NASA seeks input on centers

NASA officials have issued a request for information to gather suggestions about converting convert field centers to federally funded research and development centers.

NASA officials have issued a request for information to gather suggestions about other ways to manage their field centers, such as converting them to federally funded research and development centers.

If approved, the new model could mean deep changes for the 10 centers and their related field facilities.

Federally funded R&D centers (FFRDC) are typically long-term federal contracts with a university, a nonprofit or a for-profit organization selected through open competition, according to NASA officials. In June, the President's Commission on Implementation of U.S. Space Exploration Policy issued a report urging NASA officials to consider alternative ways to manage field centers. According to the report, current employees of the targeted centers would receive salaries, benefits and flexibility competitive with the private sector if the facilities became FFRDCs.

But experts generally do not include private-sector companies in the running for federally funded R&D work. In the past, the use of FFRDCs has provoked opposition from trade associations such as Professional Services Council and the Information Technology Association of America. Organization officials fear the centers could take work that would have been performed by the private sector.

Government agencies tout FFRDCs for their independence, flexibility and technical expertise, but Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president and counsel of PSC, said the management models are "certainly no silver bullet." He added that other proven management options exist to attain those goals.

"We've issued the RFI as a way to gather suggestions and insight to help us better position NASA to fulfill the Vision for Space Exploration," said James Jennings, NASA deputy associate administrator for institutions and asset management and head of an internal agency team working to assess the concept of alternative management solutions. "We're open to any ideas and suggestions that enable innovation and flexibility in our operations."

Responses to the RFI are due August 31.

The President's Commission report offered recommendations and findings on how NASA can meet the Vision for Space Exploration outlined by President Bush earlier this year.

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