Design for Decline: Executive Management and the Eclipse of NASA

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1982

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This study examines the organizational development of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration from the creation of its parent organization in 1915 through the 1960s. It focuses especially on the relationships which the organization's leadership established with external groups and individuals, as well as with its own employees . The dissertation intends to: provide a more adequate explanation of NASA's decline than currently exists; gain some insight into the management of research and development organizations within the federal government; and determine the utility of using different theoretical perspectives for exploring how organizations change. The findings from the case study are related to existing theories of organizations, and different explanations of NASA's decline are evaluated. Among the various reasons identified for NASA's decline, management's maladroit handling of several potentially conflicting organizational goals figures prominently. Steady decline in agency appropriation levels after 1965, coupled with the lack of widely agreed upon criteria to evaluate its technical and management decisions, produced in NASA a striking example of an organization unable to successfully adapt to changes in its external and internal environment.

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