Space Center Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Sandra Johnson
Houston, Texas – 7 May 2002
Today is May 7, 2002. This oral history with Harvey Hartman is being
conducted in the offices of SIGNAL Corporation in Houston, Texas,
for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. The interviewer
is Sandra Johnson, assisted by Kevin Rusnak and Jennifer Ross-Nazzal.
I want to thank you again for joining us today to share your history
and experiences during your more than thirty years working with NASA
in the JSC Personnel and Human Resources Offices. I want to begin
by asking a little bit about your background, where you went to college,
and how you got started in this direction.
Okay. I grew up in Nebraska on a farm, Seward County, Nebraska, eastern
part of the state, and wound up going through Seward High School,
a smallish high school, graduation class of about seventy-five folks,
and then on to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and I have a
degree in political science from the University of Nebraska. So that’s
kind of the early start of it.
When you left the university, you joined the Navy right out of the
While I was at the University of Nebraska, I was part of the Navy
ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] program, and that provided a
commission upon graduation, and I went to active duty. I had a two-year
commitment. I actually stayed four years at that point. I initially
went to the East Coast to drive ships for Uncle Sam, and was assigned
to the USS Mullinnix, a ? [Forrest]-Sherman-class destroyer there
on these East Coast based out of Norfolk, Virginia, and spent a little
over two years there.
At that point I was due to be released from active duty, but I extended
for an extra couple of years but went back to Nebraska. You wouldn’t
think the Navy would be there, but it was. The Navy was really fairly
flexible in a lot of ways around that. My father had just died, and
I really needed to be back there around a little closer to home to
help my mom and my brother with what we were going to do with the
farming operation and things like that. So I said, “I really
need to go back to Nebraska.”
The Navy said, “Well, if we find you a place in Nebraska, would
you consider staying for a couple of extra years?”
And I said, “No chance of that.” But they actually came
up with two possibilities, and one of them was recruiting duty based
out of Omaha, Nebraska. So I spent a couple of years doing officer
recruiting in the Midwest, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, a little
bit of Minnesota, that sort of a thing, for a couple of years before
I left the Navy then at that point.
And what made you decide to leave the Navy?
That was a hard choice, really, because the Navy was really a very
good experience for me. It was the kind of opportunity that gave you
a lot of responsibility very early on, taught you a lot of leadership
skills, a lot of good life skills that you learned out of that whole
thing. I loved it. I really had a good time. I liked going to sea.
I liked sailing ships. I’ve never been seasick a day in my life,
so I must be a match somehow. The Navy gets a lot of good folks out
of the Midwest to be sailors.
But as I look at it at that point, my next assignment in the Navy,
the offer they made me was a good one for a junior officer at that
point. It was to be the executive officer on a minesweeper based out
of Yokosuka, Japan, a good career assignment in the sense of a growth.
But I was looking at probably the next three tours were probably sea
tours, and we’d just had a brand-new one-year-old at home, and
all of sudden, you started thinking about, “Wait a minute. Is
this really what I want to do, and what I want to put my family through?”
and we elected to …. [say] “Maybe there’s other
things we ought to explore.”
So the Navy was very, very good to me. I learned a great deal. In
fact, I stayed with the reserves for another ten years after that.
In fact, my deal with the Navy, at least mentally my deal with them
was, as long as you let me go to sea two weeks a year and it’s
fun, I’ll stay with it. They stopped doing both, so I left the
Navy reserve at that point.
In 1966, you took the Management Intern Option Federal Service Entrance
Exam. What prompted you to do that?
Well, as I said, as I was looking at my options as my second tour
with the Navy ended. I looked at a variety of things. With a political
science degree, you immediately look around and say, “Gee, where
could you work with a political science degree?” I took the
law school test. I had been accepted at the University of Nebraska
law school, and, in fact, I even had a small scholarship for that
purpose, and I’m ever so grateful that I wasn’t led to
go there. I [would have] been a terrible lawyer. I really would have
been. But we gave serious thought to that, and we were looking at
other possibilities. The Navy assignment was a very real possibility.
But government service had always been an interest to me, and that
appetite really got whetted as an undergraduate student, and my hope
is that maybe you had the same experience, and I hope this for everybody,
that somewhere in the course of your undergraduate career, there’s
somebody who really lights a fire in you and a passion about something
that you’re good at and that you care about.
I guess when I was a sophomore, I had a political science instructor,
who also was a state senator, and one of the most powerful state senators
in the state of Nebraska, who really was a patrician politician. He
was very well off, Senator Richard Marvel from Hastings, and he had
traveled widely, and he was well educated and that sort of thing,
and he just thought it was one of his duties, was to not only be a
legislator, but to teach. He really made it come alive. It wasn’t
just a book. He matched the politics that was going on in the state
and in the area at that time with the theory that you were finding
in the books, and that really kind of excited me and got me moving
down that road and probably got my interest in government. When you
see good role models like that, you say, “Yeah, I’d like
to be able to do something like that.”
So that got me thinking about that, and at that point that was 1966.
This was a year, really, after the big buildup in Vietnam, and the
government was expanding rapidly at that point. That was [President]
Lyndon [B.] Johnson’s Great Society time, so we were in the
guns and butter business, and the government was expanding not only
on the military front, but on the other sides as well. So they were
out looking for lots and lots of folks. So there was a lot of publicity
about that, and in the recruiting business I’d spent a lot of
time on the campus, a lot of time with placement offices, a lot of
time with recruiters from other organizations, and, in fact, had run
across NASA recruiters in the course of my travels, too. We spent
some time on the same campuses, and that kind of got me intrigued
about it. So I checked that out, and at that point what you did was
you took a test. Not much of that goes on anymore, but you actually
took a written test to jump the hurdles, to be considered for government
Can you tell us a little bit more about that process, of taking the
test and you had to do after that?
It was, you know, you’re not that far from being out of school,
so taking a test is, how hard is that? That’s probably one of
my core competencies, is to be able to take tests. So that part of
it wasn’t that difficult. The one piece, though, that I do remember
was that they had an oral interview process that went with that, except
it wasn’t an individual interview, much like you and I are having;
it was a group interview. There were a couple of three panel members
from different agencies, and I think every agency must have ponied
up a couple of three interviewers, and they put us in teams of, like,
six or eight or nine candidates in the same room at the same time
and interviewed us all together. An interesting interview approach.
I guess the theory behind that was to not only watch you individually,
but to see how you worked in a group kind of a setting. I’m
not sure I would recommend that today, and, as a matter of fact, I
don’t think I ever did that again. But it was kind of an interesting
process, and out of that I must have said something right or done
something right or didn’t do something wrong, and screened into
it at that point.
What was happening at that point, again, was because the government
was growing so rapidly, once you screened in through that process,
all of a sudden the offers started just flowing out from everywhere.
I think I had probably somewhere between twenty-five and thirty job
offers out of that, the kind of thing that people thirst for right
now when maybe the job market isn’t quite so hot, and most of
them were cold ones. It was, at that point, a telegram or a letter
that said, “We’re proud to offer you a job,” you
know, almost “Dear Occupant, We’re proud to offer you
a job.” Some of those were from agencies you said, “What
is it these folks do, and why would they be interested in me?”
But one of them was the National Aeronautics and Space Administration,
and that was interesting.
The other reason, I guess, that matched up was maybe even at that
point—I probably hadn’t even refined it in my thought
process that much yet—but we pretty much had a WOM strategy
at work: West of the Mississippi. We had lived on the East Coast.
We’d been in Virginia. We’d been up and down to Washington
a few times, and we’d kind of decided, “Hmm, I’m
not sure that that’s where we want to go,” although that’s
clearly where most of the jobs were. Since Houston [Texas] was west
of the Mississippi, that was a nice fit, along with just the fact
that at that point NASA was an extremely attractive employment opportunity.
It was where the action was in government.
And you mentioned that you had met some NASA recruiters before that,
Right, right. So you knew a little bit about that, and you said, “Yes,
this is intriguing. This is doing something that makes a difference.
These are good folks. This is about doing things well. It looks good.”
So all that kind of dovetailed together.
Quite a change, Houston from Nebraska.
Yes, it was. I have often told the story that we’d never been
to Houston before in our lives. We rolled into Houston in August in
an un-air-conditioned car, with a one-year-old crying in the back
seat. Probably our lives were saved by the fact that my wife had an
uncle and aunt who lived here. He was a Texaco executive, and we stayed
with them for the first week. We’d probably turned around and
driven right back out of town if it hadn’t been for that.
In fact, I’ve told folks that I told my wife, Carolyn, at about
the end of September, I said, “Look. It’s really been
bad. But if we can stay just a year, it won’t look so bad on
the résumé.” But by the end of that year, we had
been hooked on the work, on the people, on this place, and Houston
has been home for us ever since.
What were your impressions, before you came, of the Manned Spacecraft
Center? How did you think of it? Once you got here, was it what you
thought it would be?
Yes, I think so. As I said, I think NASA was very high-profile at
that time. The programs that NASA was working on looked challenging.
They looked exciting. It was about doing things well. There was a
lot of energy around that. The country seemed to be very interested
in supporting that sort of a thing. So all my preconceptions fit that,
and it really matched up from the time that we got here.
As I say, we got here in 1966. The site had been built a couple of
years earlier. So here’s a brand-new campus with little pine
trees about that tall all over the place. So it’s brand-new
facilities, lots and lots of young people engaged in doing something
exciting and working very hard at it. So, no, I think that all matched
up pretty well. It really did. The kinds of people you ran into very
early on were people who you felt had the same kind of motivations
that you did, to do a good job and to make a contribution.
Well, you began your year as an intern, and it began by rotational
assignments. Is that correct?
Yes, the way I came to NASA was part of this intern program, and a
part of that deal was the first six months you just spent in one-month
rotational assignments in different organizations. At that point,
we may have had a little more luxury of having a little more people
capability, and so you could spend a little time growing some people.
There was a class of, well, I think it was, like, a dozen or fifteen.
It was one of the larger ones. They tended to vary anywhere between
eight and a dozen folks, something like that.
We rotated to different organizations, procurement, the resources
organization, flight operations, that sort of a thing, to get an appreciation
for what the work was like there, what was expected of you, for them
to get a little look at you and say, “Hmm, is this somebody
we’d like to add as part of our team?” that sort of thing.
Then at the end of the six months, you put together your wish list
of your priorities of what you’d like to do, and the organizations
kind of said, “Yes, this is who we’d like,” and
generally matches were made, and you wound up going to work then for
the next six months, in most cases, for your career position in the
area that you had chosen.
It was a good experience. It gave you a chance to meet lots of people
and to see different aspects of what was going on here at the Center
at the time.
So did your wish list match up?
It did, although I have to tell you, initially as I came in here,
I thought, well, really, what I want to do is finance. I think that’s
where I ought to be. I’ve looked at the papers, and, boy, all
the job offers are to be a controller, to be a financial wizard. That
looks like that’s really where there’s careers and there’s
money. But I wasn’t very good at that, and I really didn’t
much like it. Apparently it wasn’t a fit from their standpoint
But one thing I was interested in and had some experience with was
dealing with people. So there was a fit there. I really liked the
people that I worked with. So I was led to be in the right place at
the right time. So my choice was to go to work for the personnel organization.
At that time Jack [R.] Lister was heading that, and it really was
a good match.
What was your first assignment?
I wound up being a personnel specialist supporting the flight operations
organization, headed by that unknown aerospace engineer by the name
of Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr. He didn’t stay unknown very
long. Truly a special, special leader. But I supported a couple of
organizations within Flight Operations, the Mission Planning and Analysis
Division, and the Flight Support Division. The mission planning crowd
was doing all the trajectory work for all of our flights, and a lot
of the software associated with it, onboard software and that sort
of thing, The Flight Support Division was basically building and developing
the next-generation control center activity. So it really felt like
you were right in the middle of everything that was really quite interesting.
What type of duties did you have working with them?
I think in those early few years, I think I spent most of my time
going out and helping them hire more people. We were hiring people
right and left. We’ve laughed about the fact that I think the
first year we sent out a job offer list with 300 addressees on the
list, saying, “Welcome. A job offer at the Johnson Space Center
for young engineers.” So a lot of time was spent on hiring people
and getting them here and getting them situated and getting them assimilated
into organizations and helping them take care of the problems that
I think, also, probably part of it was helping an organization figure
out who it was,—most of these organizations were very, very
young—and sorting out the leadership capability within there
and helping them get their arms around the size of the task that they
had. When you think back and when you look at it, it really was very
courageous on the part of a lot of those leaders to step up to that
and say, “Yes, I think we can do this. Yes, I’ll take
that assignment on, to build a trajectory for a lunar flight,”
and things that had never been done before. So, getting people engaged
around those tasks, there was a lot of that.
Was it difficult finding people at that time, engineers?
Absolutely not. Absolutely not, and, you know, it never has been.
There’s always been good folks, always been a lot more than
we could ever hire, because so many people just get drawn in by the
mission and get drawn in by the work. The exploration of space is
just an inherently exciting business, and it’s always attracted
people, particularly young people. So, no, we’ve never had that
problem. We’ve had a lot of people, you know, use innovative
ways try and get our attention and say, “Hey, me, over here.
I’ve like to be considered,” kind of a thing. But we’ve
always had an awful lot of good folks. No, that was not a problem.
Hanging onto them sometimes was, because the market was competitive
for engineers, and at that point in particular, many of our contractors
were paying more money than on the government side. So we sometimes
lost people to the contract side with some regularity, and we had
kind of a running battle with hanging onto our folks from the military,
picking them up as well, often in uniform. I spent a good bit of time
writing draft deferment letters for young engineers who said, “Oh,
please, oh, please, help me get a draft deferment so I can stay working
here on the space program,” and at that point a lot of draft
boards considered that was just as important an obligation to the
country as serving the military as well.
[Randal F.] Randy Stone, our Deputy Director now, often tells me how
much he appreciates me writing his draft deferment letters for him,
and some of those I don’t even remember, but we did a lot of
That Flight Operations Directorate had some interesting personalities.
It really did.
Do you have any memories about any of those people?
From very early on, from the first time you met him, you knew that
Chris Kraft was somebody special. There was a natural leader. He’s
one of my heroes, always has been, and one of the very special people
of the world. But Chris was a wonderful, wonderful leader to work
for, and I learned so many lessons from him. But, yes, there were
some interesting people.
[Henry E.] Pete Clements, who at that time was an Air Force major
assigned to NASA, and he led the Flight Support Division, putting
together the control center thing, “Prince Henry,” as
many people called him, was one of the wonderful, delightful people
of the world, with an incredibly clear sense of purpose, but a light
touch to it and a wonderful people touch.
John [P.] Mayer, who led the Mission Planning Division, was a brilliant
guy, could be sometimes irascible and kind of hard to deal with. John
always used to say, “This place is getting more like the government
all the time.”
I’d have to say, “John, it is the government.”
He’d said, “No, no. I mean it’s getting like the
government.” But John was a wonderful leader and, again, another
person who took on an incredible task and an incredible responsibility.
[Eugene F.] Gene Kranz, who was leading the Flight Control Division,
at that time. [Robert F.] Bob Thompson, who was leading the landing
and recovery effort. It was an unusual team. [Sigurd A.] Sig Sjoberg,
who later became the Deputy Director as well, who was Chris’
deputy. It was an incredible team, and a few others around the edges—the
[Rodney G.] Rod Roses of the world and the [Peter J.] Pete Armitages,
who had come to us through the Canadian routes. It was quite a collection
of people. It really was.
And you were in that position during Apollo and the Moon landing?
Where were you when all that was going on?
Yes, yes. I was a worker bee at that point and in a supporting kind
of a role. But you couldn’t help but be caught up in that. We
got here just at the end of the Gemini Program, and were here throughout
Apollo. I can remember when we had the [Apollo 1] fire, driving, hearing
it on the radio, driving along Highway 3, and just taking the breath
right out of you. I’m, like, you know, how could this happen?
What are we going to do? You know, that sort of thing. And watching
how the organization recovered so very quickly from that.
You know, people like George [M.] Low, who provided just incredible
leadership. Dr. [Robert R.] Gilruth, you know. At that point being
a pretty low-level worker bee, I didn’t see very much of the
Dr. Gilruths and the George Lows, but you came to have a real appreciation
for what they’ve done. I know Chris speaks of Dr. Gilruth in
almost reverent tones every time he’s talked about him. If he
has a high regard for him, so do I. So he did provide us some wonderful
leadership. It was special being here during that time, and especially
as you got closer to actually doing it and realizing, “Hey,
maybe we have pulled this off.” So, while you didn’t sit
on a console, you still felt very, very much a part of that team.
It was very, very exciting.
And you had a supervisory position at that time, from ’69—
Yes, at about 1969, I became the leader of a group of personnel specialists,
four or five folks, basically the first-line supervisor … of
the group of people doing what I was doing before. So at that point,
I probably started working a little more with Kraft and a few of the
other directors as we were helping them solve their people problems.
So from that point, really, from ’69 through ’73, those
were really kind of early leadership roles in the HR [Human Resources]
program, and the first part of that was, again, still getting the
right team and the right people in place and then hiring the folks.
Then as time played out there, it also meant tuning down the program
as the budget squeezes came, and we wound up having to go through
a period of layoffs, and that was a really very, very tough time.
We spent a fair amount of time trying to help the organization do
that in the right way, because we were still trying to fly. We were
flying a couple of flights a year, and at the same time, you’re
running layoffs in an organization. To keep people focused on getting
the job done and making sure that we didn’t hurt anybody in
that process, while at the same time having to do the piece that isn’t
very much fun, which was adapting the government’s very regulated
and very mechanistic layoff procedures to an organization like this,
in a way that made some sense, was consuming a fair amount of time.
And how did you adapt that?
First of all, we got as knowledgeable as we could about that business,
and we had some folks within the HR organization, the Carl [P.] Maxey[’s]
and the [Richard A.] Dick Kuhn’s of the world, who had had some
experience with that in prior military organizations, as civilians.
People like Jack Lister and myself and other folks hadn’t had
experience with that, but we got as smart as we could, as quickly
as we could about, okay, what are the rules? How can we adapt them
and tailor them to the NASA situation, do it right to make sure that
we honor people’s rights and that we honor the laws and the
regulations that apply, but do it in way that fits this particular
So we got smart about it. Then we spent a fair amount of time with
the managers talking about it, “Here’s the potential impacts.
Here’s what could happen. Here’s your options,”
really, a fair of amount of helping them sort through their options
and working it one step at a time to do it right.
What was the impact on the morale during that time? I know in ’68
there was the possibility of a RIF [Reduction in Force] that actually
didn’t occur, and in ’70, of course, it did.
Really, it was in 1970 that we started that, and it was, as I recall,
it was like four major layoffs over the space of ’70, ’71,
’72, ’73, so about every nine months we were going through
a major layoff thing. It was not a good time. It was demoralizing,
and we lost good people out of that, not only folks who you wound
up having to lay off, because the government process is very regulated.
It’s very veteran, non-veteran oriented. It’s also very
seniority-time oriented. So we lost some young folks that you really
hated to lose. You really did. Now, we got some of them back in a
variety of forms.
Lynn Heninger, who spent a fair amount of time with NASA as the number
two guy in legislative affairs in Washington, did a wonderful job
of that, always reminded me that I laid him off in 1971. Here was
just an outstanding young man, a financial guy, who had been a helicopter
pilot, been shot at more than his share of time in Vietnam, and I
had to tell him, “I’m sorry. We’re going to have
to lay you off.” So we hated losing people like that.
But in many cases, those folks who cared so much about NASA and what
we were doing, they found ways to re-engage. Some of them we were
able to hire back. Some of them popped up other places. But it was
a tough time on morale, to try to maintain that, coupled with the
declining flight schedule. As our plans for Apollo kept getting curtailed,
curtailed, and curtailed, and the shape of Skylab, behind that, was
uncertain yet in where that was all going, it was a tough time.
Did the Personnel Department help the people that they were laying
off by helping them find other positions?
I think we did what we could at the time, certainly not as much as
we do now or as companies have done much later. We had active out-placement
efforts to try to help people find jobs. Most of them wanted to find
their job back in the same office that they were in, and that was
probably the hard part, because they really were valuable contributors
and you hated to see them go. But we tried to place as many folks
as we could with other people, and our folks were sought after. There
were a lot of good folks that were picked up by other people.
During those times of the RIFs, you moved in to the Chief of the Institutional
Personnel Management Branch.
Yes, understand, those were [just] more supervisory positions, a larger
cluster of them … [people]. For a while, we had two groups of
people caring for the operational needs, the operational personnel
needs of the organization, and eventually we consolidated that into
one, and I took that role on. At that point, it’s all the operational
HR needs—it’s all the hiring; it’s all the pay-setting
and administration; it’s all the employee relations; it’s
all the employee benefits kinds of things. Those were all kind of
hooked together in one place. It’s really getting the HR people
linked close to the organizations, understanding their needs, and
helping them get their people problems solved. That was fun.
Part of that was building a good team of folks who are competent,
who are good at what they’re doing, and helping them really
connect with the organization. From the very beginning, and Jack Lister
gets a lot of credit for this, was the one who taught me this lesson,
and he was really good at it, was connecting with the organizations,
understanding what organizations’ needs were, being responsive
to them, staying close to the customer, learning the organization.
We put a real premium on our people, spending a lot of time out with
their people. Know what your organization is about; talk their language;
know their business and get real close to them so that you can help
influence things from a people standpoint, so that the people needs
are properly taken care of.
In 1964, the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] was established.
It wasn’t until ’72 that the Equal Employment Opportunity
Act was actually passed, and I think ’73 was when NASA developed
that office. What are your memories of that time?
From the very beginning, NASA, I think, was relatively color-blind
about the race-gender kind of issue, because we had minority and we
had female engineers at that point, but not many of them, because
the pool wasn’t very large at that point, and we weren’t
doing very much actively. If we found somebody that fit, we did that.
By ’73, that whole affirmative action wave really started to
get a little bit stronger, and it also became a federal initiative.
So our response to that was, we need to do the right thing here to
help organize that in line with anything else we do, find a way to
tailor that to the NASA setting, and to make that work for NASA as
well. So there was a big emphasis, I think, at that point, on, number
one, making sure that we were doing all the right things. Number two,
though, was start building the feeder pools, start looking for how
we can increase the potential pools that we would draw people from.
So, a lot of student programs. We created a lot of student programs
and particularly emphasized minority and women applicants to try to
help grow that pool and increase our chances of finding the good kinds
of folks that we really wanted to join our team, plus taking a look
internally to our own staff, and say, “Are we doing the right
things by the people that we’ve got internal to the Center?”
So that got started, I think, at a fairly early age. I think we kind
of did that right at the beginning, not in everybody’s eyes.
Obviously nobody was completely happy. That was a relatively contentious
time, rather the fallout of a contentious time, from the sixties and
really into the seventies. It was exacerbated here at Houston and
maybe at many of the other NASA Centers, because in the layoff activity,
one of the byproducts of that was to create a fairly strong federal
employee union movement, to protect the people, kind of a thing. So
a lot of things got all wound together with that, and the affirmative
action activity kind of got also woven into that, as unions saw that
as a horse to ride.
So we got a lot of help from lots of sectors in how we ought to do
that. So there were some contentious times there. There were some
times where you had to really negotiate and pick your way through
that, to make sure that the outcomes were right for the Center.
Did you have any direct dealings with the union personally?
Yes. A good number of us did, and we negotiated union contracts and,
again, tried to do those in ways that helped the Center get its job
done. Yes, I spent a fair amount of time doing that, too. That was
interesting. That’s a different aspect of the HR business, and
I think because we had people of good will on both sides, that generally
worked out pretty well. It was a little rocky going in the early seventies.
Jack Lister gave some excellent leadership to that. Carl Maxey was
invaluable at that point. Dick Kuhn was another one who was very skilled
in that area, and then for many, many years, [Robert F.] Bob Hall,
who worked with me and others to guide that relationship and to try
to honor the principle that employees have the right to belong to
a union, and unions have a stake in the role of this thing. How do
we do that and work together to make this whole thing work out? Bob,
in particular, was probably the best that I’ve ever seen at
that. He was really good at doing that. But he and I and Dick and
some other folks negotiated our fair share of contractual activity.
It must have been interesting.
It was fun. It was fun.
In ’73, the Personnel Office reorganized. What was the reason
behind the reorganization?
I think Jack was always looking for the best way to put together the
combination of people that he had, coupled with what’s the best
way to provide service to the organization. So he was forever kind
of reshaping and retooling that around people and around the emerging
needs. At that point, we were coming out of the period of the layoffs,
and we were going to be heading into a new period, which was a fairly
austere period as far as hiring was concerned, but already starting
to ramp up to support the emerging Space Shuttle Program. How are
we going to put our resources together in the best way to help the
organization to get people where they need to be, the right people,
to be able to do the next program?
So your title changed at that point. Did your duties change at all,
or was it—
No, it was pretty much the same. It was pretty much the same, right.
I believe around that time also you became an Education for Public
Management Fellow at Cornell [University, Ithaca, New York]?
[Laughs] Yes, that’s a big title, but I went to graduate school
for a year at Cornell. It was a wonderful experience.
Yes, it really was, and that was another one of those things where
people really sometimes take care of you more than you think you deserve
or you recognize. I remember being mildly interested in it. NASA had
a fairly active program at that time, and still does. They always
sent a few people away to graduate school each year to different kinds
of programs. This was one of them that was out there. There was a
cycle every year that that call came out. In fact, I helped go find
candidates for it for each year, that sort of a thing. But I didn’t
give it very much thought.
I can remember being at lunch at the Singing Wheel over on Highway
3, an old barbecue joint—the red building is still there, although
I think it’s been empty for years and years—and getting
a phone call from Jack Lister, my boss, at lunch, and he said, “You
want to go the graduate school for a year?”
I said, “Sure.” [Laughs] I said, “Well, let me think
about that. Let me talk with my wife about that and see what we want
to do, but, gee, that sounds kind of interesting.”
He said, “Well, I’m sitting here with Dr. Kraft, and we’re
putting together a list of names. If you’d like to go, we’d
like to have you go.”
Well, that’s a hard offer to turn down, kind of a thing, and
I’ve always appreciated Jack being willing to, in effect, give
up one of his people at a time when there was plenty of work to do,
and he was going to have to find some other way to get my job done.
But he was really making an investment in me for the future, both
he and Chris, and I’ve appreciated that. So we talked about
it and said, “Yes, this looks like a good experience and a good
opportunity,” and so I did a one-year program at Cornell.
It was the best of all worlds. It isn’t there anymore. All good
deals of the world disappear eventually. There were about a dozen
of us that were there from different government agencies, Secret Service,
EPA [Environment Protection Agency], Department of Defense, at that
time Health, Education and Welfare. It was a real mixed collection
of people. But we were allowed to take whatever courses we would like
to take. We could take them for credit or we could audit them. We
didn’t have to get a degree at the end of it. It was a year
in residence, was really what it was. You make the most of it, and
the only requirement was we had one coordinating seminar. It was run
out of the Business and Public Administration School, and it was a
core seminar that one of the professors there taught. But all the
rest of it was build your own program.
Well, it was just delightful. I took an astronomy course from Carl
Sagan. I took a bunch of courses in Cornell’s Industrial [and]
Labor Relations School, which is one of the premier ones in the country,
took some courses in the business school, took a couple of history
courses that were just delightful, constitutional law, a few things
like that. But you really were putting together whatever program you
wanted. Some folks really went over the top and tried to knock out
a master’s degree in nine months there, which was really very,
very tough. We chose to make it a little bit more of “make it
an experience to broaden yourself,” and it really did. It gave
me, I think, a broader foundation and a better awareness of so many
areas. So it was a rich experience. It really was.
So after that year you came back in the same position?
Came back and still was leading the team of operating personnel specialists.
We called it the Personnel Management Branch at that point, but it
was the biggest cluster within the personnel or the HR organization,
and, again, the operating people, the people who do the hiring and
the staffing plans and the employee relations and all the pay and
benefits of that whole world. So, yes, I did that then for another
year, again, still focusing on helping meet customer needs and put
together the best team of folks you could find to do that.
You headed the personnel management evaluation teams at two different
NASA centers in 1975.
Yes. Yes, yes.
Do you want to talk about that?
Yes, that was fun. At that time NASA decided that one of the things
they needed to was do a better job of evaluating how HR programs were
being put in place. Up till that point, it was not uncommon for our
oversight agency, which was at that point the Civil Service Commission,
later the Office of Personnel Management, provided the third-party
assessment of how you were doing. They tended to be very nuts-and-bolts,
very “Have you dotted the i’s and cross the t’s
right? Did you fill out this form right?” As I said, it was
very procedural oriented. It wasn’t focused very much on outcomes.
NASA said, “Hey, let us take that over. We’ll do that
piece of it as well. But we’d like to focus a little more on
the outcomes and on how well we’re doing the HR business.”
So we put together that, and at each Center then, about, I would guess
probably at about three a year, Centers, or something like that, we
would take a team of folks for a week or so to a Center and precede
that with doing some surveying questionnaires and try to find out
what kinds of issues were on people’s minds, what was hot, where
were problem areas, that sort of thing, do a lot of interviews with
people to try to gather data to put before the management of that
Center and say, “You know, here’s what your people situation
looks like. How do you want to problem-solve that?”
It wasn’t as good as probably what’s been done later,
because we were still probably a little more prescriptive, “You
need to do this,” “You need to do that,” kind of
a thing. We probably got a little smarter later on, which is put that
in the hands of the folks who have to live with that and have them
do something with it. But that gave me an opportunity to spend some
time at Marshall [Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama], spend
some time at Goddard [Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland], to
spend some time at [NASA] Headquarters [Washington, DC], and, really,
to see the insides of their operations. So, yes, that was fun. That
was fun. Plus, work with a team of folks that you didn’t know
before you showed up on site, and you had to weld into a team in a
couple of weeks and turn out a product. So that was a lot of fun.
Did you find anything out that you could bring back to JSC?
Oh, you always found good things. You know, we like to think that
we had most of the good things in the world already in place. But,
you know, you’d always find different ways to see it, different
ways to do it, plus an amazing number of people that you ran across,
that you ran across later in your career as well, that you’d
built some working relationships. So it was a very rewarding kind
of an activity.
I think that played out partly because the funding started to dry
up for that. We just didn’t have enough people at the time or
the energy to go do that. But it was probably a good developmental
experience for an awful lot of people. You didn’t stay locked
in your own little world. You got out to see, hey, there are different
ways to do these things, and there are different settings. When you
go to Marshall, it has a whole different set of needs and a whole
different culture. Goddard’s a different world. Headquarters
was yet a different one. So you picked up, I think, another appreciation
for—much as we weren’t sure that it was true, there is
life outside the Johnson Space Center.
You also had an opportunity to go to Ames [Research Center, Mountain
View, California] as the Director of Personnel. How did that come
That was a Chris Kraft deal. Got a call from Chris Kraft and from
Jack to come to his office and spend a little time up there. And he
said Hans Mark, who was the Center Director at Ames at that point
and went on to be Deputy Secretary of Defense and a couple of other
kinds of jobs like that, and a really interesting character, was Center
Director then, and his Personnel Director was going to be gone for
a year, and he was looking for somebody. He didn’t think he
had anybody internal to Ames that he wanted to do that. He wanted
an opportunity to look at somebody new, and did Chris have anybody
that he’d like to give a developmental experience to.
Again, it goes back to I’d been working with him for nearly
ten years, so he knew who I was and what I could do and what I couldn’t
do, and he was another one who really believed in giving people opportunities
to go try yourself out at something a little bit different, particularly
if it was a challenge. So I really owe to that Chris and, again, to
Jack Lister, who said, “Okay, I’ll give him up for a year.
I just gave him up for a year to go to graduate school. He’s
back for a year, and I’m giving him up again.” But he
was willing to work around that, and so it was a reminder, again,
that leaders need to keep watching for opportunities for their folks,
where there’s a chance to develop them a little bit further.
It was a rich experience.
This was a whole different part of the world. Ames was the research
side of it. It’s west of the Sierra Nevada, so they’re
not real sure there’s anything east of that, you know, kind
of a thing. A rich cultural center, in the sense that that place had
been there since 1940, with some wonderful, wonderful capabilities
and some great people. Really picked up an appreciation for them.
Prior to that time, I was pretty sure, well, those researchers, they’ve
got to be all nerds and kind of crazy, and who’d want to hang
around with them? There were some wonderful people doing some very,
very good work there.
So that was a good year to find a new setting with some things going
on that were interesting and, for the first time, to have an opportunity
to run your own organization and to be the top leader in an HR organization.
So that was fun, to really kind of—I’d been watching Jack
Lister do that for ten years, and all of a sudden I realized, hey,
there are some things to this business that I don’t know, and
I probably spent my fair share of time on the phone getting some advice
and counsel from him.
And you also implemented a career management program while you were
there? Is that correct?
Well, that was a period of time where there was a, I think, a growing
interest in helping people sort out their own careers. Up until that
point, the organizations kind of told you where you needed to work
and that sort of thing, and I think that the balance was starting
to shift a little more towards, let’s put in place systems and
processes and provide people tools to help them make good career choices.
So I did some work with some of the universities out there and with
Lawrence Livermore [National] Laboratory, [Livermore, California]
had an interest in doing some of that as well. So we tailored something
that worked for the Ames Research Center.
And that position prepared you, I suppose, for coming back and for
your new position as the Deputy?
Yes, when I came back, Jack decided that—up until that point,
he had never had a Deputy Director, and he said he’d like to
go do that because he had some things that he wanted me to do, plus
it was time to recognize and grow some of the people we had in our
own organization, to backfill into my job. So we went that route,
and then from that point on, really until Jack retired in 1990, I
shared the leadership with him for that organization, and it was a
chance to make some contributions at the Center level as opposed to
maybe at the organization level down below that.
It was a chance to get involved more with the strategy of the organization.
It was a chance to work on lots of different projects. There really
was more work there than one person could handle, and so Jack would
do the things he liked to do, and he let me do some of the things
that I liked to do, and it was nice relationship.
You also served as Manager of Special Projects?
I think that was on the title. That probably just made the title look
longer and a little bit better, but it basically was work on any kinds
of assignments that really had kind of a Center-wide emphasis to them
and where the HR organization needed to play a role. So it could have
been just about anything.
In 1978, the Civil Service Reform Act went through, and you had to
help implement some of the civil service reform.
Yes, the civil service system moves about at glacier speed in terms
of the structure around it, the processes, and the rules and regulations
they have, but every now and then it kind of breaks free a little
bit, and under President [Jimmy] Carter, he took on the task of trying
to make some reforms in the process. There were a number of them that
were there, and, of course, they then presented opportunities for
us to see, again, how we could tailor that to the NASA environment
and to the JSC environment. Probably what I spent more time on than
anything around that was trying to help improve the hiring processes
so that we had a little bit better [system]—but mostly an awful
lot of time around performance appraisal, performance management,
and at that time the notion of merit pay for our management team,
to try to put some variability into the pay process.
That was a mixed experiment. We tried that. I’m not sure it
produced the results that the visionaries had for it. It didn’t
produce the wide discriminations that you were looking for. People
kept saying, “I want to have the opportunity to really distinguish
between my mere mortals and my true stars,” you know, kind of
a thing. But when it came time to do that, the greater emphasis was,
“Jeez, these guys are all really valuable to me. These people
are all pretty valuable. I don’t know whether I want to make
those kinds of choices,” and it tended to gravitate back towards
a more core kind of a thing.
Performance appraisal systems were the same thing. People kept saying,
“We need to distinguish more about performance. We need to be
harder on that. We need to go to maybe even some forced appraisal
systems.” And that’s all bold talk in the planning rooms,
but when it goes to putting it in practice in organizations with people
who have to deal with folks one on one, and when you look at what
the impact’s going to be on the total organization, a lot of
that tended to move right back towards the Center.
So there was a lot of work on that. There aren’t going to be
any giant monuments created to civil service reform. But, hey, the
goals were right, to try to make the system more responsive and to
try to help government be better. There was no question about that.
It’s just hard to bring off in what is essentially a tenured
situation, just like universities.
You also worked closely with the Department of Defense.
Yes. That actually went back to the early days, when I was a personnel
specialist with the flight operations organization. One of the things
that I found when I got there was that a deal had been struck to provide—it
was called the 128 Program. The Air Force gave us 128 young Air Force
officers to be trained as flight controllers and flight operations
people. They really were a cadre of people who worked right alongside
our flight control teams, our NASA people, and our contract people
in flight operations, and we had some wonderful, wonderful, bright,
young military officers.
The Air Force’s notion was that they were going to train here
and then move into a military space program. That played out as the
Manned Orbiting Laboratory and other projects got cancelled and those
folks probably wound up in Minot, North Dakota, and other kinds of
places that they hadn’t really intended. But, gee, we got some
awful good work out of it. We hired a number of them. In fact, they
left the Air Force and came back and said, “I want to be a flight
controller,” or, “I want to be a mission planner,”
that sort of thing, and we picked up a number of people that way.
Then as we moved into the late seventies, that kind of resurrected
again. As we got into the Shuttle era, the Air Force got very interested
in that and having a role in that and how that would play, and so
this time my role was different. The first time, it was kind of administering
a program that was already there and helping make sure that they were
at the places they needed to be, and efficiency reports got written,
and that sort of thing.
This time it was more in the deal-cutting. “What kind of arrangements
can we strike with you? What do you want out of this? Where do you
want officers? …Where do you want … insight? Where do
we have needs? Where could we benefit from having some military people
who know their systems and can work that?” So, spent some time
negotiating that from the NASA side and with the military people,
and it really started taking on a larger-than-Houston scheme, too,
because we were also talking about putting people at Vandenberg [Air
Force Base, California], and we were working with the people at Kennedy
[Space Center, Florida], who had some of the same common interests.
It was probably Kennedy and us that were working that particular need
at the same time. So it was between here, Kennedy, and Vandenberg,
that we spent some time lining all that out and trying to come up
with an arrangement that would serve the Air Force’s needs and
that would meet our needs. We probably wound up with twenty-five to
fifty Air Force officers coming here for assignments in Shuttle Program
offices, in operations organizations, that sort of a thing, to help
meet their needs and ours. So, yes, that was a fun one.
During that time, too, the first Shuttle class was chosen. Do you
have any memories about that?
Our good friend Duane [L.] Ross had a lot to do with that. Here, again,
my boss, Jack Lister, was, I think, in front of the times, because
he worked very closely with the senior management folks and said,
“Hey, I think we can put together a process that will work to
help recruit and select astronauts.” George [W. S.] Abbey had
a big role in that at that time as well, and George has always had
a really solid appreciation for HR organizations and giving them room
to do things, and I think he knew that Jack could deliver on that.
So we put together that process, and a younger Duane Ross was the
operational leader of the team of folks that supported that whole
astronaut recruiting and selection process, and Duane has supported
that ever since. Every single astronaut that we have here right now,
Duane has touched somewhere in the process of coming through that.
But, there again, it was the genius of Jack and other folks to say,
“Let’s find the right person to do this job,” and
Duane was clearly it. He understood operations; he understood customer
support; he understood how to do this sort of a thing; he understood
the business and did a wonderful job.
So we put that whole thing together, worked out of some trailers near
the water tower, down—I don’t even remember the street
designations—by the Acoustic Vibration Facility and the water
tower, that area as you’re going towards the Gilruth [Center].
There were some old leftover trailers from the [Army] Corps of Engineers
that we worked in for that first year and, literally, were inundated
with thousands of applications. Jack was part of that first board.
I served on the second board in 1980 that picked the class of 1980.
What we put together were teams, mostly a team of astronauts, managers,
HR people to sift and sort through that and find the folks who were
going to help us fly the Shuttle.
The criteria changed somewhat from we looked for in the early astronauts
to this group.
Right, right, and I didn’t know very much about that process.
The early part, I think, was clearly [outside] the HR purview. That
was probably done by [Donald K.] Deke Slayton and other folks that
we just didn’t have much insight into. By the time we got to
’78, ’80, we did change that process, and particularly
we said, “We know we’re going to need different kinds
That’s when we created the notion of there are pilots and that
there are mission specialists, and within mission specialists there
are five or six different brands of them, from earth sciences people
to astronomers, to life sciences, to engineers, that sort of a thing.
So, yes, we created that whole process, kind of made it up as we went
along, but all geared towards what do we need out there to help get
the job done.
Of course, the first class was the first one to have women and minorities
Yes. Yes, it was, and here I think the George Abbeys of the world
deserve credit for recognizing that that was an important consideration,
that our astronaut corps needed to look a little more like the face
of America, and working to make sure that we had enough people in
the pool to consider, good folks. We’ve always had lots of good
candidates to consider. We wind up passing on a lot of people who
could do the job. The trick is making sure the ones you get can, are
good enough to do it as well. You’re going to leave some good
ones on the table. So our goal was to try to build that pools as broad
and as wide as you could, so you had choices.
You also served as the chair of the steering group for the NASA employee
That’s probably one of those things that fell under Manager
of Special Projects, the deal that you asked about earlier. There
was a point at which the quality movement was taking shape in the
private sector, the quality movement and employee involvement kinds
of things, to try to—if you remember, that was the point at
which your Chevys and Fords were falling apart on you a week and a
half after you drove them out of the showroom, and they were realizing
something had to be done to shape up our organizational outputs to
compete in the world market. That’s kind of where the beginnings
of that were.
So you started casting about. What were they doing? How did they do
that? One of the things that clearly came out of the Japanese experience
was a lot more teamwork, a lot more of employee input into work processes
and designs. So this was a NASA adaptation to try to find a way to
put that idea to work here. It really, I don’t think, was that
big a deal in many respects, because NASA’s been about teams
from the very, very beginning. They weren’t called NETS [NASA
Employee Teams]. They weren’t called quality circles or anything
like that. But take a look at the movie, Apollo 13. It was just teams
everywhere helping to go solve a problem. That was a way of life with
us. So when we talked about, “Well, we need to put together
NETS,” people would say, “Why would we do that? We do
“Yeah, yeah, but we’re going to have to have some of this
as well.” So we probably relabeled some activities that we were
probably doing, plus we probably created some new ones. We probably
created in some settings new opportunities for some people to have
a voice in how the work was being done in their organization, and
that was healthy.
Also, during that time period, the late eighties, you were the Director
of Human Resources Development for the Center, the Chief Employee
How did that differ from what you were already doing?
This was another one of those Special Projects deals. [Laughter]
Oh, another Special Project. You found a lot of those.
I’ve always had an interest in the training and development
business, the growing people for the future, and there was a point
at which Jack and I had looked at what we were doing with our training
and development activity, and it wasn’t where we kind of wanted
it to be. So we did some organizational changes at that time, and
I agreed to go lead that effort as well as do the Deputy Director
job for a while, to change the look and the face of that organization,
and it was a fun thing. It was another one of those things, “Well,
why don’t you go over there for a year and see what we can do,”
and five years later, it’s a done deal. But it was a delightful
experience. It really was, because, as I say, I have a heart for the
training and development activities. We’ve always had a strong
support of that sort of a thing, and to be able to get more systematic
and more aggressive about providing the kinds of skills training that
organizations need to help be able to get their job done.
If you think back to the mid-eighties, PCs [Personal Computers] were
just beginning to show up in sizable form, and folks were scrambling,
“What do I do about this? How do I learn about using this CAD/CAM
[Computer-Aided Design/Computer-Aided Manufacturing] capability?”
and things like that. So there was a lot of opportunities around data
training that we had never done.
Student programs. Student programs were always important to us here
at NASA, and it was an opportunity to go work that and extend that
and really make that come alive, and then a chance to also do a fair
amount of work around the leadership and management training issues,
which we hadn’t done nearly enough about. We had relied on growing
our leaders on the job, and we needed to supplement that with a little
bit more formal kind of an activity. So it was a chance to put all
of that together and put together a good team of folks to go do that.
We probably didn’t have our strongest players in that organization,
and so this was an opportunity to reshape that a little bit and engage
some new people in that, and it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed that.
And you actually doubled the Center’s training capacity during
that time period.
Yes, probably at least, because we did that. We really expanded our
cooperative education efforts and got it a lot more targeted. I think
the main thing we really did was to line it up a lot more with the
needs of the organization. We weren’t doing just whatever seemed
like nice stuff to do or somebody sent us a course and, “Gee,
let’s offer this” kind of a thing. It really was focused
a lot more on plugging into what the organization needed and trying
to go solve their problems.
And the people that took advantage of those programs, did you have
a lot of people that wanted it, and it was a good response from people
Yes, I think NASA folks have always responded positively. There’s
a curiosity among an awful lot of folks out here who just want to
see what’s over that next horizon a little bit, so are more
than willing to get involved in a training opportunity. “Yeah,
I want to learn something more about the capability. This new computer’s
coming out here, and it’s got new capabilities. You know, we
need to get somebody in here to tell us how to do that,” or,
“We’re getting a little thin on this skill in this organization.
We’d better go find somebody to come in and start beefing up
our capability.” “We want to learn more about what’s
going on with program and project management. What are other people
doing? How are they doing it?” That sort of a thing. So there’s
always been a healthy curiosity, I think, and a healthy interest.
Now, it was never hard to find folks to go do that. I think the real
trick is matching it up with what the organization really needs, and
getting the biggest bang for the buck.
You also helped develop—I know when we talked to Mr. Lister,
the training was very important to him—the programs where people
could go to the local colleges and to the junior colleges and the
secretaries on that level and all those types of programs also.
Right. Right. We did a lot of encouraging people to work on advanced
degrees. We certainly did, with our support staff, encourage going
to junior colleges. Get that degree. That’s never a bad investment.
We worked a lot of cooperative arrangements with schools in this area.
We sent people off on graduate study to organizations, particularly
where we thought we’d invest in an individual or we needed a
capability that we didn’t have before. So, yes, that was always
a big deal.
We’ve talked to some people in here that had involvement with
the Sloan Fellowships. Did you have any involvement with that?
Yes. While I was in the training organization in particular, my folks
would run the process that would collect candidates for that, and
then all the time Jack and I were together running the organization,
that was where we would spend a fair amount of time with senior managers,
saying, “Hey, are we doing the right things on developing this
person, this person, this person? Is this somebody who’s going
to be a program manager? Maybe they ought to be thinking about getting
something else in their background. Is this the right time in their
career?” That sort of thing. So we would do a fair amount of
that sort of a thing.
We probably did more of the Sloan, the full-year kinds of programs,
earlier on, really, in the sixties and the seventies, than we did
later. And part of that was the pace of life, I think, picked up even
more, and we got thinner and thinner on people to have available to
you, and folks’ lives changed to where they said, “I don’t
want to be gone for a year. But if it’s just an eight-week program,
I’ll go do that.” So the movement tended to start to shorten
down to where people said, “All right, yes, I need the development
experience. I know that. But don’t make it too long,”
and so we started shopping for other high-quality executive education
programs that would meet that need, and that’s a trend that
you see a lot of in industry, too, where they want it packaged in
shorter doses, on target, get in there and get out.
I imagine a year away was somewhat difficult on families.
Everybody who got into that, for the most part, said, “You know,
I don’t think I can unplug from here for a year. It’ll
be so hard. Who’s going to do this?” Dah, dah, dah, dah.
But everybody who came back said, “It was a wonderful experience.
You all need to do that.” That kind of thing.
So I don’t think anybody who ever did one of these programs
came back and said it wasn’t a good investment of their time
or wasn’t grateful for the fact that NASA sponsored things like
that. But it’s hard, and it’s increasingly hard to get
people to do those kinds of things, because it’s doing something
different. It’s a change of pace. It’s unplugging from
the known worlds and from all those responsibilities that you have.
So it’s not always easy to do, and it’s hard to get people
to let good people go, to go do that.
Of course, you had someone that you were working for that was willing
for you to do that twice.
Yes, he was, and I’m forever grateful for that.
In the late eighties, the … [culture] surveys. You’ve
talked about the earlier surveys.
Right, and that built a little bit on that. But by the late eighties,
there were a couple of folks in NASA Headquarters, —a guy by
the name of Lou DeAngelis, who was the Training and Development Director
for NASA in Washington, probably pushed this notion and found a receptive
audience … [with] some key NASA leadership to do some studies
that looked at what the NASA culture was and to help understand it
at each Center, and then out of that, what do we need to do to make
that as strong as possible and to help make the organizations as effective
Lou found a partner in Warner Burke out of Columbia University [New
York City, New York] and his organization, who probably gave it some
good academic underpinnings, and out of that we wound up surveying,
oh, I think, a couple of three times, every couple of three years,
within NASA, surveys of people to find out how they were feeling about
different kinds of issues. Then what we would do out of that is take
that data and work that with management teams and say, “Here’s
what the folks are saying. Here where they think we’re doing
well, and here’s where they think we’ve got problems that
need to work on. Do you believe this data? Is it right?” We
ran focus groups of our own folks and said, “Survey says—.
Does that sound right?”
“Why would they say that?”
“Well, it’s because of this, this, and this.”
You get some depth to the data, and then the next question you ask
them is, “Okay, what should NASA do about that? What should
JSC do about that?”
“Well, here’s an idea. You ought to do this. You ought
to do this. You ought to do this.”
You start bubbling up some of those ideas, and then the senior management
teams would looks at that and try to craft some initiatives that were
responsive to helping move the organization to make it a healthier
and stronger organization. So that was kind of fun, too. Yes, that
was a lot of fun.
Do you remember any specific changes that came about because of those
Well, I think that’s really kind of hard to say. I guess I wouldn’t
recall any off the top, although I know organizations—certainly
we shredded it by organization so you could look at that and you could
see where maybe you had some real pockets of unhappiness around certain
issues, and I’m sure there were places where leaders took that
into account in subsequent steps. I think probably what it did more
than anything was it got us listening a little more closely to people
and what they were saying and what they were doing. I think we got
some better dialogues going on in organizations as organizations took
that back to theirs and said, “Here’s what it says about
our organization. What do you think?” I think you got a little
bit more of a cohesive team trying to problem-solve what does it take
to make this a better organization. That was probably the healthiest
In 1987, it became a little bit more difficult to hire workers because
of the hiring freeze, the Graham-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction
Act. How did that affect your job?
Well, actually it always seemed like there was hiring restrictions,
partly because we had so many folks who wanted to come to work for
us. If we could have hired every individual, good-quality people who
wanted to come to work for us, it’d be wonderful. We’d
also have thousands of people all over the landscape out here, because
everybody wanted to be involved in it. But I don’t remember
that point as being the hardest point at which the hiring started
to dry up. It really started a little later. I think ’90, ’91,
and ’92 is where things really started to slow down a good bit.
Then Mr. [Daniel S.] Goldin came on as our Administrator in ’92,
and we went into some fairly active reshapings of the organization.
That’s really where we put the clamps on for about four or five,
six years, for entirely too long, in my judgment. But maybe we needed
to do that to create the capability to reshape organizations. But
it had a lasting effect on us that I don’t think was entirely
We talked about the morale earlier as far as the RIFs were concerned.
What was it like during that time period?
Well, I think to kind of pick up from that eighties time period, the
post-Challenger [STS-51L] period was—I think there was a sense
of quiet determination and resolve to go fix what needed to be fixed,
to make sure that that never happened again or anything like that,
and to get back to the business of flying. So I think a lot of people
kept asking us at that point, “Morale’s down, right? Morale’s
I don’t think it was really down. It never really was. Solving
a problem is what this group of folks is really good at, and this
was a biggie problem to be solved. Certainly a lot of people grieved
over the loss of friends and colleagues and crew, and what could we
have done to not have that happen. But I never sensed that morale
was down over that. We came through that and refocused efforts and
really got back, and it was a really special experience to get back,
to return to flight and to be flying again.
As we moved into the nineties, I think maybe morale drifted again
a little bit there about “Where’s NASA going? Are we going
to fly a zillion Shuttles forever, or what’s going to happen?
Where are we going?” So I guess I wouldn’t say morale
was down so much as it’s kind of a feeling of uneasiness. What’s
the future hold? Where are we going? What are we doing?
Then as Mr. Goldin came on board and really kind of served as a catalyst,
I think, to raise those questions, to lay those out on the table,
and really actively work those in his own inimitable style, it had
two effects. One, probably the initial early effect was, “Who
is this guy and what is he doing to us?” But I guess I’ve
always felt that as painful as that was, he took us through a process
that we needed to go through. We needed to go through a re-looking
at what business we were in, what we were about, how we were doing
that, and where we were going, and making us relevant to the needs
of the country.
We don’t exist as an entitlement to space flight and to exploration.
You’re going to have prove your worth. I think we kind of lost
some of that. I think we got kind of disconnected. People were still
of good will, but somehow we weren’t on target probably as much
as we should be with what the country needed and wanted and connecting
into the country’s priorities. He put us through that, sometimes
in very painful kinds of ways. But it was a necessary kind of a thing
to go through.
You also spent a number of years chairing the Exchange Council.
Yes, that was a fun thing. That’s another one of those Special
Projects. [Laughs] I got involved in that, I’m not quite sure
how, probably I think in the early eighties sometime. Well, I know
how that happened. [Leslie J.] Les Sullivan … worked in the
flight operations organization for Chris Kraft. I had worked with
and for Les a number of times over the years, and he was chairing
that, and he said, “You know, you really need to get involved
in this. We need some people input in this,” and he was very
stealthily setting me up to replace him so he could go off and do
some other things. I wound up chairing that activity for a number
of years and really, really did enjoy that.
That’s basically the entire welfare, recreation, and association
kind of a thing for employees. It had a whole bevy of things with
it—all the cafeterias in the cafeteria system, although I never
picked a single menu, so I just want to make sure that that’s
real clear. I didn’t take beans and wienies off the menu. [Laughs]
They were still on there, nor did I add any of the other new ones.
But all the cafeterias at the Center, our vending and concession kinds
of programs, all of our retail store outlets, all the Gilruth Center
activities, and all the sports activities around that, were all kind
of clustered in that, scholarship programs for young people, things
like that that were clustered in there.
Exchange activities are a wonderful little world unto themselves.
They’re called non-appropriated fund activities. They’re
kind of a separate little world. They’re not run with tax money,
but they have to be green-money operations. So it’s the money
that you make has to sustain the activity. They are parallel to base
exchanges, post exchanges, in the military. NASA and the Veterans
Administration have these kinds of things through some specific enabling
legislation. Partly it was modeled after the military thing, and when
NASA was set up—“Well, gee, it ought to be like, it’s
kind of military-like. Maybe we ought to give them this authority.”
And it always gave us a way to provide those kinds of things for our
It was fun because it was kind of its own little profit center. You
really had to pay attention to the bottom line and make sure you were
making money and that you were spending it wisely and you were doing
the things that supported the organization and helped that. It was
typically staffed by a collection of individuals from around the Center
who served on the Council to represent the Center at large and to
make sure that we were responsive to the needs. Then we typically
had an exchange manager who was a civil servant, whose full-time job
it was to manage the non-appropriated funds staff, which ranged anywhere
from forty to seventy or eighty people, depending on what we were
Did you have an involvement with the scholarships in the program?
Yes, yes, that’s maybe where Les got the hook in me initially,
was, “Why don’t you come serve on the Scholarship Committee.
You’d be good at helping evaluate these kids.” We’ve
had a long history of providing scholarships for sons and daughters
of employees, modest ones, you know, five, seven hundred dollars a
year, whatever it was, something like that. But every year we picked
a few, and it was one of those kinds of things where parents could
say, “Yes, I can get some help right here for my son or daughter
going to college.” We’ve seen some really neat kids go
on to get Ph.D.’s and that sort of thing.
Eventually I also got involved in the NASA scholarship program, which
was when [James A.] Michener got involved with writing the book Space,
and he got hooked on space, as so many people do. He gifted us with—I
think it was $125,000, 100 or 125,000 dollars of the proceeds of the
book, and he said, “I want to set up a scholarship fund for
the sons and daughter[s] of NASA employees that I’ve picked
up such a huge respect for.” But that was nationally, for all
NASA employees. The first one I was involved with just was for the
JSC people. But this other one was nationwide. But he specifically
stipulated, “I want the people in Houston to run it,”
which was kind of interesting. I think because he had spent so much
time here and probably because of his Texas roots. So I was involved
in from when that was set up and at one point chaired that. That was
a nonprofit board of directors that we created to run that activity,
and I chaired that board for a while, too, and that was fun. Man,
you saw some outstanding young people from all over the country. We’ve
helped educate a good number of folks.
You also were on the board of directors for the Manned Space Flight
Education Foundation for Space Center Houston.
Another Special Project. Right. [Laughs]
What are your memories of that?
That was a fun one, because that kind of got started in the early,
mid-eighties time frame, and the threads for that came from lots of
different directions. Increasingly, there was less and less space
on the Center that we were able to open up to visitors, to taxpayers.
You’ll recall at that period of time the front gates were wide
open, and you could drive on the Johnson Space Center and park anywhere
you want and walk on the streets here. You could eat in our cafeterias.
You could roam around in Building 2, where our artifacts were and
that sort of thing, and walk over to the control center.
But we were starting to feel the pinch, in that more and more laboratories
were needing extra space, and our ability to show the visitor very
much was declining. It was going downhill fairly rapidly. There wasn’t
any money available to build anything. Nobody even wanted to ask for
money for programs, let alone buildings, let alone Visitor Centers
or visitor kinds of buildings. That was going away, so there was a
thread there around that.
Even at that point there were some folks who were a little uneasy
with, “Gee, we’ve got an awful lot of people just rumbling
around inside this facility wherever and whenever they want to,”
you know, kind of a thing, probably played out mostly from somebody
who would came stalking in and saying, “I just got back from
lunch, and there’s a camper from Iowa parked in my parking space.”
[Laughter] Yeah, that happens. That’s right. They’re taxpayers.
They get to be here, too.
We started looking at what could we do to do something about that,
and we cast about and looked at what other places had done. Particularly
the Kennedy Space Center had done a number of things at that point.
The decision was kind of made that maybe what we ought to do is go
start something entirely different. This was the Reagan years, a lot
of privatization emphasis. Is there a way that we could do this that
would be offline? Is there a way that just wouldn’t be a demand
on the federal budget?
We create something called the Manned Space Flight Education Foundation,
Incorporated—“Ms. FEFI” to all of her friends—as
a nonprofit 501C(3) corporation, to go about designing, building,
and operating a Visitors Center for NASA. I was one of three directors
that signed the charter for the original incorporation papers with
Texas. Carolyn [Sue Leach] Huntoon, [William R.] Bill Kelly, and myself
were the original three directors of that. We set up a board of directors
that was, I think, eleven: six NASA folks and five outside people,
people here in the community who had an interest in that.
We set about raising some money. We raised about $5 million in the
local area and nationally from foundations and that sort of thing.
Then we went out and floated bonds for about $70 million to go build
the facility. We found a little neighborhood company in Glendale,
California, called Disney Imagineering to help us with that, and Disney
became our owners’ representative and became our designer. They
held two roles with that. So once they finished the design, they stayed
with us as the owners’ representative to make sure that the
design intent … was carried through. We spent a fair amount
of time with those folks helping them understand what NASA was all
It was interesting talking to them initially, because they said, “This
is neat. We’re about doing imagination. We’re about doing
imaginary things. This is real stuff. This is different.” I
remember specifically they said, as we were talking about site locations,
there was some preference to, “Well, we ought to get it off
of the NASA property, maybe over on I-45 some place, where it would
be highly visible,” and that sort of thing, and they specifically
said, “No, you don’t want to do that. It needs to be on
the NASA property. It is the real thing. It needs to be where the
real stuff is,” and that was good advice.
But we wound up striking a deal where NASA provided the license to
do that and the property to do that on the front of the Center. And
then in a couple of years we raised that money and we built that facility,
opened it in ’92, and had all the fun that goes with a building
process and the early learning and operations processes, and also
that sometimes your eyes are bigger than your wallet as we went through
some tough times. And we realized that maybe we had sized the facility
a little larger than—maybe we were swimming in the same bathwater
of, “Oh, gee, we’re a wonderful organization. Everybody
will want to come see us,” and the numbers didn’t pan
out quite where we thought we were, and we wound up doing some refinancing
to contract that and get it where it is.
But we’ve got it on a good footing now to where it’s providing
what we set out to do, which was two things: one, tell the story of
human space flight in a compelling way to our customers and to our
taxpayers and to everybody who’s a constituent; and, number
two, to inspire young people, get more people interested in careers
in science and technology, math, that sort of a thing. I think we’re
doing a pretty good job of those. You only need to go over there,
and I was over there last month when there were 3,500 young people
in the building one morning from school districts all over the area.
The energy that’s in there and the excitement is just—it’s
wonderful. It’s doing what it set out to do. Or when you see
somebody with a camper from Iowa stopping and saying, “This
is really a special place. I’m proud of what our country has
done,” then it’s doing what it set out to do. So that
was a neat experience. I was with that board from ’86, from
when we started it, through ’96.
We’re going to stop for just a second so we can change out our
Okay. We were talking about Space Center Houston. The expectations,
you kind of mentioned that the expectations when you all started out
was a lot larger than it ended up being. You were mentioning that
you felt like it did still—
So how did you guys let that happen? [Laughter]
Yes. Do you feel like it lives up to the goals that you set out as
far as education and that sort of thing, but—
It gave us a different game to play than we originally envisioned,
and we did that with some of the best help that we could find. You’d
mentioned while we had the break here, that Bill Kelly had been to
talk to you, and Bill was real involved in this as well.
We went looking for the best help we could find. When we started with
Disney, Disney brought us to a guy by the name of “Buzz”
Price, and Buzz did all the projection work for Disney and for a lot
of other folks, at Orlando [Florida] and in California and in other
places like this. This is not a guy who’s just some yahoo; I
mean, he had a long proven track record, had good help with this,
and he did a study for us, and he said, “This is a slam-dunk.
You guys will see 2 million people here, no question about it,”
and we’ve seen 800 to a million a year. So it never quite
materialized at the level that he projected.
So we sized the facility for 2 million in many ways, and as that didn’t
materialize, then it made it harder to do some of the things that
we later wanted to do with new exhibits and new features to the facility.
So it forced us a few years downstream to have to go through kind
of a difficult period where we had to reshape the organization and
re-do our financing arrangements and things like that. That was not
any fun. That was a painful, painful time, but to get it back on a
sound footing, so that we could do the job that we wanted to do, which
was to tell the story. I’ve seen other ones as well. I think
these guys do as good a job as any with doing that and telling that
Do you have any idea or any opinion why you think that we only have
a million instead of the 2 million people?
I think maybe Buzz overestimated the drawing power of this. We certainly
didn’t disagree with that. It drew us and drew a lot of our
folks. But Houston is not Orlando. It is not a destination resort
area. We’re kind of out on the end of the spoke. We’re
not at the hub of the wheel. It isn’t California. It presents
a different dynamic maybe than they had expected. Now, I think our
leadership that we had there, both in the board and in the staff folks,
did very well to adapt to that in the very best way possible, by looking
for lots of sponsoring organizations, whether it’s Southwest
Airlines or Coca-Cola or DuPont or Southwestern Bell, any of those
folks, who really came in and helped us in substantial ways, both
financially and with their skill and their capabilities, and new things
like rotating exhibits in there that keep giving the place a fresh
look, putting more things in for younger people.
As we did it initially, it was probably geared more towards an intellectual
kind of a thing and an older student. We realized we needed to catch
those younger students as well, and so we adapted to that setting.
I’m proud of what they’ve done. I think they represent
NASA well. And who would have ever thought it? If we hadn’t
done that, we sure would have slammed the gate shut post-Oklahoma
City. We sure would have slammed them with an extra set of locks after
9/11. Having made that move to move Space Center Houston to our Visitor
Center off-site really was a move that paid off for us later on to
provide a more secure setting now for our folks. So, yes, I think
sometimes it takes a while for an idea or for something to really
to play out, but I’m proud of it and I’m proud of what
It’s a wonderful place.
In 1990, Jack Lister retired.
Yep, sailed into the sunset.
Then you moved into his position as Director of Human Resources.
What sort of changes did that bring about? You mentioned earlier you
got a taste of it when you were at Ames, and you appreciated what
Right. It was one of those mixed-feelings times. On the one hand,
I really felt like, man, I’m really ready to do that. I’ve
been in this organization now for, at that point, twenty-three, twenty-four
years. I’ve got lots of ideas about things that I want to do,
that sort of a thing. But wait a minute. Jack’s always been
here. Jack’s been the leader of this organization ever since
I’ve know him, for twenty-four years, and done a masterful job
at leading the organization and putting together a really first-rate
group of folks. So it was a sense of anticipation, a sense of trepidation
in some respects, that, gee, I can’t even imagine what this
place would look like without Jack here.
But it was an exciting time, and it gave me an opportunity to work
even more closely with some of the senior management at the Center,
with Aaron Cohen, who was the Center Director at the time. I have
just the utmost respect for that man. People of great integrity need
to look to an Aaron Cohen as a model. He was truly a remarkable man
who devoted his life to the Johnson Space Center, to NASA, and to
its programs. He was a wonderful man to work for. I truly enjoyed
He was really the first Center Director that I reported directly to.
Up until that point, I had worked reasonably closely with [Gerald
D.] Gerry Griffin, before him, Jesse [W.] Moore, who was here just
a very brief time, but had a very tough job at a tough time. But,
Jerry, I had worked with him and, of course, I’d worked with
Chris when he was a Center Director, before he left in ’82.
But this was the first time, okay, now this is your Center Director
that you’ve got to take care of. And so I had a chance to work
with him. I had a chance to work with Carolyn Huntoon, a chance to
work with George Abbey more directly, and that’s a very satisfying
thing, to be able to work with a senior management team and help them
get where they want to get.
So that was an exciting transition to make. But in many respects,
things didn’t change. Our team of people initially stayed pretty
much the same within the HR organization. I moved into Jack’s
office. I probably didn’t even move the desk, just moved in
and sat in the same location. But Jack’s presence is everywhere
in that organization, in the way he shaped it to begin with, and it
was just my responsibility then to pick up the baton for the next
leg of the relay.
During the time there was the threat of the furloughs, and that was
right when he was leaving and you were taking over. What do you remember
about that time period?
I remember I was the only guy working while everybody else was off.
[Laughs] There was that three-week period there where the mechanics
of government broke down, and we did have the threat of furlough,
an awful lot of people were pretty sure they were going to miss paychecks,
and it was a relatively unhappy time. In effect, we kind of had to
lock our people out, and an awful lot of people saying, “Yeah,
but I’ve got work to do.”
“No, you can’t do that, because if we let you work, then
we’re liable for paying you, and we can’t pay you. We
haven’t got any money to do that.” I think myself and
just a handful of other folks wound up being the ones to be there
to kind of deal with whatever needed to be done. But it was one of
those kind of goofy times, where people were saying, “This isn’t
really happening, is this? Would we be doing something this dumb?”
kind of a thing. Eventually sanity came around, and it all came back
together. But it was kind of a pre-retirement program for an awful
lot of folks, where they got to try it out for three weeks and an
awful lot of them said, “No, no. I think I’m going to
keep working.” [Laughter]
Well, during that time there was a lot of budget cuts and, of course,
in ’95, President [William J.] Clinton was trying to cut the
federal budget. A buyout program was implemented.
Yes, yes, and this was really part of Mr. Goldin’s, I think,
reshaping the agency and reshaping the direction that we were going.
As he was doing that, it was, if we can’t hire very many folks,
how could you reshape the people that you’ve got? How could
you create more capability to hire people? One possibility that became
available, and it was a build-off of a downsizing of the DoD, was
where they first came up with that notion, is, “Well, let’s
offer some incentives to people to consider leaving. So if you will
retire, or if you resign, or you’ll leave, we’ll give
you a separation package.”
Well, that conjures the connotation of “golden parachutes.”
Well, these were probably more Saran-wrap parachutes. There weren’t
any big silver-lining parachutes here, because the government, in
its own inimitable way, had to make it very egalitarian. Everybody
will get no more than $25,000. And then the system’s set up
on, we’ll do it based on how much time you’ve had with
the organization, the seniority theme. Well, pretty soon it didn’t
take a rocket scientist to figure that a secretary making $25,000
says, “Hey, a year’s salary. Color me gone,” and
a senior scientist making $100,000 said, “Why would I leave
for three months’ pay?”
So we wound up with some unintended consequences out of that, that
we probably got some turnover, but we got it in some of the wrong
quarters, and we had to get a little bit clever about, “Okay,
how do we district this so that we don’t get effects that we
can’t stand?” But it did create a way to downsize that
was much preferable to what I had experienced following the Apollo
period, where we laid off people. That was a difficult period of time
where you’d just wrench people out of the organization. This
was more of, can we incentivize people to consider leaving the organization,
and then we have to choose, where do you think you can stand that?
Didn’t always work. We lost some good people out of that, people
who left early incentivized by that. But it did create some additional
turnover, which gave us some opportunity to hire a few folks. But
mostly it gave an opportunity for the agency to reshape where do you
want those people, and that was kind of always a tension was going
on, particularly between JSC and the agency Headquarters, which said,
“Gee, we need to take a lot of people out of the Johnson Space
We were saying, “No, you don’t. Yes, we’re good
team players. We’ll play, but, no, we don’t want to lose
a lot of good people, because we’ve got a lot of things. If
we’re going to fly Shuttle safely, if we’re going to build
Space Station, if we’re going to go exploring Mars and places
like that, we’re going to need some folks here.” We were
kind of playing a dual game of educating them as to what they needed
to keep here while we were staving off ripping out very many people
from the organization. So it was constant strategy-education kind
of an effort and an execution of that policy.
You also implemented a number of awards for the employees in the nineties,
I think, the Go the Extra Mile Award, the Time Off Award.
Yes, and, again, this got into the business of, can we find ways to
recognize people who do good work and, Lord knows, we had a lot of
them. Often though most of the folks we got are not 4.0 Ph.D.’s
from Harvard and Stanford; most of them are ordinary kinds of folks
doing extraordinary kinds of things, and you wanted to find ways to
recognize those folks and, in some cases, to motivate people to higher
levels of performance, or to motivate them in certain directions,
such as team awards, to motivate teams to work productively.
My good friend Duane Ross was a key co-conspirator in a lot of this,
because Duane was responsible for the awards program and has been
for, I think, somewhere back to the landing of colonists at Jamestown
[Virginia] in 1620. It seems, I think, he’s been doing this
forever. But he’s got a wonderful sense of how to do that and
do that in thoughtful kinds of ways. One of the things we created,
some new capabilities came along in the regulations that let you do
things in different ways, and so, again, our bent was to try to find
things that help the organization get its job done and do its work
well, and one of them came along.
They came up with something in the regulations that they called On
the Spot Awards, which was you can give out 25 or 50 or $75 in cash
for something well done, that sort of thing, on the spot when you
see that. A lot of people labeled that, “Well, we’ll have
an On the Spot Award.” But we don’t want to recognize
the procedure or the way you do it. What we want to recognize is what
you do, and what we were looking for was, what do we want to really
recognize? We want to recognize people who go the extra mile, and
it just happened to have a nice little acronym with it, GEM. So, for
us, it became GEM awards as a way for line supervisors to do something.
We can’t give out a $50 gift certificate to Carrabba’s
[Italian Grill]. We can’t give you a jacket with SIGNAL Corporation
on it, that sort of a thing. But we could give out some very small
cash awards, and we tried to do that in ways that we tried to gross
it up so that you didn’t get to see $37.12, but that you got
a set award. So we kept looking for new ways to do that.
Flown flags was another example. Again, that really ties right into
the heart of what our people care about, which is getting the job
done, doing a mission, that sort of thing. I can’t even imagine
how many little flags we have flown on Shuttles over the years. But
there’s an inventory of them from every state, from every country,
American flags that had been flown and then present them to individuals,
and they mean a great deal. I’ve got a flown flag that Chris
Kraft gave me, that flew on Apollo 17, went to the Moon. That means
a great deal to me. That hangs there as a mark of my being part of
a team that did something extraordinary. So you always look for things
like that to try to find new ways to recognize and incentivize people.
You also began a new employee evaluation system in ’96.
Yes. Again, it’s kind of the cyclical thing. You’re always
looking. Evaluation systems, in particular, in any organization are
kind of the bane of their existence. Nobody wants to be evaluated
unless you’re being told you’re perfect and you’re
outstanding. So the trick is to find ways that you get some communication
going between employees and their management about what’s expected,
and how am I doing towards those, and what can I do to do it better.
So we’ve worked on that. I can’t tell you how many systems
I’ve worked at over the years and how maybe my philosophy changed
from, well, we need to be hard with these things and call them where
they are and tell you you’re a turkey and tell you you’re
a star, kind of a thing to, no, the name of the game is, be real clear
about expectations, and then give people good feedback on how they’re
doing towards meeting that, and what can I do to help you get there
and do the job better.
Yes, it seemed like about every five to ten years it was time to go
back and revisit that. There’s only two kinds of organizations
on appraisal systems: ones that are unhappy with their system, and
they’re in the process of changing it; and those that are just
about to change it. It seems that nobody stays very happy with them
for very long.
Do you want to talk about TQM [Total Quality Management]?
TQM. Again, that’s another wave that moves through, as we talked
earlier about quality circles and that sort of a thing. I think that
was a real emphasis on helping organizations produce outstanding results.
Never much of a problem with this organization. It’s always
had high standards, always had high expectations, always focused on
producing outstanding results. So part of that is wading and sifting
through a movement, a cult, if you will, to see what’s in there
that’s useful for this setting to help it get its job done.
In some ways, the TQM process was good, again, to get us to think
about what are the basics, what are we focusing on. We want to turn
out a quality job. We want to make sure we did it. We want to make
sure we involve our people in that process.
But all those almost always bring bureaucratic baggage with them and
their own language and a wave that goes through an organization. For
managers, for HR people helping lead efforts like that, keeping your
eye focused on the long-run goals are what really matters, helping
organizations do the important things, get to their vision, do their
mission, is what’s really important.
It’s a lesson I learned from Skip LeFauve, the President of
Saturn Motor Corporation, a guy that we brought in, we created something,
we called it the Leadership Series, where we brought in practitioners
to talk to our management team about what’s this business of
leadership about? How do we get to be better leaders? We’d bring
them in about quarterly, every three months, four months, six months,
whatever it was. And Skip came in and talked with us about his experience
at running Saturn Motor Company, which was taking General Motors and
going and doing something new and different.
Skip made a point in there that’s really always stuck with me.
He said, “Leaders really only have three jobs, and it doesn’t
make any difference whether you’re working at NASA or at Saturn
or wherever you are. They have three jobs to do: get the mission done,
take care of the people, and grow the next generation of leaders.
These are the only three things that you’ve got to do.”
So when you see something like TQM come along, you say, “Is
this going to help me get the mission done? Is it going to help me
take care of my people? Is it going to help me grow the next generation
of leaders?” If you can kind of look at those waves of things
that come through there against some enduring principles like that,
you’re probably going to be all right. So TQM had some pluses
for us, and it had some baggage with it, too, that we probably could
have done without.
As you mentioned earlier, you worked under several different Center
Directors, some directly and some not so directly. You do have a somewhat
unique perspective because you worked under seven of the eight JSC
Center Directors. Is there anything about any of those directors you’d
like to mention?
They all shared in common just an incredible passion for this business
and for doing it well and for just being, I think, models of public
service. Any of those people could have stepped out of there for much
higher paying jobs, much more prestigious jobs with all the trappings
that come with that. But all of them, in one way or another, really
modeled what it means to be a public servant, to do a job on behalf
of the people of this country, that needs to be done, and often those
jobs were really, really tough, more than glamorous.
People keep thinking, “Well, Center Directors, they get all
the glory. They get to meet all the dignitaries. When Prince Charles
comes, you’re going to tour him around, and when the President
shows up, you’re going to take him around and present him with
an astronaut flight suit. This has got to be a really neat job.”
The more you work closely with those guys on a day-to-day basis, and
particularly in the last ten years, as the Director, when my office
was on the other end of the hall from the Center Director, and I wore
a lot of carpeting out going back and forth there and see what goes
on in their lives day to day, you realize what a really tough, tough
job that is, and the challenges, and the amount of sacrifice they
… [make] to do those jobs.
So, they were all special in so many ways. But, clearly, Chris Kraft
has to stand out among those as a giant. He is a leader in the finest
sense of the word, maybe because I encountered him at an early and
impressionable age. But Chris wasn’t all that much older. He’s
probably fifteen years older, fifteen, twenty years older. But he
always set an incredible example as a leader and being real clear
about what needed to be done and being willing to tackle any job and
being very good about using all of his people to get that job done.
When he walked into a room, you knew he was the leader in charge.
There was no question about that.
To watch him listen to somebody, talk to you about a problem or something
like that, he’s a very quick study and had probably one of the
best BS detectors I’ve ever seen. I went to an awful lot of
meetings with him, where if anybody tried to blow smoke at him, Chris
knew that in heartbeat and would zero in on you with those laser-like
eyes and would take that apart and get down to what really needed
to be done. He was really, really good at that.
He was incredibly loyal with his people. He really believed in his
people and he gave them room to go do their jobs and to do them well.
And he took care of his people, too. I count him as a kind of a lifelong
friend and in a special way. He and Betty Ann have always [been] really,
really special people. He really embodies, I think, the heart and
soul of what JSC is about.
But they’re all special. It’s just that I probably caught
him at a very formative time in my life.
You retired in ’99.
I retired in ’99, right.
What do you feel like, during your years, more than thirty years there,
what do you feel is your most significant accomplishment or your greatest
challenge? Or maybe that’s the same thing.
Again, going back to Skip LeFauve’s principles, get the job
done and do the mission. I think we put together over the years, both
as a worker and as a supervisor and later as a leader and the senior
manager of an HR team, we did that job as good—we played the
hand as well as it could be played. We provided the Johnson Space
Center with an outstanding people program. It’s really probably
in the last—maybe I knew it intuitively earlier, but probably
within the last ten to fifteen years that it really became crystal-clear
that HR organizations are most effective when they line up with the
business needs and help an organization to win in the workplace, understand
what needs to be done, and helping them get to that point is so incredibly
important. This organization did that, partly intuitively really early
on and maybe more planned and systematic later through the years.
But I think that’s a biggie.
Taking care of the people, we had some wonderful people. I had the
opportunity to work with some really, really neat people through the
years. We had an awful lot of them in the HR organization. There was
any number of times I’ve told people that I wouldn’t trade
a single [one]—given the opportunity to say, “You can
take 10 percent out of this place and send them away and replace them
with other people, would you do that?” there were an …
[awful] lot of times in that organization where I wouldn’t have
traded a soul. They were just all good, good folks, and that’s
Probably one of the lasting satisfactions is to see so many of them
still there and doing some wonderful work. Greg [W.] Hayes, who followed
me, we hired in 1973. I just really loved watching and shaping him
and so many of the other young folks who came along and help make
that place even stronger. So that’s a piece of it.
The other piece of it is being involved in something that really has
made a difference. NASA’s about doing something worthwhile and
going someplace and doing something. It’s not about making a
better Dorito. This is about something that makes a difference, and
so you can really sign on to that, and you feel like you’ve
invested yourself in something that’s worthwhile.
The opportunities, I guess, to provide so many other young people
with a chance to get involved, through our student programs and that
sort of a thing, our cooperative education programs, I’m really
proud of those things as ways to engage so many young people in it
Thirty-five, forty, forty-five years ago, growing up on a farm in
Nebraska, trying to figure out what you’re going to do, knowing
that you’re not going to be farmer, real sure that I’m
not going to be a farmer, but what’s life going to hold? God
has blessed me richly with wonderful opportunities to do some incredible
things, and I just couldn’t have asked for a better script,
almost, had I written it.
That’s wonderful. We’ve just got a couple of minutes,
and I was just real quick going to see if Jennifer or Kevin had any
I do, but it might take more time. So I’ll just ask one question.
You had mentioned earlier that the relationship with the union in
the 1970s early on was pretty rocky. I was wondering if you could
describe some of the issues that were raised by the union, some of
their concerns, and some of the solutions that they wanted, and some
of the solutions that you and the HR department—
You’re going to test my recollection here. Obviously, that formed
up out of a concern for employees saying, “What can I do to
help save my job?” Well, the government allowed unions to be
formed, and it provided, in effect, another layer of insulation, if
you will, another protection for you, if you would. Government unions
can’t bargain over wages and can’t strike, so mostly what
you wind up doing is haggling over procedural kinds of issues, the
processes by which you do things. So unions tend to want to put in
place processes that are very protective of people, more concerned
about that protective stuff than concerned about “Is this going
to make it harder for us to do our job?” So most of that haggling
was probably over those kinds of things. People would see, “You
really need to give us more notice on this,” “This needs
to be structured,” “It needs to be done only seniority.”
You know, we aren’t going to pick our management team by seniority.
You know, those kinds of things. We’re going to pick the people
who can do the job. So you start, okay, well, then how can we honor
your concerns and how can we get what we want to get. So you just
start looking for common ground. Later, much, much later, it became
called, I think, mutual interest or common interest, whatever, trying
to find those common grounds that you have and build off of those
I think once we got through the contentious layoff phases and probably
the early years of active affirmative action, when you’re trying
to sort out what shape that would take in an organization, by the
later seventies, things got to a point where I think we were much
more in a partnership kind of arrangement, where we could talk with
folks and we could work with them and try to be respectful of their
views and their concerns, while also maintaining the areas of prerogatives
that management needed to be able to do to get its job done. Again,
that’s a tribute to a lot of the people like [Robert F.] Bob
Hall … and the Carl Maxey and the Dick Kuhn of the world, who
worked very hard at, I think, doing that well and treating people
with respect out of that, that we wound up with a much stabler situation
than many other parts of the government, still have.
I’ll let him ask a question.
I’d like to ask one as well. You mentioned a couple of times
a few things about the culture of NASA. I was wondering if you could
describe your perspective on the culture here at Johnson Space Center
and how as a human resources person you could take advantage of that
and, I guess, in some cases, how you might have had to work around
Sure. Every organization has a culture. Your organization has a culture.
The church you belong to, the Rotary Club, the company, whatever it
is, has a distinctive culture. JSC’s, from the very start, I
think, was a very goal-oriented culture: get a job done, get a job
done. It was a culture that had high expectations because we were
given one of the highest challenges to begin with that you could ever
It also had some underlying things that kind of came out of that,
mainly from the kinds of folks who initially staffed and ran that.
One of them was a real emphasis on competence. From the very beginning,
this organization placed a high premium on competence. If you were
good, then you had standing to debate an issue, to talk about how
we would do something, particularly in the early days. It was not
uncommon for a green GS-9 engineer to challenge a forty-five-year-old
branch chief, GS-15, and say, “No, that’s dumb. We can’t
do that that way. Let me tell you what’s wrong with that,”
dah-dah-dah-dah, and get to the board and start drawing it out. So
there’s always been the organization, I think, placed a premium
on competence, no matter where it was in the organization, is the
highest value, not hierarchy. That was important.
Accomplishment has always been—you’ve got to get a job
done. You’ve got to get results. That’s been a biggie.
There’s been a “can do” spirit about this place.
“We’ll find a way. Somehow we’ll find a way.”
And I think woven in there is a little bit of the spirit of Texas.
There’s a little bit of the frontier independent mentality in
the Johnson Space Center, that’s now very nicely represented
by those longhorns that are out there. It’s just another reminder
that there is a special spirit about that.
There’s a special spirit of pride. I remember from these culture
surveys that one of the questions was, “Are you proud of your
organization?” Our people blew the top out of that, compared
to any other NASA organization, and most of NASA— feels proud
of what they do, but within that, JSC’s out the end of it. “Are
you proud of your organization?” They’re gone if they
don’t feel proud. It’s just so much in their bones, and
that partly comes because we’ve got this wonderful collection
[of people]. We owe that to the Gilruths and Krafts and the Lows,
who had the foresight to put together the design people, the operating
people, the people who have to do it, the astronauts, and the program
people, all in one place, close beside each other, and say, “You
guys go solve this. You go figure out how to do this kind of a thing,”
and that was a real stroke of genius from the very beginning.
Now, we’ve strayed from that occasionally, and we’ve paid
the price on that. You know, in the early eighties, the mid-eighties,
some of our early attempts at Space Station design with, “Let’s
let all God’s children have a stake in this thing, no matter
where you are on the planet,” and we had trouble with that.
We kind of got away from that principle. We kind of came back to it
as we got to a working one, and maybe we’re finding our way
to expand that now internationally a little smarter than we’ve
done in the past.
But the design of this place around putting together the people who
can do the job all in one place was genius, and that helped produce,
I think, this incredible pride in it. So there are things like that
competency, the professionalism, the “Get the job done,”
the “can do” spirit, the pride, all those things are really
bedrock kinds of things. What do you do from that? You make sure that
your strength doesn’t become your weakness as well.
It may be a bit of a weakness for us, because people kept saying,
“The Johnson Space Center’s arrogant.” Maybe at
times we overstepped that, and we were pretty sure we could tell the
rest of the world how to run as well, although Chris Kraft was fond
of saying, “It ain’t arrogant if you can do it.”
And he’s probably right, but I think you can overstep that to
the detriment of your organization. That would be a case of that pride
where pride is in the past and not pride in what we can do in the
future. You can get hung up on being really proud of all that stuff
back there, but you’re going to have keep on tackling those
high mountains. So, yes, in fact, that’s part of what we did
with that culture survey thing.
I remember one of the things we did was to put together a little card
of ten points for supervisors that said, out of this, “Here’s
the kinds of things you can do as a manager that really drive those
numbers up for you in terms of your people feeling like they’re
engaged, being used, challenged,” and just ticked off some practices
that came out of that. So you do try to build on those strengths out
of the culture and make that work for you.
Well, we’ve kept a couple of minutes past what we promised,
so we’re going to let you go.
But we want to thank you for being here today and sharing your—