Interviewer: Dr. Robert Seamans

nterviewee: Mr. Martin Collins

Location: National Air and Space Museum

Date: April 15, 1988


MR.COLLINS: I thought we'd begin our discussion by referring to a document entitled "Adapting NASA's Organization and Management to Future Challenges," a staff paper prepared by the Office of Administration, October, 1963, and this was essentially an explanatory document offering-up the rationale behind the November 1, 1963 reorganization of NASA, and I thought we might start by asking you to outline the reasons and motivations for seeking this particular reorganization.

DR. SEAMANS: All right. Well, following pages 3-8, there are two charts. One is called "Present Organization" and the one following it is "Organization Effective November 1." The way to start the discussion, somewhat generally and somewhat historically, is to say a few words about the organization that we had at that time, that is the present organization. In my own mind it goes back to my first meeting with Mr. Webb, when he asked me about my organizational concepts and in particular whether I was familiar with the mode of operation of Sears Roebuck, as compared with Montgomery Ward. One, Sears Roebuck, was very highly decentralized, whereas Montgomery Ward was centralized. It was rather clear from that discussion that Mr. Webb favored decentralized operation, in the sense of having individual units that would have their objectives pretty well spelled out, and with some way of measuring the performance of these various units.

    Now, it was quite some time after that, maybe four or five months or something of that sort, when we had the Apollo charge from the President and the Congress, and we had the discussions with Malcarney and Rube Mettler and others that we've gone over in this oral interview, and we elected to go to a highly decentralized operation. In part the motivation was that we were going to have to make changes, and if we decentralized then over time we could see which elements tied in with other elements, and put the pieces back together again, in order to fit the needs of the new accelerated program. In part, I know Jim had the idea of doing this so we'd better know what we had; by chopping the organization up into smaller pieces, we obtained a better view of each one of them.

    In any event, we did go to this decentralized mode, and as time went on, particularly during the year 1962, there were lots of concerns expressed by the program offices that they, in effect, didn't really have control over their destiny, because they didn't directly control what went on in any center. They had to negotiate with a center director to get things done, in competition with other program offices. In part there was concern by the center directors that they didn't have anybody to turn to, anybody in Headquarters who was really concerned about their centers as a resource, and in planning for the future, they didn't know really where to go.

    Now, of course, the answer to both of these concerns revolved around the associate administrator, and that's the reason that I ended up with two deputies, to help run the operation. I'll confess that there was some truth in what they were saying, that my schedule didn't permit me to put the time on some of the issues that was needed. In any event, when Keith Glennan was the administrator, he had the idea of retreat, where the senior 50, 60, 70 people in NASA would go somewhere for a couple of days and discuss issues and how to get them resolved, and Jim Webb kept these going for a short period of time.

    We met, I believe, at Langley for such a meeting, and that's when this whole matter came up. It wasn't on the agenda, and that's the kind of thing Jim Webb always abhorred, was to have things break out of a pattern that he had thought he had pretty well in place. I remember, Wernher von Braun spoke up on the issue, and Brainerd Holmes was, I won't say he was insubordinate but he wasn't very helpful. Following that, Jim Webb was fairly upset, I believe, at the way the meeting had gone, and vowed we wouldn't have another one, at least for a long time. I think possibly I even asked administrative people to carry out a study of where we stood organizationally and what we might do to improve the organization.

COLLINS: So at this meeting in '62--

SEAMANS: It could have been in '63. I don't quite remember the date, but it was the last meeting that we had of that type. It was the last one, and it was at Langley, I'm almost positive. I can remember Wernher going up and taking the podium and making quite a speech, and Brainerd Holmes and undoubtedly others.

COLLINS: There was a sort of a popular sentiment then that--

SEAMANS: That the organization that we had wasn't going to do the job, to put it bluntly.

COLLINS: Clearly NASA had to go through a period of evolution as an organization, with the build-up of the moon program, but to what degree did the initial major reorganization of 1961, fall of 1961, reflect Webb's interest in a decentralized approach to managing the organization?

SEAMANS: It certainly was decentralized. If you look at the chart, and add up the number of people reporting to the associate administrator it comes to 20 or--it's a big number. That's clearly way beyond what all the textbooks on management tell you is the right way to organize it. They talk about at most five or six people reporting to an individual. That's all they say that an individual can really encompass. It was a fairly extreme way of setting up the organization. I would submit that for the short period of time that it existed, it did have some use.

    It did permit us to get into some of the operations at Marshall for example, which we felt had to be changed, and were changed. We were going to get away from their arsenal type operation. It made it a lot easier to get at such issues with a direct line from Webb to me to Wernher von Braun. We didn't have to concern Brainerd Holmes on some of these issues, except to keep him informed and get his ideas, but we didn't have to, you might say, get his permission.

    It let us get into the Goddard situation, and I think we've discussed that, where Harry Goett, who is a wonderful technical person, just could not understand why anybody would need to work with his people there without having him present. He just felt very uncomfortable when program people came out from Headquarters to talk to his project people at Goddard, that there would be discussions of possible program changes, maybe done in a casual way, but which the project people would then take as an order. Things might get changed around without his knowing about it, and you can understand his concern. At the same time, with something like 40 or 50 projects going on at Goddard, he could not, did not have the time to screen every single visit out there. So we got into that.

Another major issue we had was at the Cape. During the early days of NASA, each one of the major projects had its own launch operation at the Cape. Marshall people had Kurt Debus, and he ran everything that they did on the Saturns and on the Redstones. The scientific projects had coming out of Goddard their own launch operations. There was another small group there that was really part of JPL. But at the same time, everything we did down there had to be properly coordinated with the Air Force, and the Air Force would complain bitterly that there was nobody there to speak for NASA. They were dealing with four or five different individuals there. Therefore we had to turn those operations into one cohesive center, and there was tremendous resistance to doing that.

    Our decentralized organization permitted me and Jim Webb and the administrative people at NASA Headquarters to deal directly with that issue, without having it all wrapped up in some of the program concerns, even though they were there. We finally said, everything at Cape Canaveral was going to report to Kurt Debus, period. We didn't really have all the detailed procedures worked out, at the time before we actually made the changes. We made the change and the procedures had to follow. Jack Young who was probably most heavily involved in all of these organizational changes and issues told me, "You can't do it that way." And I said, "We've just got to make the change, and let's go. We're going to do it, and it's up to you to figure out procedures that are going to satisfy as best we can each one of the projects that we have down there."

COLLINS: At the time of the '61 reorganization, did you feel that you could essentially supervise 20 or so people reporting to you, each responsible for fairly major operating elements or activities?

SEAMANS: Well, there were four of five times when, as general manager, I was appalled at my role. I guess the first time was when I testified publicly, that the nation ought to go to the moon. I looked up at the moon and said, "I must be nuts. Am I really the one who is publicly stating, this is what we ought to do?" There I was with this decentralized organization, which was to be set up under me. I remember Bill Hines had an article on this organization in the Sunday paper, where he said, "Who's going to be the Moon Czar?" Are we going to pick a Benny Schriever? And then he said something like, "No, Seamans is the Moon Czar because in NASA's new organization the only place the key decisions can be made will be in his office, so surely then he is the person responsible for taking us to the moon." You know, there have been few other times in my life when I thought, "My goodness, this is so far beyond what I ever thought I'd be doing that it's sort of frightening, and I wonder if I can do it, but all you have to do is, you have to get in there and try it and find out."

COLLINS: But as this particular reorganization, organizational pattern that went into effect in '61, and as you worked with it for a while, did you feel that this was going to be something that would allow you to take that responsibility?

SEAMANS: Well, the time we had the meeting in Langley, by then I felt that what people were saying we ought to do, we probably should do. I was very much for the reorganization that became effective November 1st, '63.

COLLINS: Just to hark back to the '61 reorganization briefly, did you and Mr. Webb see it as a kind of evolutionary step, in understanding the strengths of the organization, and then making changes as necessary?

SEAMANS: Well, yes, I think we did. I think it may have swung further back to the way it had been than we'd anticipated, but we certainly did not expect that the '61 organization was going to last for the remainder of the decade. I can't actually remember a specific conversation on this, but I'm sure that was my view, and I'm pretty sure it was Jim's. Two other things have just come to mind, that were taking place during this period. One was the selection of Houston, Texas for the Manned Spacecraft Center and the Space Task Group move to that location. Another had to do with the negotiation over the new contract with Caltech for the Jet Propulsion Lab, and both of these involved a lot of time and effort and concern on the part of the office of the administrator. Caltech hung in there awfully tough. I'd fly out and see the comptroller at Caltech. I guess you could put it bluntly and say that 20 percent of Caltech's income was coming from the overhead from the fee for running JPL. The fee was lumped with other income from which Caltech paid their investment bankers and all kinds of other things.

    I mean, we just had a very major problem. It was very difficult to get them to understand why it was a problem. They just said, well, here we are and we're working this way and if you don't like us, go somewhere else. That's when we decided to use Langley and some of other centers for some of the lunar and planetary missions, in order to get their attention. But what I'm leading up to is not so much what was going on in most of the centers, where we were adding work to the research centers, the kind of work they'd never done before, but equally important was the grabbing hold of what Keith Glennan used to call the reins. He said, "What you've got to do is to get in there and grab ahold of the reins." Jim Webb never put it quite that way, but that's what was going on when you come right down to it. It started when we established D. Marquis Wyatt in the office of programs in '61. Then he became the deputy associate administrator for programming in '63.

    But as far as I was concerned, it was essentially the same job, and the job consisted of approving by my sign-off of every single dollar that NASA spent. That discipline, or that procedure, I guess is the right terminology, was essential if we were going to control what was going on in NASA during the very rapid buildup in the early 60's. As time went on, later on, about the time I was leaving the whole office of, what was it called, the Harry Finger office was built up where you no longer had a lot of this comptroller kind of operation the responsibility of the line management. It was a little bit off, more of a staff function. But there's no question that during the period of time from '61 to early '68, that the general manager controlled the resources that came from the Congress and that's what this document, a lot of it, is about.

COLLINS: Two interesting points about the document. One is that formally here this is something that was requested by you as a study in preparation for this reorganization.

SEAMANS: Well, it was. I mean, it doesn't just say that. I really thought it was absolutely necessary.

COLLINS: In other words, at that time it was your role to say, "We need a major reorganization if I'm to be able to carry out my general mission."

SEAMANS: Yes. I don't want to claim I did it without discussing it with Jim and Hugh and so on, but it was my role that was requested, because reporting to me were the elements that were going to carry out the study. The elements that reported to Jim and Hugh directly couldn't have carried out the study. If you look at the top line, the only one that would come even close--well, there were two that might be involved. One would be the general counsel's offices and the office of plans and program evaluation. The assistant administrator for management development, I see the words there, funny, I have no recollection of who that assistant administrator was and what that person did. But anyway, what was required to carry out the study was really the office of administration, which had Al Siepert as its director and Jack Young, who had come to us from McKinsey in the Keith Glennan days and was our chief mogul on organization.

COLLINS: He was that.

SEAMANS: Just parenthetically, when he left NASA, he went to the OMB, and headed up their office of management in OMB. I don't know if you're going to chat with him or not, but--

COLLINS: I definitely would like to.

SEAMANS: He has some real insights into what we're discussing here today.

COLLINS: Fundamentally, this document is essentially, as I was suggesting, improving the mechanism so the general manager can do his job.

SEAMANS: Yes. There's also a part in there, so that the administrator and deputy administrator can do their jobs, but that was really not the central theme of the study.

COLLINS: Well, just to take a broad view at first, how "successful" was this reorganization, in relieving you of some of the problems associated with the earlier organization?

SEAMANS: My impression is that the job that I had at NASA was in a sense unrelieved throughout the whole time I was there. In part, it was trying to scramble aboard and understand it and then just trying to execute, and before I was through I was dealing with the fire and its aftermath. But my strongest feeling would be that I felt more much at ease afterwards than during the '61, '63 period. I was not getting the complaints that the centers didn't have any direction, they didn't know where to go to resolve some of their personnel issues and issues related to facilities and all of that; I think truly the senior people, maybe the whole organization, felt more comfortable once we'd put the '63 plan into place than they had during this period of uncertainty from '61 to '63.

COLLINS: Essentially what seems to happen is that the associate administrators, the key ones, take on much greater responsibilities and take over some of the elements that you were previously responsible for, in terms of allocating resources.


COLLINS: They generally provided a direction for a particular group of centers. Was that a mechanism that proved to be successful?

SEAMANS: Yes, I'd say that in most cases, it did. There's no way it can be perfect. There's no way you can line up programs and the centers so that there's a perfect match, and one example would be the tracking and data acquisition, at Goddard, did not directly come under Brainerd Holmes, and yet he had to have the tracking and data capability to carry out the Apollo program, and so the issue came up, should we in effect have two centers there at Goddard and split off a part and say, this is the tracking and data acquisition part. I resisted that suggestion. I tried to follow the very simple concept that in each geographic area, NASA had a single entity.

    As we've discussed, down at the Cape, we went through the process of pulling all the different launch operations together into one totality. There'd be one person there responsible for all of NASA's activity. And similarly at Beltsville, Maryland there would be one center. As soon as you start trying to split geographically, you get into all kinds of crazy problems, everything from parking lots to dealing with the FCC on radio transmission--you know, all those different things start falling apart when you split operations. Brainerd was not very happy. I mean, he was very happy to be able to grab ahold of Houston and Huntsville and the Cape, but he wanted to grab ahold of everything else too, and he felt that all of the functions that were going into the manned flight ought to be directly under him. So we didn't go as far as say he would have liked. There were of course other issues of that sort.

COLLINS: He, I believe, departed before this reorganization went into effect.

SEAMANS: He was very instrumental in kicking it off, but--is that true? You have to help me a little bit. When was the last Mercury flight? The summer of '63?

COLLINS: He announced his resignation on 12 June, 1963.

SEAMANS: Okay, so he had departed. Because I know it was in the summer that George Mueller came in to the office, and I'll tell you how I know that. We'd raced our boat to Halifax, and we turned around and sailed the boat back, and the first place that we landed was on the Maine coast, at a place called Rocque Island, and we literally came out of the fog, and there were several boats at anchor. I knew the people on board and they knew me and they called out, "Mr. Webb wants to speak to you on the telephone."

    So I went over to their boat where they had a very high powered radio telephone, and got Jim Webb immediately, and he told me about his recent meeting with George Mueller. I knew George and had met with him prior to going off on the Halifax Race, so I was delighted that his selection seemed to be working out. So that was the summer of '63. Even though it came out in October, the discussions went on in the spring of '63, and that's what I was referring to in connection with the tracking.

COLLINS: All right. It seems that the associate administrators had to have a slightly different set of capabilities, if you will, in this new organization. They really had to be much more professional managers rather than simply technical directors.

SEAMANS: Yes, they found that difficult. I guess you could say that one of the issues with Brainerd was that even though he wasn't around at the time when this finally was approved, that even in his previous role he was having some difficulty in visualizing the totality of his job. Now I'm getting into, first of all, consideration of the totality of NASA's program, and the reason that we ended up with Kennedy wondering why we weren't reprogramming 400 million dollars. I mean, as far as Brainerd was concerned, that was a good idea, even though it would have clobbered a lot of other programs. In discussions sometimes on our program reviews, that we had on Saturdays, Jim Webb would be really trying to get the program people to think in terms of other broader objectives for the NASA effort than just the specific mission goals. I remember Brainerd coming around afterwards and saying, "I try to understand that man, but I just cannot fathom what he's talking about. What was he saying?" Sometimes he used four letter words to raise that question. I tried to explain to him, as best I could. You know, it always seemed pretty self-evident to me that when you're spending the kind of money that we were, if you can get some collateral benefits out of the effort, for very little increased total effort, it was the thing to do. That's really what Jim Webb was talking about.

COLLINS: One of the things that happened is that they have much much greater control over the budgetary aspects.

SEAMANS: Well, there's that part of it too, because all of a sudden they had to worry about the installation budgets, the budgets for the installations of new facilities, personnel budgets, the size of the organization, including whether they needed additional personnel. Those kinds of issues, they had not had to worry about in the prior organization. That's true.

COLLINS: How did they go about building up the staff capability to handle these new kinds of responsibilities? They didn't just take over some of your staff for this kind of thing. They must have either had to build up or retrain people who were already under their supervision.

SEAMANS: Well, that's true. In the case of Brainerd and George Mueller, a person named Bill Lilly had that kind of administrative budgetary responsibility. That's a good question. I'm not sure I can give you a complete answer, but my impression is that not many senior people were added, but that the job did grow, not only for the associate administrators, but for some of the non-technical staff people, and they in turn tended to increase, add numbers of people to their staff operations, rather than a wholesale carving up of the people reporting to me. But I can't give you the details on that. I just don't remember.

COLLINS: One of the things this reorganization was meant to achieve was to relieve you of the burden of having so many reporting to you, so you could cast your eyes on a broader vision, so you could see across the agency better, to contribute more to policy and planning activities and agency activities. Did you indeed find yourself freed up to be able to do these kinds of things Or were the demands of the associate administrators and their programs still there?

SEAMANS: No, I think, if you could timeline what was actually going on in my office, you'd find that after this reorganization, that I was really spending more time on the DOD relations, and with other agencies of the government. This was part due to the reorganization and in part due to Hugh Dryden's failing health, I was getting more involved in the externalities of NASA than I had been. I would have found it very difficult to have done that if we hadn't had this reorganization.

    Another point along that line that I think is pretty clear--I'm pretty interested in reading this after all these years--that is I think pretty important to organizational arrangements, and it's something I felt very strongly about when I got to the Air Force. It's one thing to have at the general management level of an organization a sort of purview of all the programs that are going on, and the control of the dollars, but there's a limit to how far you can go. If you try to centralize too much detail, it becomes meaningless, because you can't do it.

    I think there's a pretty clear distinction here between the rather simple project approval documents--I mean, only a page and a half, there's not a great deal on these PADS. We tried very hard to put no more on them than we felt we had to, to specify the projects and the dollars and the schedules, but we tried to minimize that, and put on the shoulders of the associate administrators the detailed responsibility for spelling out their plans and going to five year plans, which are really based on the project approval documents, because we could easily get saturated with NASA's programs.

    When I got to the Air Force, I mean, there were hundreds and hundreds of projects going on. I had to say, "Look, we can't follow them all, we're going to delegate all but maybe 20 of them, and only try to follow the 20 really critical projects." This limiting of the scope of what the general manager tries to do is really important, and I think you can see that that's written into this staff paper.

COLLINS: One of the things here that struck me as a bit curious, one of the peculiarities of this reorganization was the creation of post of assistant administrator for technology utilization and policy planning. I don't know how much you were involved in that, since this was a study that came out under your auspices. It wasn't entirely clear to me why technology utilization and policy planning were joined together.

SEAMANNS: Well, let me be careful how I answer that question. It's a good question. I even thought exactly the same thing, as I said, when I read it over. But we had the office of plans and program evaluation, which Abe Hyatt was responsible for. I wouldn't want Abe Hyatt to read that I say it was a nothing, but it didn't dominate or even affect the thinking of those involved in running the program by very much. It tended to be a somewhat isolated group that had somewhat its own agenda under Abe Hyatt. I guess a guy named Homer Joe Stewart was responsible before Abe took it over.

    But from my own experience in RCA that it's not unusual to have a planning function that doesn't bear very much relation to reality. The people running the projects say "Get off my back, I can't think about the future," and yet the only way to plan is to take into account the present, at least to some extent. An organization has to grow into the future. However what happened to that office, I have to say, didn't concern me very much. They called it the office of plans and program evaluation--but there was essentially no evaluation. They didn't come down and review the projects. That was a job I did, and they didn't in any way interfere with what I was doing.

    Now, you take a look at technology utilization. That's very different, and this is strictly Jim Webb feeling that there was a lot going on that could have value elsewhere, and also thinking, if there is value elsewhere, it's going to help solidify support of the program in the Congress. He did some very imaginative things, one of them was getting University of Indiana involved, with a computer setup and microfiche information. He contracted with the AIAA to work with us on the publication side, but that's something I really had very little to do with. I can't think of the name of the man who came in from Georgia to work with Jim Webb on this. He ended up as the chancellor of the university system in Georgia.


SEAMANS: So my impression was that we had legislative and international and public affairs, and the general counsel, and these were all pretty clear-cut functions. Then we had technology utilization, which was somewhat amorphous, although there were some interesting things going on. We had the university program, and then we had this matter of planning, and Jim just took the whole thing and put it in one office. Jim's view of the planning function was quite different from Keith's. Keith really tried to develop a ten year plan. It caused a lot of flak because even though we didn't have anything approved, people in the Congress could look at the plans for the ninth and tenth years and get all exercised about it. Also there's a tendency for the ninth and tenth years to appear as if a tremendous amounts of money are being spent, which also would draw a lot of flak.

    So Jim Webb's idea on the long range planning as opposed to policy issues, was, to never aggregate the project. He didn't want Abe Hyatt to put together a total program for the next ten years. Instead, what he liked was to have each one of the program offices put together a plan for what might be done say in space science in the next ten years. The plan could prefer that option or what might be in the cards for advancing technology for ten years, or what we might do in manned space flight in ten years. But he didn't want them to be totalled. In that way, there's no big number anybody can be shooting at.

    So again, it tended to pull the fangs, if you like, or to minimize what Abe Hyatt had been doing, from the standpoint of the planning, and get it more around to what policy kinds of things might be going on, say policy as relating to how we might work with the new Comsat as it came into being at that time. If relates more to policy, rather than long range mission projections, then technology utilization and policy planning do require somewhat the same kinds of thinking and people.

COLLINS: So this gets to Mr. Webb's approach to long range planning. As a matter for this reorganization, that was a responsibility that rested primarily with you, according to the language here.

SEAMANS: Well, I'm sure that Jack Young, who did a lot of this work, and Al Siepert had some good conversations with Jim Webb, what he wanted around his own office. I think it would be much better to say that I wasn't very much involved in the office of technology utilization and policy planning, but it was what Mr. Webb felt he needed.

COLLINS: All right, absolutely. What I was saying, I can give a quote here and we can go from there.

SEAMANS: All right.

COLLINS: "Responsibility for the coordination of plans for advanced missions and projects being transferred to the associate administrator in order to relate more effectively NASA's planning for future projects with the status of NASA's ongoing programs and projects."

SEAMANS: That's exactly what I've been talking about. It was felt that those kinds of plans should grow out of what we were doing, in Apollo or Mariner or what have you. It should no longer be thought of as part of a staff function all by itself, but should be thought of more as the ongoing effort that we had here in our program activities.

COLLINS: Right. But was there a sense in which these kinds of planning exercises were coordinated in some fashion in your office?

SEAMANS: First of all, they would come into my office because we had to provide resources for them. You know, post-Apollo, for example, was one of these, and the manned space flight office had to let contracts for that purpose, and fairly sizeable sums of money were required for study purposes, a million dollars or so. So the program offices would come to my office for a PAD, for a Project Approval Document for that purpose. But then the results were oftentimes tied in with the program reviews, since the project reviews were much more related to the near term such as the development of the Saturn II stage or something of that sort.

    We wouldn't, at those meetings, get into the results of a post-Apollo study. However, it was quite suitable to be talking about, for example, a program review--an all day review on a Saturday with Jim Webb with many senior staff present, on where NASA was headed, what NASA had underway in manned flights overall and where NASA might be headed. That's when the results of these studies would come into play. But now, having said that, in addition, and in particular as we moved through Gemini and got closer to the lunar program, we had to be thinking about what we're going to do after we landed on the moon. It's an area that interested me very much, and so I spent a fair amount of time with the senior staff discussing many possibilities, and trying to get my own mind focused on what we might be doing in the future.

COLLINS: This was something that you approached through in-house studies and through contractor studies.

SEAMANS: Right. That's correct. As I traveled around the country and so on, I'd get into discussions, and ask to have-- well, for example, on unmanned exploration of the planets, the so-called Voyager, and how to go about it. One time there was a plan to use a Saturn V, and launch two very large spacecraft that way. Was it better to do that, or to have smaller spacecraft going out towards the planets, not using the Saturn V but using more modest launch vehicles? What kinds of scientific information could you get one way or the other? That sort of thing. Or another issue had to do, a little later on, with landing on Mars, and what kinds of measurements might you make, and was it possible to build an instrument that would determine whether life existed or not on the Martian surface. Such studies were good fun. There would be mechanisms that exploded, and would spread certain liquids over the Martian surface, then string would be hot over the area and would be reeled in so that with various instrument measurements might detect life forms on the strings. These kind of reviews were quite independent of the review of ongoing approved projects.

COLLINS: I guess one of Mr. Webb's concerns was obviously this question of Congressional or executive branch reaction to proposed programs, often distant in the future.

SEAMANS: You bet. Because no President likes to be preempted on those kinds of things, and no director of the budget wants to feel tremendous contractor pressure all of a sudden that's forcing another billion dollars into the NASA budget. Those have to be handled very, very carefully and diplomatically. I don't remember his ever saying that he had a flash of insight one night and decided that we would never add up all the numbers, we'd never have a NASA long range plan. There would be the George Mueller long-range plan for manned flight. There would be the Homer Newell long-range plan for space science. There would be the Ray Bisplinghoff long-range plan for advancing our technology. Of course anybody could just add all the numbers up, year by year, if they took all three plans, and say, "But listen, that's going to come out to be ten billion dollars--ten years from now," but Webb could say, "But that's not the NASA plan. We haven't approved that. That's just what these people think they might do."

COLLINS: What latitude was George Mueller granted in terms of disseminating his long range plan? Is this something he'd go up and share with Congressmen on the Hill?

SEAMANS: One thing you have to realize is, there was nothing secret in NASA. No way to keep anything hidden. So we just had to realize that there's was no point trying to inhibit discussions of anything we were studying. At the time, we expected them to discuss these studies in a responsible way, and not just throw a million ideas out on the table. We wanted the program off to state that at this time from our preliminary studies we believe could accomplish a variety of missions if we had this kind of buildup in resources. I must say that I thought this way of handling, I thought, was a mark of genius. I really did, because we never got into trouble with it, that I can remember.

COLLINS: It was more of a sense in which NASA was simply kind of presenting options.

SEAMANS: Yes. Exactly. But once you do it, no matter how you add it all up--at Mr. Webb's level, you added it all up, and even if you talked about options, you'd have option 1, 2, 3 and 4, and it could be the low cost option and the medium option and the high cost option--once you put that high cost one out there, that's what everyone's going to grab ahold of and say, "Mr. Webb is trying to promote, NASA is trying to promote a program to quadruple the budget of NASA in the next ten years."

COLLINS: One of the interesting points of emphasis in this document that goes along with the decentralization is the need for a lot of feedback or information about the progress of programs and projects. How did that element of there organization work out? Did you feel, after this reorganization, that you were getting back the kinds of information that you needed to make good judgments about progress and next steps and that kind of thing?

SEAMANS: I thought it worked very well. I felt that what we call the project status review, which tied right in with the Project Approval Documents, was an excellent way of keeping track of what was going on in a formal systematic way--in addition to waiting for disaster and then finding out, you know, examining what to do next. We've been through this before, I think. There was a guy named Tom Jenkins, who worked for D. Wyatt, and he was the one that would put together before each meeting what he thought the issues might be, that I should have in my mind when I met with each one of the program offices. I met with all three plus the tracking and data acquisition office on a monthly basis.     Now, I'd have to say that what Tom Jenkins came in with, more often than not, he would not reveal, he could not determine from the various reports and stuff that he had gathered and that came from the various offices what I call the most substantive issues. I feel that even though we had a format for presenting things--and I was quite insistent that everybody use the same format--why should the associate administrator have to look at different kinds of labeled charts from every different office?

    But at the same time, even in spite of that regularity, in spite of the fact that we were using common kinds of charts and so on, it would be, I think, impossible to detect a fundamental problem without the cooperation of the associate administrators and their staffs, until you reached the point where disaster might strike. I mean, sooner or later, if there's a problem, it's going to turn up. What we were trying to find is, what are the trends, early enough so that we could do something about it, if the trends are not satisfactory. If we were going to have a big overrun, for example, we would prefer to know about it early, so that we could either change the program, or so that we could, in the budget planning exercise, could anticipate that the cost of a particular project was going to have to grow, so something else would have to be cut back, or that we were going to have to have a bigger total budget.

    But at least it was my feeling, and you might get a different view from some of the people in these offices, like George Mueller, that there was sufficient mutual confidence that they felt, the program officers felt it was in their interest, as soon as they knew they had something that wasn't right, to come in and report it at these sessions. And so, excepting the issue of the Apollo fire, I can't think of any other major surprise that we had during this period of time.

COLLINS: I guess I'm just trying to list the mechanisms you had for feedback on the programs. You had these monthly program review meetings. You mentioned project status reports, and these were things that came from the project offices themselves. What other instruments did you have?

SEAMANS: Well, of course, the instrument of, say, George Mueller working for me, he'd come over and see me any time he wanted to, or call me on the phone. I had the instrument of not just sitting in my office but of traveling around and observing what's going on, and of trying to keep communication lines open throughout the organization on an informal basis. I mean, I tried to keep in touch with the center directors, and those kinds of mechanisms. We had the program reviews, but I'd say that there was some feedback there that could be useful even in the near term. What else was there? I would sometimes find out things from contractors by visiting them. I can't really remember any contractor coming in and complaining about something directly. Maybe they did. Believe it or not, there was quite a bit of information that we'd pick up in the course of these various procurements, you know, when the Source Evaluation Teams would come in. They had a pretty good interchange oftentimes on how things stood. There were very special cases like the one on selecting the lunar orbit rendezvous. John Houbolt down there at Langley would write me a personal note. I guess I've named them, all I can think of.

COLLINS: But the formal mechanisms were kept to a minimum.

SEAMANS To me, the most important had to do with what I call these project status reviews, where it wouldn't just be George Mueller coming in. George would be there, but Sam Phillips talking about the Apollo, and if there was a special situation on, I don't know, say the J-2 motor, he might have with him the person from Marshall who was responsible for it, or a guy named Del Tischler who worked for him. There'd be Chuck Matthews on the Gemini program.

    I did have another set of feedbacks I'd almost forgot. I'd pick up stuff from my DOD dealings and my CIA dealings, you know. We had something called, what was that called? Something about Gemini. Brock MacMillan, who was the Under Secretary of the Air Force, and I co-chaired something like the Gemini Review Board. This got started with the thought that possibly the Air Force could get some benefit from experiments they might like to conduct on Gemini. It turned out, there wasn't much that could be done that was beneficial to the Air Force and us, because we got into all kinds of security problems.

    But that mechanism proved to be our savior, or proved to be extremely helpful, on the launch vehicle, because we were making use of the Titan II for the first time. After all, it was not designed to be a booster of spacecraft, it was designed to be a ballistic missile, and we ran into some quite severe problems with it. It tended to have a chugging kind of motion, so that instead of a steady climb, a pretty violent oscillation longitudinally would occur, which would be okay if there were nuclear weapons as the payload, but with human beings aboard it wouldn't have been just a rough ride, it could have caused some severe medical problems.

    But since we had this mechanism, with Brock MacMillan and me meeting anyway, it was pretty easy through that avenue to insist that the Air Force review these technical problems, for the two of us. In turn, I could have some of our NASA people there, and really find out what was going on in the Air Force, that might have been very difficult to find out any other way. So that was another source of information.

COLLINS: But that was a source of information, not about the activities of the NASA staff, but of supporting Air Force staff.

SEAMANS: Yes, but we did rely very much on the Air Force, for the Atlas, and had some real problems there in the very beginning, and then the Titan. We relied very much on the military, I guess it was the Navy, for the tracking ships. Even though Chuck Matthews reporting on Gemini obviously wanted to know about Titan, I could supplement the information that he was getting directly by using this other source of information.

COLLINS: I guess another element that kind of comes across from this study is that the center directors are very low profile in this reorganizational scheme and seem to have a lesser role, in a sense. Perhaps I'm reading this wrong, but by no longer reporting to you, they don't have the same kind of access to the top of the organization; they essentially have to work solely with a particular associate administrator.


COLLINS: Was there a sense in which they perhaps felt a little bit submerged by this reorganization, did not have the kind of access to the top of the organization that they might have liked?

SEAMANS: That's a good question. I think Jim, and Hugh and I, we were sensitive to that, and tried to find proper avenues for keeping in touch with them. One of them, again, comes back to this Source Evaluation Board. If a major contract was going to be lets, say, from the Manned Spacecraft Center, Bob Gilruth would be there at the Source Evaluation Board review, and in turn, when we all went into Webb's office, Bob would come in and be asked if there were any special things we ought to take into account. We've gone through that. That was one way. They would also participate in the program reviews that we had on Saturdays.

COLLINS: Was that weekly?

SEAMANS: No, monthly. Yes. They would be called upon to testify before Congress, and we would be again in touch with them there. But I think your observation is correct, and I guess it's another reason why I felt it was so important to travel quite a bit, because by going down to Houston, I'd obviously spend time with Bob Gilruth when I was there, and give him a chance, if something was bothering him, to bring it up; try to do it in such a way I wouldn't be undercutting George Mueller, but at the same time, I felt it was important that we continued to know how he felt about the program. Their formal role, say, on the Manned Spacecraft, on the Apollo program, their main role put them into communication with George Mueller. They spent a lot of time with George, and a lot less time with me.

COLLINS: I was wondering, another thing, as I went through this. Certain functions are clearly streamlined, and lines of responsibility and reporting are streamlined and clearly laid out. It seems like there were also some elements of tension almost purposely built into it. I'm thinking in particular of the relationship between the staff functions at the top of Headquarters, and their relationship to analogues and program offices in the centers, relating to procurement issues, that kind of thing. In other words, if the top level functional staff officers have responsibility for implementing procedures across the agency, but yet they had to work in, it seems like, a very delicate and careful way with the associate administrators to make sure that these things are implemented within their sphere of responsibility. I wondered whether that was simply just a deliberate kind of tension that was built into it, or simply a necessity of organizational makeup?

SEAMANS: I would say it was not put in intentionally. We didn't want any more tension than we had to have. But there's no way of getting around it. In the procurement area, we had to follow the book, if you will, and there had to be one central office that would vouch for the fact that we were following the OMB procedures, and whatever other procedures there were. What this document doesn't show--I think it's a pretty good document, as I read it, incidentally, in describing what was going on, but it doesn't tell you exactly what steps had to be taken, in say a procurement of a new major element in the program. You can see that much more easily by looking at charts.

    The other day when you were in my office at MIT, I had a few of those charts there that showed what has to happen to approve the plan, and then the various steps that are taken. There you can see how the different functional offices come into play. I frankly liked that method of showing how the organization had to run. When you have a block diagram, like the two charts we've been talking about this morning, you can't possibly convey on a chart of that type all the different interrelationships that the black lines connecting the boxes are supposed to convey, and then when you try to put it all in words, you finally reach a point where the mind just blocks off taking on any additional information. But it's quite easy to visualize the procedures, I think, with these timeline kind of charts that show who initiates, who has to concur, and who has to finally approve.

    As we were going through the process that led to this October report, and again later on when there was another, call it a staff reorganization, which we'll perhaps talk about later today or some other time. I felt that the charts should have received more of a play than they did. I don't think you'll find in any of these documents, attached to them or in them, those kinds of charts, but to me they were very helpful. Mr. Webb tended to like to spell out organizations, either with the kind of chart that we have in this paper--

COLLINS: Which is a standard organizational chart.

SEAMANS: Which is absolutely standard, but he insisted on signing them himself, and I think he was right. He liked to get into a description of the role of the director of the office of tracking and data acquisition, and he liked to worry the words around and put a lot of stuff in the margin about what the director should be concerned with. I always felt that, it's all right to do that, but what actually happened didn't always bear a very strong resemblance to what we had in these documents. The important thing to have understood was how to actually get something done. Who has to sign what to actually put something into effect?

COLLINS: Is there I don't know quite how to approach this question, about the disparity between the formal organizational relationships as expressed in a document like this, and organization charts, and the actual execution of activities.

SEAMANS: Well, I was just expressing this, maybe slightly off-beat point of view, to explain how say the procurement offices functioned and how they tied in with the program offices. It's not all in here because it's so hard to convey it all in words. But I think, in actual practice, it worked out quite well.

COLLINS: Even though it was not fully--

SEAMANS: Even though there isn't a full exposition of it in these documents, this written document.

COLLINS: Now, in these monthly meetings that you mentioned earlier, as part of your review of the progress of problems, does that relate to the management committee, or is that a different entity?

SEAMANS: That's a different entity.

COLLINS: Can you briefly explain where that fits into this picture?

SEAMANS: Well, what I've been describing so far is what I call a really substantive review of the program. But there are still a lot of loose ends in a big organization like NASA with all of its externalities and so on. In order to try to pick up the loose ends, there were monthly meetings with an agenda to go through that would relate to the more functional operations of NASA. To show you how important I thought they were, I don't remember the meetings very well! I'm trying to remember really whether they were as important after this reorganization as before. I have a little sense that before October '63, when we had so many different reporting channels coming into the general manager, that having a management review of that type was more important than afterwards. But my mind doesn't quite give me the answers that I'm looking for.

COLLINS: So in your mind, after this reorganization, this entity played a lesser role.

SEAMANS: I believe that's the case. That would be a good kind of question to ask Jack Young.

COLLINS: All right. Was there anything else you wanted to comment on about this in any way? Not necessarily specifics, but just kind of the general picture of how one goes about managing under this organization.

SEAMANS: All right. I guess there's maybe one thing that might be worth mentioning, and that is this question of how to split up the programs involved quite a bit of discussion. I spent quite a bit of time, for example, talking to Homer Newell and Ed Cortright about the application side. I remember the very first time I started reviewing NASA documents back in the sixties, it seemed as though some of these applications coming out were bound to be very significant, and yet they didn't seem to loom very large in the organizational side of NASA. As we were getting into larger and larger observatories for the Weather Bureau, now NOA, getting into satellites that were getting information that was going to be important to ComSat, things like that and whether there was going to be a separate program office or not. You'll notice that in '61, we did have a separate office for applications. A fellow named Mort Stoller ran it.

    But as we got through with the '63 reorganization, we had to face the fact that the applications side of thing used satellites that looked very much in many ways like the scientific or earth-orbiting satellites. I mean, they had power supplies and stabilization devices and they had to use the same launch vehicles. They made use of Goddard primarily, as did the earth-orbiting satellites. So it seemed better to pull those two programs back together again, and that's the way it ended up in '63. And another side of that was that Mort Stoller had had an amazing battle with cancer, and finally lost, and he was no longer available to run the program, and so as I say, we did consolidate. I think that side of things actually worked out very well. I think having the applications side and the space science side (together) formed a reasonably homogeneous office, and it worked well because Homer Newell was scientifically oriented, and both Oran Nicks and Ed Cortright were really technology oriented, and they worked very effectively together.

COLLINS: Was there much difficulty in grouping the other centers under a particular associate administrator?

SEAMANS: No. It was pretty obvious, the manned flight clearly was using major chunks of the Manned Spacecraft Center, and Huntsville and the Cape. There was the dilemma of how to deal with other launches at the Cape. Then over in the so-called OART, Office of Advanced Research and Technology, it was pretty much the old NACA, and there were no real problems there, that I can remember. There was a little bit of a problem on the Pacific launch operations, and Wallops Station, things of that sort, but that was really secondary.


COLLINS: We've just been discussing some of the general concepts that went into organizing NASA to carry out this very large program, as well as its other responsibilities. This, as you indicated, served the organization well for a number of years, but there were some other factors that came into play, as Hugh Dryden's health declined and he passed away and you had to assume new responsibilities. You can begin to relate the impact that his departure had on your responsibilities and some of the organizational changes that resulted.

SEAMANS: Yes. Well, first of all, clearly Hugh Dryden played an extremely important role in NASA, almost until the day he died. First of all, he had been the director of the NACA. He had very close ties and was highly respected by senior people in the NACA, who then had senior responsibilities in NASA, such as Abe Silverstein and Bob Gilruth, just to name two, but there were many others. They valued his judgment very much and used him as a sounding board oftentimes.

    When Jim Webb took the job of NASA, and knowing Jim I'm sure he'd done quite a bit of research on it beforehand, one of the prime conditions for his taking the job was that Hugh Dryden remain as a deputy, and Jim did try out a lot of ideas on Hugh, and Hugh was very, very good at defusing ideas that would not have worked out well from a scientific standpoint, or call it relations with the scientific community, or wouldn't have gone over very well within the organization. It's not that Jim came up with a lot of crazy ideas, but he was a man of many ideas, and he liked to try his ideas out to see how they would fly, and he tried them out on Hugh, and in some cases Hugh would explain that it was a good idea but maybe it ought to be done in a slightly different way, or oftentimes he would support the ideas.

    Anyway, Hugh was very helpful to Jim. He was also very helpful to me. I could go to him and say I had a problem, and he could help me out, as he often did. Or all three of us together, the same kind of thing happened. He was a tremendous resource to have right in our midst. So it's not surprising that when his time became limited, and he was less and less available, there was a growing hole in the organization. Of course, I wondered exactly what was going to happen, and Jim made a point.

    I remember one night he was driving me home from some kind of a function in the old black taxicab that he had, and he stopped in front of our house there in Dumbarton Rock Court where we lived in Georgetown, and he sort of tried to explain to me that Hugh was not going to be around much longer, and his plan was to submit my name to the President to be the next deputy administrator. I remember feeling that perhaps it would be better if he didn't. I did have a pretty good feel for the general manager's job, and I knew the important role that Hugh had, and perhaps it would be better to bring somebody else into the organization at that level. But he obviously had his mind made up, and that's exactly what happened. Not long after Hugh died, he had a chat with the President and came back and told me that the President was going to nominate me for the job, first on an interim appointment, and then later on when the Congress came back in session, I became the deputy.

    Then of course the question was whether we were going to operate the same way that we had, or were we really going to make a conscious change in the organization at that time. I guess my recommendation would have been, if you think of it in physical terms, that I keep the same office that I had, which was somewhat separate from the administrator's office, and he said, no, he wanted me to move over right next to him. So I moved from the corner office that I had over into an office practically adjoining his office.

    Also at that time, he said that he really wanted to start some effort going on another reorganization, particularly of the office of the administrator, because he felt that the way things were being run really hinged too much on the personalities of a couple of people, and he wanted to get it set up functionally so that when he and I retired from NASA, that we'd have a much more permanent arrangement than we had at that time. He also pointed out that we were both working, 70, 80 hours a week, and that for our own health and so on, we ought to find ways to limit the expenditure of effort that we were putting into NASA. But it wasn't at all clear to me precisely what he had in mind and how he wanted to go about it. I'm not sure that he had a clear idea.

    So during this interim period, Willis Shapley had come over, was working with--I think we had a series of people. Hilburn left and Bill Rieke came to work with me. Dave Williamson was executive assistant, and he was right in this same office space. But I was continuing to be the general manager, as I had before, as well as trying to wrestle with some of the organizational concepts that Jim was be talking about, as well as getting--because Hugh wasn't there-- even further expanding the sort of thing I was doing external to NASA.

    It was a time of, from my own standpoint, of more uncertainty than I'd had working with NASA up to that time. I wasn't completely sure what Jim had in mind, but I was concerned that he appeared to think that with my general manager's hat on, I should pulling away from the more direct contacts that I had with the program, such as the project status reviews and things of this sort, to pull back from that and set that up on a more functional basis. This was never completely resolved. It was not completely resolved at the time that we had the Apollo fire, and of course, that was a cataclysmic event for NASA, and in the following six to eight months, quite a few organizational changes were made, and I retired early the following year.

COLLINS: Going back to this document that's been our touchstone for this discussion, one of the objectives of it was to set the staff and functional elements of the Headquarters up to such a degree that they could serve as this kind of independent structure, apart from the personalities that would have responsibilities and execute functions--that it would keep the organization going apart from the individual who would be the associate administrator or the administrator.


COLLINS: To what degree were those somehow not felt to be adequate by Mr. Webb, if you can answer that question, or perhaps to what degree did you feel they might be inadequate?

SEAMANS: Well, I guess, for one, we had the office of programming and the comptroller separate from the office of administration. I think you'd find, it might be useful the next time we meet to have the organization chart that was put into effect, I would guess, in '67, '68, somewhere in there.

COLLINS: I have two here, or several. There's '66, I'm referring here to Arnold Levine's managing NASA in the Apollo era. Starts on page 51 there, you might just leaf through the next couple of pages, charts for '66, '67, and '68 listed in there.

SEAMANS: All right, so this is 2 January, this is when I had been deputy administrator for no more than a month or so, and the change, the two offices, sort of separate offices, one administrator, the other associate administrator, had been condensed into one, and let's see, what else. The program offices and centers have not been affected. If I'm not mistaken, just a quick review of this shows that the office of administration and the office of programs are still separate.

    Now, the functional offices have not changed appreciably. The thing that's happened is that there is now one office of the administrator which includes the deputy and you'll notice it says, the administrator, then under him the deputy administrator, and then in parentheses under deputy (and associate administrator), meaning it's one person. Then there's the associate deputy administrator, and that was Willis Shapley. Then the executive secretariat, and the chart shows somebody called the deputy associate administrator, I guess that was whoever, it might have been Bill Rieke at that time, I forget. okay, so this is what might be thought of as the first step, and tying in with this chart was the fact that I'd actually moved, somewhat under duress, from what was a more independent office on another corner of the building, to where I really was part of the office of the administrator, in a geographic sense as well as on the chart.

COLLINS: You saw this as, I don't know how to say this--you felt less independent, I guess?

SEAMANS: That's true. And I'm not trying to imply it's wrong. I think Jim had a very close relationship with Hugh, and I think now that I was the deputy, he expected to have in some ways--not, I saw a great deal of him before that, but it was sort of somewhat on my terms, when I had a problem or when we had full meetings, because this way, he couldn't possibly get into his office without going by my office and vice versa. I mean, we were right there, cheek to jowl in January--is the next chart handy?

COLLINS: Yes, just turn the page there. Two pages.

SEAMANS: Okay, this 15 March '67 is after the Apollo fire, just after. So this still hasn't changed too much, but there are --the significant change is, you now have an office of organization and management, and I think that was Harry Finger, and under it is the office of administration, the office of industry affairs, the office of technology utilization, the office of university affairs, but the program office is still separate. Now, is there another one? May 1, '68, Okay. Now, this is just after I left. It takes me just a minute to--well, let's see, now you've got an office of organization and management that includes administration, industry affairs, special contracts, negotiations, and review, office of technology utilization, office of university affairs. There's another office which includes interagency affairs, international affairs, legislative affairs and public affairs all in one. What I'm looking for is the program office. I don't even see the program office. I guess I'd have to spend a little more time, because I wasn't quite party to this, but this was when Tom Payne came in as the deputy, so this must have been related to Tom coming in. Homer Newell became the associate administrator, I guess just before I left, but he was not the general manager, and you can see here. It's really a staff function and he's in charge of office of policy and office of program, plans and analysis. Well, there'll be more to discuss. I can do a little more homework too to help prepare.

COLLINS: Yes, but your point was that there was this sense that an organization needed to be given a firmer footing, apart from the individuals.

SEAMANS: Yes. There's no question about that. You know, it involved being invited, well, invited is a little too mild a word, being invited to Mr. Webb's house with Shapley to discuss some of the possible organizational changes. There were some fairly difficult questions being asked, about why we couldn't make changes and so on. I felt that, you can tell from this discussion, the project status reviews had some very real value. I was very anxious before I left that Mr. Webb sit with me, Jim sat with me while I ran one. This is the last one I ran, in December. As I remember it, Larry Vogel was still the executive secretary. And Jim did sit there. He listened. He didn't say anything while I ran the last meeting. I remember, as we got started on the status review, I said to Jim, "This is the way that we have been running these reviews for the last six or seven years, and I don't claim it's the perfect way to run the organization, but I think there's some value in doing it this way. But as time goes on, you may very well want to do it quite differently." What I got back afterwards, Larry came into my office, and I remember, I said, "Well, did you get any reaction from Mr. Webb?" He said, "He said to me: 'Well, at least Bob admitted there was room for improvement.'"

COLLINS: In other words, at this point, it seems that you and Mr. Webb kind of had a difference over what things were essential to keep, and what the appropriate things were to change.

SEAMANS: That's exactly the note to end on.

COLLINS: Okay, why don't we end at that point, then.

Seamans 7 || Seamans 9

Rev. 09/06/96

© 1996 National Air and Space Musuem