NOAA’s low hanging problem–Part 7

The last post, part 6, went into detail about the problems the Independent Review Team (IRT) brought forward to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regarding its satellite programs.  These were the problems the IRT found and documented in their 2012 assessment report:  Oversight and decision process, governance, JPSS Gap, programs, and budget.  The 2013 assessment report that followed was the IRT’s attempt to see how seriously the NOAA was taking these problems.


Stunningly, the IRT noted the NOAA had resolved most of the problem areas.  As far as the IRT was concerned, the NOAA was well on its way to becoming one happy family and making its satellite programs healthy.  But then a look at the color charts on pages 9 and 10 (shown below) of the IRT’s 2013 assessment tells a slightly different story.  And somehow, some different issues, related to the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) come to the fore:  (JPSS) gap policy and implications, gap mitigation, and program robustness.

From 2013 assessment report--click to go there.
Page 9 from 2013 assessment report–click to go there.
Page 10 from 2013 assessment report--click to go there.
Page 10 from 2013 assessment report–click to go there.



It’s not clear how the NOAA fixed the oversight and decision process.  As explained in part 5 of this post series, the work environment sounded really hostile.  One key question prompted by such incivility is:  what drove the upper management in these programs to manage minutely, untrustingly, and hostilely?  Those upper program managers are influenced and rewarded by higher ups in the NOAA.  Someone above (the boss’ bosses?) them was at the very least aware of the dysfunction going on in these programs.  At the very worst, they not only tolerated such a situation, but encouraged it.  The boss’ bosses may have wanted someone thought to, ironically, “get it done,” no matter what or who got broken.  And according to the IRT’s report on page 4, those boss’ bosses were not reviewed.

There’s a very strong possibility then, the oversight and decision problem didn’t exist just within the programs the IRT was evaluating, but externally—integrated throughout the NOAA to be dealt with daily.  An educated guess based on the IRT’s assessments would say such management was institutionalized, not just a personality or two.  Was there a full scale change of leadership and personnel within the whole NOAA?  That’s doubtful.  So what changed?  What could’ve made the oversight and decision process better in the IRT’s eyes?  The IRT really doesn’t say anything about the NOAA’s response to the 2012 assessment, other than the issues seem to be fixed.


The answer may be the IRT was sold a bill of goods.  Looking at the charts on pages 9 and 10 of the 2013 IRT assessment report, it should be noted that functional organizations’ roles, responsibility for timely and responsive communications, and JPSS scope of responsibilities are all yellow.  And these are very important issues for contractors and the lower government echelons for day to day work.  The yellow color of the functional organizations’ roles, for example, means there’s still confusion about who is responsible for what and who owns different people to do different functions, like policy, budget, operations, etc.

It means workers are still being yanked around by different managers for different things.  Communications aren’t working?  Hardly a surprise since even healthy organizations are constantly dealing with communications issues.  But this likely means upper management isn’t telling their lower echelons what’s going on, and perhaps, vice versa.  And of course JPSS scope of responsibilities aren’t quite clarified.  This is a program that was created from an existing program in early 2010.  Four years have elapsed since the JPSS’ program inception and people still don’t know the scope of responsibilities?  Interesting.

More on Monday (I think we’ll finally be able to tie this one up)—Happy Thanksgiving!

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