NASA: ‘anybody got anything to say?’ | Blogads

NASA: ‘anybody got anything to say?’

by henrycopeland
Friday, October 17th, 2003

Retired four-star admiral Hal Gehman, who chaired the post-mortem on the Columbia debacle: “They claim that the culture in Houston is a ‘badgeless society,’ meaning it doesn’t mater what you have on your badge — you’re concerned about shuttle safety together. Well, that’s all nice, but the truth is that it does matter what badge you’re wearing. Look, if you really do have an organization that has free communication and open doors and all that kind of stuff, it takes a special kind of management to make it work. And we just don’t see that management here. Oh, they say all the right things. ‘We have open doors and e-mails, and anybody who sees a problem can raise his hand, blow a whistle, and stop the whole process.’ But then when you look at how it really works, it’s an incestuous, hierarchical system, with invisible rankings and a very strict informal chain of command. They all know that. So even though they’ve got all the trappings of commuication, you don’t actually find communication. It’s very complex. But a person brings an issue up, what caste he’s in makes all the difference. Now, again, NASA will deny this, but if you talk to people, if you really listen to people, all the time you hear ‘Well, I was afraid to speak up.’ Boy it comes across loud and clear. You listen to the meetings: ‘Anybody got anything to say?’ There are thirty people in the room, and slam! There’s nothing. We have plenty of witness statements saying, ‘If I had spoken up, it would have been at the cost of my job.’ And if you’re in the engineering department, you’re a nobody.” (Quoted by William Langewiesche in November’s Atlantic magazine.)

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