government, nasa, presentations, reinventing government

Video: Good Ideas in 2009 in Collaboration | PSFK – Trends, Ideas & Inspiration

Video of my panel at the PSFK Good Ideas in Collaboration breakfast last week in New York. PSFK events get me up early better than any alarm I’ve ever had. Thank you PSFK. I think.

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colab, nasa, reinventing government, second life

How Online Organizing in ’04 and ’08 Can Improve our Federal Government in ’09

Recently I was asked to reflect on how the lessons of online organizing by those of us who worked in the 2004 Presidential campaign have impacted not only the 2008 Presidential campaign (in which Dean ’04 and Clark ’04 veterans teamed up to create Blue State Digital, the technology backbone of Obama’s online operation), but also the Federal Government, over the past four years.

Many 2004 veterans have been working in the realm of making government more open in order to enable watchdog oversight of it. I have been working more in the realm of trying to make government more efficient and effective through technologies and organizing techniques that promote openness. I’m personally mostly focused on the cultural and policy side of things– trying to get people inside NASA used to being more open and sharing by default rather than only when explicitly forced to. There is also a great deal of work being done by reformers in the CIO’s offices and elsewhere on the communications technology side of NASA’s operations. They’re working on open APIs, open-source licenses, etc. I’ve told a bit of this story, in the context of NASA, in several presentations over the past year. Here below I’ve attempted to break down the problems, implications and solutions I see in a more structured format, again using examples we have encountered at NASA.

Note that none of these observations below are specific to NASA… They apply to any large government bureaucracy, and we are working with our change agent peers in other Agencies as well. We simply have the luxury/curse at NASA of a high-profile brand and significant public interest and goodwill to use as a lever for this change.



  • no internal searchable database of people, projects, skills and technology assets


  • internal inefficiency and redundancy; internal competition for resources and a culture of sequestering information because having information that no one else has is perceived as having power


  • reforming human resources policy to permit and encourage more open communication (internally and externally) and bottom-up innovation, and reforming management structure to create a more flat more networked organization
  • foster cultural change, including renovating NASA’s physical plant to create inspiring workspaces that foster openness and collaboration
  • creation and implementation of systems to capture knowledge and make it searchable



  • slides for any Powerpoint presentation to be given to a public conference are supposed to be submitted for review well in advance to make sure that no sensitive information is included in them, rendering it onerous to speak openly or to include recently updated information
  • policies for NASA employees to spend their own time working on other projects, communicating through social media about their ideas and work, etc. are restrictive and at best fuzzy, and the burden of proof rests on the employee to prove WHY they should be able to communicate with the public, rather than the burden of proof resting on the Agency to prove why not
  • reaches millions but is all processed edited moderated content; very difficult to mash this content up and re-share it, and no opportunity for user-generated content either from the public or from a broader array of NASA employees than just authorized Web Content Managers.


  • less public interest and awareness and inspiration and educational benefit than otherwise possible, because content consumption is passive
  • NASA unable to benefit from the innovation and work cycle leverage that could result from leveraging the goodwill, technical skills, time and creativity of members of the general public, and entrepreneurial private sector
  • NASA has difficulty attracting and retaining talent that is used to working in a more open environment in the private sector


  • agency-wide deployment of the Web 2.0 communication tools, communications policies, and processes used by the world’s leading private technology enterprise
  • build communities and create formal processes to leverage the time and skill of these communities for practical benefit to NASA
  • highlight and build on the few examples of successful crowdsourcing at NASA
  • create sustainable professional relationships between NASA and non-NASA personnel that shift NASA’s internal culture through co-working and open-space format events
  • shifting the budget and skillset of NASA Strategic Communications staff to focus on encouraging, training and supporting non-StratCom staff in their public communications role, including hiring staff with corporate blogging and online organizing skills
  • set communications policy that mandates open publication of all internal Agency communications such as meeting minutes, absent demonstrable and internally verified need to maintain confidentiality; shift the burden of proof from the need to show that information is “safe” to publish, to the need to show the information “is not safe” to publish.



  • NASA hires contractors to write code and doesn’t mandate that is be open-source and often doesn’t even acquire the rights to modify, repurpose, or release that code
  • IP created within NASA is unknown and unsearchable internally, let alone externally, and it is extremely labor intensive and relationship-dependent for internal business development staff to collect data, identify IP licensing opportunities, and execute those licenses
  • petabytes of data collected by NASA that is legally in the public domain is extremely difficult to find, search, interpret, and share, due to slow data processing and archiving and limited APIs


  • the inability to get more eyes on code eliminates an opportunity to reduce the likelihood of failures such as the Mars Climate Orbiter explosion
  • NASA pays more $ for code to be written by contractors than it would have to if it leveraged existing open-source projects (including its own)
  • NASA returns less value to the taxpayers because IP assets aren’t easily licensed or contributed to the public domain where they could yield ancillary benefit to society


government, nasa, politics, reinventing government, space

Obama’s Space Policy Platform

I met with 15 other people in Austin on July 18th to conduct an Obama for President Space Policy Platform meeting, right after our Space Policy panel at Netroots Nation Convention. Our crew included Netroots activists, aerospace enthusiasts from the Austin area, and even former NASA officials. After several hours of debate, and dozens of follow-up emails among the group, we honed in on three space policy platform planks for the DNC / Barack Obama Campaign.

While there was not complete consensus within our group on the three policy planks below, we got really close, and I feel very good about what we came up with… It captures what I personally believe our space policy should be based upon under the next Administration.


From the glory days of Apollo to today’s Mars rovers and the International Space Station, the United States has always been a global leader in the peaceful uses of outer space. This leadership is now in jeopardy, and US space policy must be overhauled as space becomes a vital and increasingly competitive new economic frontier. Specifically:

1. Space and NASA are vital to dealing with the intertwined problems of energy independence and climate change, including both monitoring and finding solutions.

NASA collects more data about Earth’s environment than any other single entity on our planet. NASA has also historically incubated new technologies that are vital to clean renewable energy such as solar cells, batteries, and lightweight composite materials. The resource of space solar power may even offer us a long term, large scale solution to the problem of energy independence. However, under the Bush Administration, the “Earth” was removed from NASA’s mission statement and the findings of NASA’s leading climate change researchers were censored. Going forward, NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth must be fully funded, and the NASA must be explicitly called upon play a central role in our nation’s understanding and mitigation of climate change.

2. The United States, in cooperation with other nations and private industry, must reduce the cost of reliable access to space in order to secure national infrastructure, unlock new economic opportunities, and enable sustainable human exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit.

The US space program has been an incubator for new technologies and industries and a catalyst for technical education and inspiration since its inception. A renewed commitment to human spaceflight beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) will provide our nation with access to vital new resources and economic opportunities, enhance our understanding of our planet and ourselves, and engender a new era of peaceful cooperation with other nations. In order to unlock these opportunities, our nation must direct more of its existing investment in space to the development of far cheaper and more reliable access to LEO than we currently have, catalyzing innovation by private space entrepreneurs, and must work in close peaceful partnership with other nations in renewing human space exploration beyond LEO.

3. The President and Congress must have direct and independent advice on space and science policy issues.

Too often our nation’s space and science policy has been determined more by political lobbying by competing stakeholders than by technical merit and the National interest. The President’s space policy should be informed by regular and direct input from a panel of experts capable of balancing the complex overlapping interests, roles, and policy agendas of civilian, military, and commercial space actors. Further, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy should be appointed an assistant to the president, and given the access and attention commensurate with that rank. Finally, the Office of Technology Assessment should be reestablished to provide unbiased input to Congress on scientific and technical issues.


Commentary about Plank #1:

There was nearly ubiquitous consensus that the contributions that our space program can and has made to meeting the challenges of energy independence, understanding and mitigating climate change need to be paramount in terms of funding and attention in the space policy of the next Administration. However, there was considerable debate about whether that work should continue be done under the auspices of NASA itself (as well as other Federal Agencies), or under a new umbrella Federal “Earth Systems Engineering” organization that draws resources from NASA, DoE, NOAA, etc., as has been suggested recently by a number of former Federal officials.

Commentary about plank #2:

I’m a proponent of sustained human exploration beyond LEO, though I defer on judgements about whether Earth –> Moon –> Mars or Earth –> Asteroids or Earth –> ISS –> Mars etc. are the optimal architecture. What IS important to me is that human exploration beyond LEO does not supersede the Mission to Planet Earth budget and focus, and that the human exploration effort generates significant return in terms of inspiration, education, and technological innovation. The best way I see to do this, to my mind, is to a) design an architecture that has a limited budget and thus requires requires significant technological breakthroughs in order to succeed but that therefore once it succeeds, is sustainable, and b) aggressively employ COTS type incentives so that it doesn’t just become a jobs program to maintain large payrolls for large aerospace contractors with no assurance of success, and c) by committing to conducting exploration beyond LEO in partnership with China as well as Russia and other nations.

Commentary about plank #3:

The three major areas of policy concern for the group appeared to be: 1) CATS (Cheap Access to Space), 2) renewed focus of our space industry’s resources on the Earth’s environment, and 3) efficient human exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit. Even among our small group it proved DIFFICULT to It is DIFFICULT to harmoniously come up with a policy to achieve these goals concurrently, and we didn’t even give much consideration to military space. Hence our recommendation that the next Administration create or revive a body like the National Space Council to work through the complex policy agendas of the myriad stakeholders in civilian, military, and commercial space, in order to arrive at a more coherent and effetive integrated space policy strategy from which the President and Congress could draw.

government, nasa, politics, space

Space Policy @ Netroots Nation: 2 events Friday the 18th in Austin

In addition to my reinventing government and science policy panels at Netroots Nation on Friday the 18th, I’ll be moderating the only space-related panel at Netroots Nation, entitled “Progressive NASA and Space Policy Under a New Administration.”  We have a great panel lineup– Chris Bowers of, George Whitesides of the National Space Society and Virgin Galactic, Lori Garver of Avascent (and formerly NASA), and Patti Grace Smith most recently of the FAA.

Then, about an hour after the panel we’ll be hosting a Space Meetup / Obama Space Policy Platform Meeting in downtown Austin, Texas.

It is my fervent hope that after next Friday we’ll have a much clearer sense of what a progressive space policy that all Americans can get behind in 2009 looks like, and also have the Netroots more informed about and actively engaged in space policy advocacy.

nasa, politics, space

Announcing the Space Policy Panel at Netroots Nation / Yearly Kos

I’m very pleased to announce that for the first time, The Netroots Nation (Yearly Kos) Convention will feature a panel on space policy, July 18th or 19th in Austin, Texas. The panel, entitled, “Progressive NASA & Space Policy Under a New Administration,” is an opportunity to bring critical space policy issues to light within a potent progressive political constituency– the Netroots– that hasn’t historically paid much attention to space. It is also an opportunity for the Netroots to weigh in on what a new progressive space policy agenda could be under a progressive Administration in 2009.

I will be moderating a panel comprised of prominent progressive bloggers, leading space advocates, and space policy advisors to national Democratic campaigns, including Chris Bowers, Managing Editor of, Lori Garver, space policy advisor to the Presidential campaigns of John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, Patti Smith, recently retired as the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation for the FAA, and George Whitesides, Executive Director of the non-profit National Space Society. The discussion will address space policy from the following perspective:

“NASA is in crisis–overburdened, under-funded, and inefficient. Yet the progressive legacy of space, which dates back to JFK, is being quietly reborn: NASA can reinvent itself as a critical resource in climate change mitigation; the UN and some in the U.S. military are collaborating to prevent space weapons from becoming an arms race with China; progressive “NewSpace” entrepreneurs are creating new domestic high-tech jobs. Before 2009, a new progressive space policy needs to be devised and advocated beyond the traditional space constituencies, to upgrade Bush’s failing space exploration vision. Who better to initiate this work than the Netroots?

While traditionally a niche constituency on the national political radar, space policy takes on particular importance during the General Election, as 100,000s of aerospace jobs are at stake in the key swing States of Florida and Ohio. This year, NASA’s policy of returning humans to the Moon has come under fire from the Left since it is generally thought of as one of George W. Bush’s signature policy goals– his “Vision for Space Exploration.” Progressives in the space community are working hard to dissociate this policy agenda from the failed Bush Presidency so that it may be considered on its own merits. They are also formulating new space policy goals more central to the Progressive agenda, such as expanding NASA’s role in understanding Earth systems to mitigate climate change, as a bulwark against declining science and technology education in the US, and as a diplomatic tool for peaceful international collaboration with Europe, Russia, and even China. The panel will provide their perspective on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the candidates in the realm of space policy in the General Election, and will weigh in on their vision(s) of a progressive space policy under a new Administration in 2009.