. "We also can do development work, and we can understand what a budget is and a schedule is and we can deliver hardware on time and make it fly.

"It's been, 'hey, we can do this work. In fact, this is where it all started.' "

Bowles laughed, then compared the pace of his old job when compared to the new.

"I thought there was a fast pace where I was -- and it was," Bowles said. "But the pace over here is at a different level. It's 90 mph, wide open."

Ultimately, the decisions are different. Those made in the new job affect everybody at the center, and that's one of the perks of being associate center director.

"People are what makes us able to do the things that we do," Bowles said. "It's as much a job of taking care of people as taking care of facilities."

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