Did You Hear the One About the NASA CIOs?

So, here it is.  Q: How many NASA CIOs does it take to change a light bulb?  A: None, it’s a hardware problem.  If you like that, here’s a better one.  Q: How many NASA CIOs does it take to change NASA?  A: All of them.  Just look in the picture here and count them.NASA CIOs and IT leadership team at Face-to-Face meeting at Ames Research Center


Much has been said and written about the state of IT at NASA.  And I have said before that the road to “you-know-where” is paved with well-intentioned and capable NASA CIOs.  But, for all the well-meaning suggestions and plans, it all boils down to three things.


Working together through good IT governance.


I’ve only been at NASA a meager three years, but I already have a gut feeling not of 10 healthy Centers, but 10 poor strugglin’ Centers.  As we work together through a Federated Governance, we will be able to unite to develop our common defense, promote our Centers’ unique capabilities, and ensure that IT helps NASA successfully fulfill its mission.


Managing a diverse and complex infrastructure.


Just as workforce diversity helps organizations obtain a competitive advantage, technological diversity helps enable breakthroughs that are needed in a scientific and engineering environment.  And just as 21st century leaders need the competencies to manage and lead in today’s diverse workplace, 21st century CIOs need the competencies to manage and lead in a technologically diverse environment.  One size doesn’t fit all, for sure … and 55,000 sizes don’t fit 55,000 either.  Somewhere in between there are sweet spots that are mediated by good governance.


Leading change and leading people.


IT security challenges, and tight budgets, and mission relevance … lions, and tigers, and bears … OH MY!  We’re in a pickle.  So, what do you do when you’re in a pickle? You eat your way out, right? No, we LEAD our way out.  Leadership skills are the “ruby slippers” that will bring it all home for us.  We will rely on leadership competencies such as courage, vision, and business acumen … just to name a few.  And we will rely on our ability to lead and influence not just the folks we manage, but to influence an entire Agency. 


So, did you hear the one about the NASA CIOs? No, this is not a joke.  It’s a challenge.  And the men and women in this picture are the ones that showed up and will suit up to meet that challenge.


Linda Cureton, CIO NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

5 thoughts on “Did You Hear the One About the NASA CIOs?”

  1. Just wondering when you mentioned “tight budgets”, is the gov't. going to slash NASA's budget this year? – if so, where in the budget?

  2. You spoke about your blog at a recent AFCEA breakfast I attended. I enjoy your blog posts and the insight into your position. I like how you keep it entertaining while still keeping to your underlying message. Pls keep going.

  3. As someone who has written a few governance documents for large distributed organizations myself, I agree with the description that governance is about decision rights. It’s also about the stability and persistence of decisions, so that the same battles are not fought over and over again. In a monolithic business with a strong executive, decision rights flow clearly from the top, and decisions last as long as the executive cares to enforce them.

    In a distributed organization like NASA, this isn’t as easy. I recommend a couple of “Ritter’s Rules”, due to noted IT Security attorney Jeffrey Ritter:

    – If it’s not documented, it doesn’t exist

    – If it wasn’t logged, it didn’t happen.

    Getting your federation agreements documented and published where everyone affected by them can read them is critical to their success. You need to have a documented process for modifying the agreements, just like Article V of the U.S. Constitution, otherwise the agreements become obsolete and ignored as circumstances change.


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