Death of a Spy Satellite - Stillman and Rubin

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  • Topic: Project management, Management, National Reconnaissance Office
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  • Published : December 16, 2012
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Stillman - Case Study

Intro to Public Administration
The Death of the Spy Satellite

Facts and problems:

The problems that surrounded this Spy Satellite case appeared to be a direct result of a lack of oversight in all aspects of the project. Some of the pronounced facts were:

The project "Future Imagery Architecture (FIA)" was behind schedule and over budget

Boeing, the awarded bidder was the contractor for building the new generation of spy satellites. However, Boeing had never built these types of spy satellites previously, yet kept reassuring Washington that it could construct them and that it could comply with the stringent guidelines from Congress and the satellite agency.

By shifting the responsibility away from the military under a new policy to down size government, Boeing, the contractor was given sole responsibility over its work, yet it had never performed such a task.

Because of Boeing's lack of experience with spy satellites, the ambitious and objective proposed satellites were supposed to have strong enough radar and electro-optical elements, yet it could not be accomplished due to lack of expertise, manpower and defective parts, thus, played a major part in the lag time of the project.

The first satellite was to be delivered in 2004 and the National Reconnaissance Office ( satellite agency) anticipated that the cost to be approximately $8 billion in total, which was $3 billion over the budget set for this project initially. And in the end, in September 2005, the project was terminated and the cost thus far was approximately $ 13 billion. (Stillman, 2010, p.368) Boeing kept reassuring the government that the project, although it had issues, was still on task and doable. Unfortunately, Mr. Ed Nowinski, an engineer for Boeing, was released from his responsibilities with Boeing, as the project was falling apart.

Issues that were raised within administration were primarily oversight and the lack of accountability to the public budget process plan, as Professor Rubin explains. The major players in this case were the CIA, Ed Nowinski (for Boeing,) Peter Teets ( head of the spy agency, NRO ), and the government , whom all had a vested interest……. After all, why would a company want to stop a project that was bringing in money?

Concepts

Concepts that primarily surrounded this case were the efficiency of it. While researching administrative failures and poorly managed projects on line, I found a very interesting article, The Top 10 Project Management Challenges. This article features the four phases of a ‘project’ and the general synopsis of what happens as it transits from one phase to the next. The four phases are: Project Definition Phase., Planning Phase., Execution Phase., and Project Leadership. I found that the first phase was okay in this case. It seemed that the objective was clear and that the NRO knew what it wanted built and delivered, yet Boeing, the bid winner could not produceit. The next phase is where I feel the project went array. Failure to plan, poor cost and scheduling estimations were contributing factors in this case. During the Execution Phase., Boeing exhibited both of the following challenges; skills mismatch / lean staff and poor cost and estimation schedule. In the last phase and one of the most critical of all, all of the said challenges presented themselves in this case: Lacking senior management support, communication breakdowns and ignoring warning signals. Boeing demonstrated all of the aforementioned challenges which resulted in many delays and a project that wasn't moving forward. (McCune, 2007)

Conceptually The Spy Satellite case was torn between efficiency and equality. Although there was a bidding process put forth, promoting transparency and fairness, I feel that there was poor judgment displayed on Boeing’s behalf in numerous ways. Ed Nowinski from Boeing, was irresponsible by bidding on a spy project that his company had...
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