NASA Aims To Be Government's 'Best IT Organization'

Agency administrator Charles Bolden said innovation will come only through partnering with and following the example of the private sector.

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NASA aims to have "best IT organization in government" and is soliciting ideas from the private sector -- including members of industry and academia -- to help achieve this goal, the agency's administrator said Monday.

Speaking at NASA's first-ever IT Summit Monday, Charles Bolden highlighted the significance of the event, telling attendees that the space agency is serious about working with them and taking their advice as it strives to create more transparency through IT innovation.

"We hope that events like this will help us to become a more integrated and open organization so that we become transparent to the world … so people can look and find out anything they want to know about us that we want them to know very easily -- whether it's from an iPad or a laptop or a desk top, or anything," he said. Bolden's talk was available live online via webcast.

Bolden's remarks come on the heels of those made last week by NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun, who also stressed NASA's interest in being a technology leadership among federal agencies.

Indeed, since the Obama administration mandated the use of IT innovations to foster transparency and public engagement, NASA has been at the forefront of these efforts.

The agency has embraced social networking and new web technologies to keep the public informed of its wide array of activities, and has been lauded for having one of the most comprehensive Open Government Plans among its peers -- a fact Bolden pointed out in his talk.

It hasn't always been this way, however. Bolden recalled flying on IT-intensive flights on the space shuttle in the early 1990s, but dealing with antiquated computer systems that haven't evolved much even today.

"The shuttle, then as now, is very limited IT-wise," he said. "We have five general-purpose computers onboard. They're the same computer that I used to fly in Vietnam in 1972-ish."

That space shuttle program is coming to an end later this year, representing a major transition for the space agency.

While it will continue to "chart the course for the future for the nation in terms of human space flight and exploration," as Bolden pointed out, NASA also is tasked with using its space technology to tackle problems on earth.

Add these efforts to agency's requirements under Obama's Open Government Directive to continue to improve transparency and public engagement, and "it's an understatement" to say that "there are a lot of different things going on in NASA," he said.

As the agency juggles all of them, IT experts from the private will play a key role in shaping NASA's future technology strategy, Bolden said.

"We are counting on all of you to tell you what you think is best about this field, and where we need to go next," he said.

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