Spring Means Unpredictability and Budgets

Photo of Patrick StolikerBy Patrick C. Stoliker

Deputy Director of NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center

It’s springtime again at Dryden. You cantell by the wild fluctuations in weather: cold and dreary, gale force winds, orsunny and balmy –  sometimes all in oneday! The wild flowers start blooming, sometimes spectacularly; but this yearnot so much. I was at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, west ofLancaster, two weeks ago and the poppies were few and far between. 

Another principal indicator of springtime isthe leap into the Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) cyclefor the Agency’s budget. For those not familiar with the process, let meexplain.

We start off with PPBE guidance tricklingout of Washington (stamped Draft, of course). This is followed by StrategicProgram Guidance (SPG) – Draft 2. These documents provide the ground rules foreach of the Centers and the Agency Mission Directorates to input their budgetinformation into various databases. The budget information includes workforce numbers, procurement expensesand travel. It provides a top-level description of the Agency’s activities forthe next five years. Why is this important? Because it helps set the strategicdirection and constraints in which we must complete our research priorities.

This is followed by the Program and ResourceGuidance (PRG) from each Mission Directorate. The PRG is a more detaileddescription of the work the Mission Directorates plan to accomplish. We spendthe rest of early spring revising inputs based on project plans, gettingrevised instructions, and revising timelines.

Image of SOFIA aircraftIn reality this is a critical effort. What arethe staffing and resource requirements for the Center to successfully operatethe SOFIA aircraft for 1,000 hours of science flights? What are theimplementation plans for the Aeronautics Research Directorate and how do weutilize our workforce to accomplish them? What is the schedule and what are theappropriate resources to support launch abort system testing for MPCV? Workingwith all the organizations at the Center, we will develop our best answers tothese questions, and effectively use the resources to execute these missions.

All the while we are using a very blurrycrystal ball to extend this guidance five years into the future. So these arethe things keeping us busy: building spreadsheets, attending Budget ControlBoards, and chasing shifting time lines every spring.

For me, one of the best parts of spring isdriving onto the Center at sunrise after the time change and Hangar 4802 is litup and lined with airplanes. That sight never disappoints me.

Two days ago it started bright and sunny, aweek ago I shoveled a foot of snow off my driveway, and another storm is comingin this weekend. I’m certain it is going to snow, my apple trees all startedblooming this week…it’s springtime at Dryden again.