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NASA Workers Afraid To Speak Up

Many NASA workers feel unappreciated by the agency and are still afraid to speak up about safety concerns, more than a year after the shuttle Columbia was doomed by those very problems, according to a survey released Monday.

The 145-page report includes an assessment of NASA's culture by a behavioral science company in California, and a three-year plan for change.

"Safety is something to which NASA personnel are strongly committed in concept, but NASA has not yet created a culture that is fully supportive of safety," the report says. "Open communication is not yet the norm, and people do not feel fully comfortable raising safety concerns to management."

The report notes that excellence is treasured when it comes to technical work, but is not considered imperative for management skills.

"There appear to be pockets where the management chain (possibly unintentionally) sent signals that the raising of issues is not welcome," the report says. "This is inconsistent with an organization that truly values integrity."

Last summer, Columbia accident investigators condemned NASA's safety culture and put as much blame on poor management as the flyaway piece of foam insulation that tore a hole in the shuttle's left wing at liftoff. The shuttle was destroyed during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

In February, NASA hired Behavioral Science Technology Inc. of Ojai, Calif., to develop and administer a plan for changing NASA's culture. The company conducted a survey at all NASA locations, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Only NASA employees, not contract workers, took part.

The two lowest-scoring categories were "Perceived Organizational Support" and "Upward Communication."

On more than one occasion, workers hung back at the end of a group interview session and only then expressed their views, privately, about communication barriers, BST said.

By Marcia Dunn

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