…especially if you work for the government.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and NASA Watch are complaining because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wanted to hire a magician to “demonstrate how to stimulate creativity, encourage active participation, and practice needed skills and competencies” at an NOAA leadership conference.

Rep. Hall said, “As the Federal government continues to burden American taxpayers with trillion-dollar deficits and NOAA struggles to meet critical weather forecasting missions to protect lives and property, this type of ridiculous and wasteful spending is simply unacceptable.”

This seems like a silly matter for Rep. Hall and NASA Watch to be complaining about. If NOAA leaders learn how to better engage in creative, outside-the-box thinking, they might come up with ways of saving the taxpayers money. Given the size of the NOAA budget, it wouldn’t take much creative thinking to save far more than the cost of hiring a magician for a few hours. (Indeed, the cost of hiring the magician might be less than what Rep. Hall spent sending out letters and press releases about it.)

In the private sector, creative thinking is encouraged (at least, at successful firms). A good example of outside-the-box thinking is XCOR’s use of a motorcycle as a low-cost test vehicle for rocket-engine components, which saved the company half a million dollars.

Federal employees who engage in creative thinking do so at their peril, however, lest they come to the attention of politicians like Rep. Hall or “watchdog” groups like NASA Watch who are always quick to ridicule. We can only imagine what Rep. Hall would have said if NOAA bought a motorcycle.

No one can fault Rep. Hall’s concern for Federal deficits, which most Americans share. Still, it’s ironic that Rep. Hall, who is championing the development of a new superheavy lift rocket which many engineers and space-policy analysts believe to be unnecessary, is complaining about the expenditure of a few thousand dollars (perhaps a few hundred dollars) on a possibly useful brainstorming technique. The expected price tag for the Space Launch System (tens of billions of dollars) would seem to deserve greater attention.

Of course, this sort of limited thinking isn’t unique to the Federal government. It’s common to many large organizations. That’s one reason why we believe citizen science is so important.

Written by Astro1 on May 5th, 2012 , Citizen Science (General), Commercial Space (General), Innovation

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