[xvii] The aim of this book is to describe and analyze the organization of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration during the 1960s and, in so doing, to test certain assumptions about the nature of administrative history. To date, administrative history has been as much the victim of its friends and practitioners as of those who wonder if it exists as a distinct genre. The assumption behind much of the administrative theory that finds its way into such works-that officials and bureaucrats live in a world where rational behavior is conceivable and attainable-has been in question at least since the publication of Herbert Simon's Administrative Behavior in 1946.1 In the real world, Simon argues, a fragmentary knowledge of consequences and the inability to choose among all possible alternatives set severe constraints on the administrator's ability to act rationally. Rationality as a goal-the efficient matching of means to ends-can be described, but for the reasons given, "it is impossible for the behavior of a single isolated individual to reach any high degree of rationality."2 To these objections may be added two more. One is the tendency of certain key decisions to have cumulative effects throughout the organization, whether such decisions are documented or not. The logic of a particular course of action may bring certain consequences, even (or especially) when these are not consciously intended. The other objection to the view that there is measurable correspondence between intentions and results is that superiors may not know or want to know what their subordinates are doing. Whether the sheer volume of feedback is self-defeating, or subordinates cannot or will not do what their superiors want, the problem remains: Descriptions of formal organization structures may, at best, tell only what the organization was intended to do.3
Still, it would be a mistake to substitute for a "formalist" approach to organizations something equally one sided. Statements of intent do matter since they define the boundaries within which the organization must operate. The 1958 act establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) contains nothing about the manned lunar landing program, yet almost all the powers and authorities needed for the success of Apollo are found there. Thus [xviii] enabling legislation, formal delegations of authority, and descriptions of powers and functions are important because they determine that the agency shall be this rather than that. Indeed, one can draw no firm line between the procedural and substantive aspects of an agency's work. Rather, one must set the agency in its environment; the historian ought to describe the agency's institutional surroundings, its clients and allies, its budgetary strategies, and the extent to which its functions were competitive with those of other agencies. The defect of treating an agency in purely formal terms is precisely that this approach ignores the surroundings.
The problem of writing about NASA becomes manageable because, given the vast accumulation of documents, by far the greater part consists of paper generated to meet the stringent reporting requirements of the manned spaceflight and space science programs. What is left is documentation that serves to shape agency policy before it hardens into definite programs, to enunciate that policy once it has been ratified, and to record problem areas that come to the attention of general management. Despite advances in communications technology, the primary materials are still written. For policy to be effective it must eventually be issued in written instructions: Policy must be written to reduce the scope of ambiguity, and it must be in the form of instructions to indicate that it is authoritative rather than advisory. However, one must know the written sources and their limitations. For example, the tension between NASA Headquarters and the field centers may run throughout the documentation, but it runs between the lines. It is seldom enunciated. The administrative historian must read between the lines to discern it.
Administrative history, as the account of the interaction between an organization and its environment, is possible and can provide valuable information. An account of NASA is singularly fitted to test this conclusion. Established by Congress in the aftermath of Sputniks 1 and 2, NASA quickly grew by accretion, the incorporation of older installations, and the creation of new capabilities into an agency employing 36 000 persons and owning facilities worth $3.65 billion by 1965-1966.4 From 1958 to 1968 NASA launched several dozen unmanned spacecraft that revolutionized communications and meteorological technology on the one hand and electronics on the other, created or fostered new scientific disciplines like bioastronautics and space medicine, and stirred up the field of astronomy. But in the public mind NASA was most closely associated with the manned spaceflight programs-Project Mercury (1958-1963), which tested the ability of one man to function up to several hours in Earth orbit; Gemini (1962-1966), in which two-man crews in one spacecraft were assigned a variety of tasks, including rendezvous and docking in Earth orbit with a target vehicle and moving around outside the spacecraft itself; and Apollo (1960-1972), in which three-man crews were sent on progressively more ambitious missions, culminating in the lunar landing of July 1969. Merely to sketch the civilian program is to indicate the magnitude of NASA's assignments and the scope of its successes. One must take seriously the contention of James E. Webb, NASA Administrator from 1961 to 1968, that the success of NASA was a success in organizing "large-scale endeavors," that is, that [xix] the same system of management that made the lunar landing possible may also have been its most important byproduct.5
To understand what NASA did, one must begin by considering it as an institution coordinated to achieve certain goals that were neither fixed nor always precisely determined. Coordination had to be achieved on different levels: within the agency among the substantive program offices, the several field installations, and the central functional offices; between NASA and the Executive Office of the President, which determined the funding levels of each item in the NASA budget before congressional review; between NASA and congressional committees that authorized its programs, allocated its funds, and provided continuous oversight; between NASA and the scientific community, which was client, critic, and not-so loyal opposition; finally, between NASA and other Federal agencies, which might be partners (as in the joint NASA-Atomic Energy Commission Space Nuclear Propulsion Office), rivals (as in the case of the Defense Department's manned programs), or symbiotic (as in the supporting aeronautical research undertaken for the Federal Aviation Agency). Thus the picture of an organization pressing single-mindedly toward its main goal must be replaced by one that recognizes the complexity of the internal and external communities that affected NASA policy. Neither the manned lunar landing nor any other NASA program is quite as straightforward as it may first appear: first, because different officials tended to have different perceptions of the program; second, because the program itself can be seen in different contexts, depending on whether one takes the short-, intermediate, or long-range view; third, because it was not clear whether the lunar landing program (and some others) was an end in itself, designed to give the United States a "total capability" in space, or a diplomatic counter against the Soviet Union.
This book, then, is a study of the development, results, and causes of NASA decisions. It is an attempt to relate administration to the total agency mission, rather than to treat administration as though it were a discrete, closed system. Such a study, to be adequate, should include the following elements.
It should describe the formal authority structure for delegating powers and functions, fund allocation, planning, and relations with and between NASA centers. For the reasons given above, the formal mechanisms are important in themselves as well as for illuminating the way in which informal lines of authority developed. An account of formal structures will not tell if the agency succeeded or failed; it may, however, tell why it succeeded or failed.
It should give some account of the informal structure that developed within the formal one. What were these informal relations, and how did they originate? To what extent did they supplement agency policy, supersede it, or create a new set of procedures in advance of their standardization by senior management ?
In this context one should distinguish informal, unwritten operating procedures from the informal relations within program and functional offices and between the centers. In some cases headquarters management did not-or perhaps [xx] could not-take official notice of tensions generated by NASA programs until they had become too serious to ignore. Such tensions included, for example, the question of whether the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, or the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, would have control of the Manned Space Flight network; the conflict between the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, over the "roles and missions" of Marshall after the production of Saturn rockets ceased; and, within headquarters, the debate over the resources allocated for manned spaceflight and space science. Whether such tensions were inherent in a decentralized civilian space program or not, and whether they resulted in management directives or not, they are among topics to be discussed.
An agency history, as distinct from a management history, should concentrate on the senior officials who set NASA's goals, allocated funds, instituted reporting requirements, and set up mechanisms for continuous feedback of information. In short, top management sets the rules of the game; within those rules the centers had to manage approved projects. Thus an administrative history of NASA that attempts, as does this one, to write from the headquarters point of view should analyze the interplay between centralized control and decentralized project management, and it should bring to the forefront those Government-wide policies that determined how NASA got its work done.
Finally, history consists of events situated within a temporal framework. One can "freeze" the action at any point on a continuum, but that point is the result of what has preceded, and from it will flow second- and third-order consequences, not all of which can be foreseen. To cite one example: While the method of managing research and development known as phased project planning was formally instituted in October 1965, something like it had been used in projects from the time of NASA's establishment. The process by which phased project planning was implemented represented a sharper definition, a more emphatic statement of something inherent in the logic of large-scale program management. In like manner, the procedures by which the headquarters program offices set priorities and chose among alternatives were adopted for agency-wide long-range planning.
In sum, the question this book seeks to answer is, what can the study of NASA as an organization teach us? This book concentrates on NASA as a going concern, as an organization that, instituted for specific purposes at a specific time, strove to maintain itself, to operate within the terms of its establishment, and to compete with other agencies for the limited resources made available by the White House and Congress. The criteria for the inclusion of a particular subject are the extent to which a problem or issue was agency-wide; whether an issue reached the higher levels of management for resolution; whether a program interacted with other programs, internal or external; and the extent to which problems of the kind mentioned above-say, the relations of headquarters to centers or the balance of work done intramurally and that contracted out-recurred. Put somewhat crudely, the principal themes of this book are (1) how a high-technology agency the most important, yet most elusive, [xxi] was run in a decade marked by rapid expansion of funds and manpower in the first half and almost as rapid contraction in the second and (2) how NASA combined centralized planning and control with decentralized project execution.6
With a subject such as this, a major problem is how to reconcile the narrative with the topical approach. The first chapter is a summary of the key administrative decisions in the early history of NASA; chapter 2 is a narrative account of NASA from its origins to 1969. The intent is to adumbrate the main themes of the book, to sketch the history of the period, and, by a gradual buildup of detail, to prepare the reader for the analytical treatment of the following chapters. Starting with chapter 3, the mode shifts from the narrative to the topical. Separate chapters dealing with contracting, manpower, the budgetary process, headquarters organization, and relations with the Department of Defense carry the reader from the early to the late 1960s. Chapter 9 covers the long-range planning of 1964-1969, when this most mission-oriented of agencies sought a program around which all elements of the organization could unite.