By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2005-10-01 Print this article Print

NASA has 80,000 employees, and works with more than twice as many scientists and other outsiders. The problem: Those log-ins could be used to access the agency's computer systems after the users have left, retired—or died.


When I follow up with Ing in September, she assures me that NASA took the review panel's recommendations seriously. Some of the results:

  • A review of NISE project management and its conformance with NASA standards for design reviews and configuration control.

  • Completion of an additional enterprise architecture review, which had not been previously scheduled.

  • A decision to make deployment of replicas of the LDAP directory part of the project plan. NASA carved out money for those servers from the NISE budget, rather than ask the space centers to fund them.

  • Revamp of the communication plan, aimed at improving understanding of the NISE project and its impact on each center.

    Following an operational readiness review, the account management system was on track to go live by Oct. 1, Ing says: "But it's tight. There's a possibility it could slip a couple of weeks."

    Looking back on our recommendations, I have the guilty suspicion that we bogged down the project with more review meetings and paperwork. But when I bounce this off Greenwood in a phone call, he reassures me that "oh, no, they needed it." The project governance was "too loosey-goosey," he says, and we nudged them toward tightening it up.

    Should we judge them harshly for not having a better identification system already in place, for having to admit to us that there are dead people with live accounts on NASA's network?

    "I would have judged them more harshly if they denied having dead people," Greenwood says. Instead of denying reality, NASA was taking an honest look at the weaknesses of its systems and methodically working to eliminate them, we agree.

    And that, after all, is the best way to improve anything from an information system to a space program.

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    David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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