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Framework and Leadership

Openness Overview: Part of NASA's DNA

NASA's founding legislation, the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, addresses the role NASA should play in ensuring the general welfare of the United States, with language directly applicable to the principles of Open Government:

Sec. 203. (a) The Administration, in order to carry out the purpose of this Act, shall—
(1) plan, direct, and conduct aeronautical and space activities;
(2) arrange for participation by the scientific community in planning scientific measurements and observations to be made through use of aeronautical and space vehicles, and conduct or arrange for the conduct of such measurements and observations;
(3) provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof;
(4) seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space; and
(5) encourage and provide for Federal Government use of commercially provided space services and hardware, consistent with the requirements of the Federal Government.
— NASA Space Act (as Amended), Section 203 [emphasis added]

As the Space Act articulates, there is a strong linkage between transparency, dissemination of information, and the commercial uses of space (or economic development). For more than a half-century, we have created policies and processes to carry out our legislated mission. Examples include:

  • The availability of raw science data archived by all NASA missions, for open use.
  • Inclusion of the scientific community in road mapping and strategic planning, mainly through the National Academies of Science and other working groups.
  • Use of full and open competition, including NASA centers, academia, and industry, to implement projects that help fulfill mission requirements.

Examples are given in more detail in the sections about specific initiatives.

Openness is fostered from the organizational level to the level of individual employees. Our employees have incentives and sometimes even requirements to be open and collaborative. NASA's civil service performance management system specifically measures employees' collaboration and teamwork. Tracking employees' performance in this regard demonstrates our commitment to innovation, accountability, and collaboration at all levels throughout the Agency. Our leadership development training promotes a culture of openness and collaboration as well. Each leadership level requires competencies in communication and advocacy, knowledge management, and customer, stakeholder, and partner relationships. For NASA's science community, publishing research is often required for career advancement within the Agency.

Finally, we continue to employ many approaches to operations that already embody transparency, participation, and collaboration, such as:

  • Strategic planning with external stakeholders.
  • Employing collaboration tools to improve communication with our scientific and technological communities.
  • Seeking partnerships for mission success.

Framework for Open Government

NASA is a community of scientists, engineers, and other professionals who explore the Earth and space for the benefit of humankind. As we uncover increasing knowledge about the universe and solve difficult engineering challenges, we are continuously experimenting in labs, workshops, and offices. We gather and analyze information about our universe, requiring perseverance and creativity to solve unique challenges. Unlocking the complex systems of the cosmos does not come with an operating manual. Instead, we create hypotheses, conduct experiments, and refine our mental models and conceptual frameworks based on evidence and experience.

Open Government presents similar challenges as we work to improve our performance and responsiveness to the Open Government Directive, thus the NASA Open Government Plan is not a manual. By recognizing current initiatives that exemplify the values of Open Government, this plan can be used as a model for change throughout the Agency. Applauding these successes creates a social incentive for our workforce to innovate, to keep looking for ways to be more efficient, to further enhance our relationships existing stakeholders, and to create new partnerships. The guidance contained in the Open Government Directive creates cultural and procedural opportunities for new initiatives, such as those contained in the subsequent fact sheets. We believe that this is a continuous learning process, and thus have chosen to couch our Open Government efforts as a framework in which to experiment and learn over time.

The Open Government framework strives to be multi-dimensional in its approach, addressing technology, policy, and culture. When all three of these tenants are targeted for improvement, greater possibilities present themselves and momentum builds. While some of the initiatives outlined in the subsequent fact sheets focus on one of these areas more than the others, most strive to touch on all three.

The Open Government Initiative is a movement within government to adapt to the changing external environment, embrace new technologies, engage with our citizens, and encourage collaborations and partnerships. This is the result of the government recognizing that we can be more relevant for our stakeholders and intentionally create a culture of openness as we evolve into a twenty-first century democracy. For NASA, we are in the midst of a massive change ourselves. The external environment of the aeronautics and space sector is undergoing a shift in how business is conducted, which results in changing roles of the major players. Today, there is no "space race." Instead we recognize that new innovations have occurred, new countries have aspirations for the cosmos, and new entrepreneurs have plans to change the world. Announced in the FY11 budget, NASA is embarking on a bold, new strategy for extending humanity into the solar system. The core of the strategy recognizes American ingenuity as a rich resource to develop more capable and innovative technologies and to create a thriving commercial space sector.

At the publishing of the first version of this Plan, the NASA budget has been known for two months. Needless to say, we've been busy responding to the requests, forming study teams, and charting a strategy to execute on our new direction. The Open Government Initiative is extremely timely for us, as it provides a perspective to ensure that we are open in our processes, we generate data products of utility for the space sector, and we enter into partnerships across the US government, with industry, other nations, and the public.

Implementation of the Plan

Achieving a more open government will require the various professional disciplines within the Government-such as policy, legal, procurement, finance, and technology operations-to work together to define and to develop open government solutions.

When the Open Government Initiative was announced, NASA acted swiftly. In March 2009 we established the Data.gov Working Group, comprised of many data experts throughout NASA. Through the efforts of recovery.gov and USAspending.gov many financial and procurement professionals gathered to meet their presidential directives. With the issuance of the Open Government Directive NASA identified two accountable officials: the NASA CFO as the senior accountable official (SAO) for financial data quality and the CIO as the accountable official for Open Government at NASA. A short-term Open Government Working Group was established at NASA Headquarters. Upon the release of version 1.0 of the NASA Open Government Plan, this working group will evolve into the Standing Open Government Working Group.

“NASA controls all strategic management processes through its governance structure, which consists of three Agency-level management councils.”

—Chapter 3.1, Governance and Strategic Management Handbook, NPD 1000.0A

Standing Open Government Working Group

The two accountable officials for Open Government at NASA sit as members of the NASA governance councils that set Agency priorities, share information, and make decisions. They will oversee the Working Group, and update NASA leadership as appropriate, on the opportunities and challenges to be more transparent, participatory and collaborative. The Working Group will meet on a regular basis and will be responsible for seeking and prioritizing program opportunities, process improvements, and other initiatives. To ensure integration, the Working Group will be co-chaired by a member of the Data.gov working group via the CIO's office and the Data Quality working group via the CFO's office.

Policy and Strategic Planning

In 2010, our three key governance documents will be rewritten and updated:

  • The NASA Governance and Strategic Management Handbook (NASA Policy Directive - NPD - 1000.0A).
  • The NASA Organization (NPD 1000.3D).
  • The NASA Strategic Plan (NPD 1001.0).

These NASA policy directives provide the framework for Agency performance, including the expected goals, strategies, and means for achieving them (all NASA Policy Directives are online at the NASA Online Directives Information Service: nodis3.gsfc.nasa.gov). Open Government Working Group members will be involved in drafting and reviewing the new policy documents to incorporate Open Government principles that will lead to a more open, collaborative, and participatory Agency.

Cross-cutting Objectives and Performance Goals

NASA has developed the following five principles to guide its efforts to integrate Open Government into the Agency:

  • Increase Agency transparency and accountability to external stakeholders.
  • Enable citizen participation in NASA's mission.
  • Improve internal NASA collaboration and innovation.
  • Encourage partnerships than can create economic opportunity.
  • Institutionalize Open Government philosophies and practices at NASA.

These are directly aligned with the plan components articulated in the Open Government Directive. Using these principles we have developed a set of cross-cutting objectives and performance goals (Table 1 below), that will be incorporated into NASA's performance management system. They will appear in NASA's Annual Performance Plan for the upcoming fiscal year, with a required progress report, the Performance and Accountability Report, or PAR, at the end of the fiscal year. We believe that integrating Open Government principles into existing systems provides the best framework for success, as evidenced by the links we are establishing to our governance councils and performance management system. As such, the accountability for the Open Government objectives and performance goals will be through the PAR, and there will not be an approach to report on the specific Open Government initiatives within the fact sheets as their progress are considered indicators for the performance goals.

As stated earlier, there is no prescribed way to be an Open Government agency. We believe it is the responsibility of each office, program, and employee to make this vision become a reality. By distributing the majority of the plan into separate fact sheets and allows each office and program to set their own performance initiatives in the "NASA's Mission Directorates and Open Government" section, we're providing an opportunity to lean forward, experiment, modify, and succeed. Via the GSA-provided Citizen Engagement Tool, we moderated an open dialogue with the public and NASA employees to gather ideas to incorporate in the NASA Open Government Plan. A summary of the online consultation is the appendix of this Plan. By taking a continuous learning approach, what we set out to do today, may not be what we implement in the future. As such, the Open Government initiatives highlighted in the fact sheet are just that: a continuous learning approach.

Table 1: Cross-cutting Objectives and Performance Goals

ObjectivesPerformance Goals (over a 3 to 5 year timeframe)
Enhance processes to release high-value data to the public as standard procedure for programs and projects that generate data.Develop a strategy and issue guidance to improve the process of proposing and submitting NASA data to Data.gov.
Issue guidance on data product architecture early in the development of a project that explicitly addresses public data products.
Improve access to and timeliness of NASA accountability and mission-related data.Publishing of 10 new high value data sets to Data.gov in 2010.
Develop an integrated FOIA reading room.
Improve common data definitions, data standards, and data release processes, demonstrating a maturing data architecture for NASA systems, such as financial, procurement, safety.
Improve collecting, addressing, and responding to public input about NASA's policies and programs.Release of online ideation and brainstorming tools as a Software as a Service (SaaS) to NASA projects.
Define the degrees of involvement anticipated, e.g., a scale of 1 through 5, for participatory exploration and seek program opportunities to fit this scale.
Generate enhancements in NASA management, communication, and governance by engaging in internal collaboration activities.Mature and expand usage of NASA-wide collaboration tools for knowledge management.
Expand the development and use of employee networking tools that encourage Communities of Interest and skill identification.
Use employee collaboration activities to identify process improvement opportunities and develop action plans to prioritize and complete the identified processes.
Increase collaboration and partnerships with other Federal agencies, the private sector, and other non-governmental organizations.Increase the number of distinct users of NASA Earth Science data and services.
Use innovative methods (prizes, competitions, etc) to spur infusion of technologies targeted to NASA mission needs.
Develop and implement strategies and mechanisms to provide feedback to the public regarding the results of collaborations and idea submissions, including explanation of related actions.
Incorporate Open Government principles in developing new and updating existing policies.Incorporate Open Government principles into Center policies or directives as they are developed or updated.
Incorporate Open Government principles into NASA Policy Directives as they are developed or updated.



Open Government principles are already evident in many activities underway throughout NASA. Through the Open Government Initiative, we have begun the dialogue across the Agency on how to infuse Open Government principles into more of our daily operations. These conversations allowed us to see new opportunities to strive for greater transparency, participation, and collaboration as our strategic directions focus on the opportunities for the twenty-first century.

The underlying motivation behind the Open Government Initiative marks a shift in the way we interact with the public and conduct information resource management. As such, we will face inevitable challenges as we transition from current-state operations to the Agency-wide adoption of policies and tools designed to increase transparency and enhance collaboration both internally and externally. We recognize the need to understand and plan for such challenges in order to sustain Open Government practices throughout NASA.

Our approach has been to find the projects and anecdotal successes that embody values of openness, participation, and collaboration so that we can celebrate and build upon them. NASA's flagship projects demonstrate our adoption of, and commitment to Open Government principles. NASA has set up a standing Open Government Working Group to assist leadership in policy reviews, representing the strategic benefits of openness within the Agency, developing a roadmap for integration into all elements of NASA's activities, and implementing specific initiatives.

No one is an expert in Open Government. We are taking an experimental and scientific approach to Open Government. We recognize the long-term nature of this movement. Finally, we believe that the three flagship projects we have chosen are catalysts for change. They will transform NASA into a more transparent, participatory, and collaborative Agency and ease our transition into a twenty-first-century space program.