GAO denied access to Webb telescope workers by Northrop Grumman

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In a report as well as at House hearings today the GAO reported that Northrop Grumman has denied them one-on-one access to workers building the James Webb Space Telescope.

The interviews, part of a running series of GAO audits of the NASA flagship observatory, which is billions of dollars overbudget and years behind schedule, were intended to identify potential future trouble spots, according to a GAO official. But Northrop Grumman Aerospace, which along with NASA says the $9 billion project is back on track, cited concerns that the employees, 30 in all, would be intimidated by the process.

To give Northrop Grumman the benefit of the doubt, these interviews were a somewhat unusual request. Then again, if all was well why would they resist? Note too that the quote above says the cost of the telescope project is now $9 billion. That’s a billion increase since the last time I heard NASA discuss Webb. If the project was “back on track: as the agency and Northrop Grumman claim, than why has the budget suddenly increased by another billion?



  • PeterF

    Perhaps the intended “track” is through a pork barrel?

  • Edward

    “To give Northrop Grumman the benefit of the doubt, these interviews were a somewhat unusual request. Then again, if all was well why would they resist?”

    Although we only heard from Northrop Grumman management, not the workers who would be interviewed, the article has made it clear that not all is well. NG is clearly under pressure due to a previous “manufacturing error and manufacturing process mistakes,” which are almost certainly driven by a worker and some process planners, rather than management. I suspect that the employees are feeling defensive, these days.

    The article was not clear whether the interviews were to be with spacecraft workers or with cooler workers, two different teams with different problems. The cooler seems to have not been originally designed to perform as required, so the workers on the cooler are also likely to be defensive.

    Finally, since the GAO is trying to find any problems that management is not telling them about, everybody is going to be defensive. Would you want to be the employee who exposed a potential problem that management didn’t know about (or worse, that management was hoping to solve before it became a report-able potential problem)?

    More than once, I have had to defend technicians who worked according to the process (the processes had to be changed) and had to explain why other processes had not been the cause of problems (in one case, vendor hardware turned out to be faulty, which no one wanted to hear, because that caused us to run late and go over budget). Everyone dreads working on a project that is running late or going over budget. Instead of bragging to your friends and family that you are working on the project that is in the news for the wrong reasons, you tend to keep quiet about what you work on.

    And no one wants to be questioned during an investigation.

    *On the other hand*, I worked at a company that informed us that outside interviewers would be coming around and that, if approached, we were to be cooperative, honest, and if we were too busy at the moment to be interviewed, we should tell them when a better time would be. Investigations happen, in aerospace, and employees as well as management should be prepared to participate.

  • pzatchok

    Our company has auditors from almost all of our customers come through interviewing the employees all the time.
    Asking questions about their own projects and if there is any trouble with them as they pass through the plant.
    Just this week we had Boeing and Lockheed come through. Next week is another company.

    Plus we have our own national and world wide audit teems coming through quarterly talking to all the employees about anything the employee can think of to improve the process and products.

    The fact that NG is resistant to these interviews and audits even when they insist on holding their own subcontractors to the very same thing from them is evidence of something fishy going on.

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