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Mike Griffin Alienating Friends & Enemies Alike, Firing Scientists at New Pentagon Job

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
August 3, 2019
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Mike Griffin

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has had a tumultuous time since taking over as undersecretary of defense for research and engineering in February.

In his role as the Defense Department’s chief technology officer, Griffin has been criticized for his efforts to overhaul the Pentagon’s costly and time-consuming development and procurement of new systems through the newly established Space Development Agency (SDA).

Key personnel have departed as critics have attacked Griffin for what they view as his erratic management and decision making. In addition to SDA, he is in charge of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU).

Griffin’s challenges have included:

  • push back from within the Pentagon and in Congress on the need and purpose of the SDA, with opponents calling it redundant;
  • the departure of his handpicked choice to head the SDA, Fred Kennedy, after only months on the job over disagreements about how to manage theagency;
  • the resignation of Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who had championed the creation of the SDA and backed it against internal and external opposition;
  • a decision by the House Armed Services Committee to rejected a Pentagon request to reprogram $15 million to fund SDA because of Kennedy’s departure and a lack of clarity about the agency’s mission;
  • the departure of Chris Shank, who headed up the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO). after Griffin made the controversial decision to move the office to DARPA;
  • Criticism of his efforts to terminate Jason, an independent advisory board of top scientists that oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons, and two other scientific advisory boards;
  • Complaints that Griffin’s decision making is erratic and that his deputy, Lisa Porter, is too aggressive in her boss’ defense; and,
  • Rumors that Griffin could be the next official to depart the Trump Administration.

Reform isn’t easy. Reform in a bureaucracy as large and complex as the Pentagon is extremely difficult. We’ll see if Griffin can tough it out.

Sources

14 responses to “Mike Griffin Alienating Friends & Enemies Alike, Firing Scientists at New Pentagon Job”

  1. ThomasLMatula says:
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    It’s what happens when you put a 12th Level Intellect in charge of an agency. NASA is still stuck with his Orion and Ares V (SLS) schemes.

  2. Emmet Ford says:
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    Rumors that Griffin could be the next official to depart the Trump Administration.

    Fingers crossed.

    Thanks for including the source listing. I think ima go read that Breaking Defense article.

  3. duheagle says:
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    When you elect to take on The Swamp, The Swamp fights back. Congress and the legacy contractors spent a lot of time and effort getting The Swamp just as smelly and glutinous as they like it and won’t look kindly on anyone coming in to drain even a tiny part of it, never mind make serious inroads.

    • Emmet Ford says:
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      Right, clear the swamp. That’s why we have Ratheon’s chief lobbyist as our Secretary of Defense. When asked at his confirmation hearing if he would recuse himself from decisions involving Ratheon, his answer was no.

      • duheagle says:
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        Most previous SecDefs were politicians. Politicians don’t have potential conflicts of interest? Anyway, isn’t Raytheon about to merge itself out of existence? Gets harder to have conflicts of interest when the company isn’t around anymore.

        After reading what the guy had to say anent standing up an independent Space Force, I’m all for him.

        • Emmet Ford says:
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          Putting the vendors in charge of purchasing is not draining the swamp. Arguing that our politicians are all bought and paid for is not a persuasive counterfactual.

  4. Robert G. Oler says:
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    nothing new for Mike…he is a typical Trump pick, a child mind trying to run a major agency with no clue what he is doing.

    no “cathedrals” for him. sad thing is that as the Trump administration drones on and they sink further down the bottom of the talent scale…Mike seems an absolute brilliant mind.

  5. mike shupp says:
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    The story I recall is that Mike Griffin, returning to NASA as Administrator in 2005 after a stint as department head at John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, was horrorstruck to discover that in his absence NASA had been overrun by operational personnel more concerned with space shuttle maintenance and friendly interactions with United Space Alliance (Boeing and Lockheed) middle management, rather than active eager no-holds-barred R&D types he remembered who wanted to push technological barriers as far out as possible. Worse, the R&D types hadn’t simply been silenced — they’d gone off and retired or died in harness while he was gone. If he wanted to make NASA an R&D agency again, he was going to have to rebuild its management structure, as well as reorient and retrain his workforce — or replace the operational plodders with brilliant high-fliers. Thus the Constellation program and the Ares launcher were born (or conceived), and thus the schedule and cost troubles with Ares, because the launcher couldn’t be designed and tested and built in a way that matched Griffin’s ambition, not while the Bush administration kept funding tight and Congress kept prodding at schedules and observers from traditional aerospace firms (Boeing, Lockheed, etc) were less than enthusiastic about the prospects for Constellation….

    TL,DR: If you want to think of a “Deep Swamp” of corporate lobbyists and other Washington DC denizens doing their best to twart change in government operations, Griffin hasn’t been part of it. He’s fought against it.

    There are reasons to be disappointed with Griffin’s accomplishments and decisions he made which might be argued with in retrospect, but he’s earned some credit as well.

    • ThomasLMatula says:
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      Just what was wrong with the program of record, the Orbital Space Plane? It was looking at two crew options for the Atlas V. Basically the Boeing Starliner was developed from their entry for the OSP. Dr. Griffin killed it for his Ares I, massive Orion and Ares V.

      • mike shupp says:
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        Atlas V wasn’t going to get a manned landing craft onto the Moon, which was the notional goal of the Bush 2 administration for the space program, after finishing off Space Shuttle in 2010

        I’ll make an additional guess that Griffin was convinced that HIS Ares would be a much better launcher in cost and performance than anyone else’s launcher, but I’ve never dealt with the man, so that is a guess.

        • ThomasLMatula says:
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          No, Atlas V couldn’t if you did things the Apollo way. But with orbital refueling and assembling in Earth orbit it could have succeeded, if NASA had someone who understood there is more than one way to reach the Moon.

          But instead Dr. Griffin took the crazy Mars study he did for the Planetary Society and forced it on NASA as Project Constellation, and thereby sent the agency down a dead end street it still hasn’t recovered from. It is sad to think of the thousands of engineers and techs who have wasted the last 15 years working on his crazy idea.

          • mike shupp says:
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            I’ve come to think there’s quite a difference between coming up with good looking high level concepts — VentureStar! Constellation! Strategic Defense Initiative! — and the nittty gritty details of R&D program management, particularly in a period when R&D contracting is governed by as many rules and regulations — usually well intentioned but not always well advised — as we have today, in aerospace and elsewhere in American business.

            Leading me to wonder if perhaps Griffin, for all his sterling qualities, was not the best choice to sit at the apex of NASA’s management hierarchy, a Big Concepts guy where someone with more nuts-n-bolts knowledge and hands-on personnel experience would have served better. And I’ve got to wonder too if something similar might be the case in his present position.

            Making lots of typos here ,,, I’m typing with my fingers crossed.

            Actually, amplifying a bit, I’m not so much mumbling specifically about the strengths and weaknesses of one particular bureaucrat, I’m thinking maybe we — the American people as a whole, or maybe even all of “Western Civilization” — haven’t come up with the best of tools and approaches for organizing and running all sorts of technological development programs. And maybe we see the same failures in our management of changes in other elaborate systems — civil rights, foreign policy in Africa, railroad construction, etc. — and the underlying problem is that’s there’s something less than optimum about the ways we organize ourselves for elaborate enterprises and how we choose to deal with each other.

            Too philosophical, perhaps? Yeah … but … I sometimes like to point out that one of the most significant changes in social organization in recent years, a byproduct of the mass communication that began to occur with PCs and the internet back in the late 70’s, early 80’s, always overlooked but appreciated when it’s pointed out, has been the sudden ubiquity of Frequently Asked Question documents. There really wasn’t anything like this intended for general distribution before the computer age, and we all ought to have been kicking ourselves for not thinking of such things long ago. There must be a whole lot of other trivial-seeming things we can develop to improve life.

    • publiusr says:
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      What would become ULA wanted to foist their EELV albatross on NASA’s neck–and Mike wanted none of it. It took–what, 36 Delta IV heavies to put what one or two Ares Vs could in terms of hydrogen? No wonder they liked Depots!
      I remember The Aerospace Corp (behind EELVs) had a white paper that went after Arsenal method. Saying “Nasa shouldn’t make rockets, buy rides, etc.
      But Elon came along–and I remember the ULA types saying that it was wise to keep “in house capability” and that maybe the commercial world wasn’t quite ready yet.
      They tried to have it both ways. They poisoned the well for Shuttle-derived HLLVs, then tried to go after Musk too.

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