NRC Offers Metrics for Managing NASA's R&A Budget

NRC Offers Metrics for Managing NASA's R&A Budget

The National Research Council (NRC)’s new report on “mission-enabling” activities — or Research and Analysis ( R&A) — offers principles and metrics for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) to use in determining how to allocate R&A funding and recommendations on how to manage the R&A portfolio. The Space Studies Board’s committee that wrote the report, An Enabling Foundation for NASA’s Earth and Space Science Missions, was chaired by Dr. Lennard Fisk of the University of Michigan. Dr. Fisk is a former chair of the Space Studies Board and former NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science and Applications.

Spaceflight projects consume approximately 75% of SMD’s budget while mission-enabling activities take up the rest, according to the report, which identifies those activities as “basic research, theory, modeling, and data analysis; suborbital payloads and flights and complementary ground-based programs; advanced technology development; and advanced mission and instrumentation concept studies.”

The space and earth sciences communities loudly protested a 15% across-the-board cut in R&A spending in NASA’s FY2007 budget request. Congress restored much of that funding and when Alan Stern joined NASA as the Associate Administrator for SMD, he took a number of actions to resolve the communities’ concerns. Questions remained , though, about the importance of R&A to NASA’s goals and mission, how to determine how much R&A funding is needed, and whether that varies depending on the discipline. (SMD divides its disciplines into four divisions — astrophysics, heliophysics, earth science, and planetary exploration.) Congress subsequently directed NASA to ask the NRC to look into these issues.

The NRC report reiterates the importance of R&A activities, but stresses that they need to be linked to NASA’s and SMD’s strategic goals. The committee also concluded that the R&A needs of each discipline vary. Asserting that “performance metrics are essential tools for making effective portfolio management decisions,” the report provides a template for what it believes should be provided for such metrics to enhance transparency, which in turn will help justify the expenditures. The report also recommends that SMD “develop and implement an approach to actively managing” the R&A portfolio, and increase the number of “scientifically and technically capable program officers so that they can devote an appropriate level of attention” to that task.

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