The SPOs relied on a specialized advisory contractor, Aerospace Corp., for much of their detailed technical expertise. In the early 1990s Congress mandated a reduction in funding for the company, which was forced to conduct its first reduction in force. Then Vice President Gore’s “Reinventing Government” initiative forced a 30% reduction in Air Force civilian personnel, and more experience went out the door. If that wasn’t enough, later in the ’90s the Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition directed that no SPO would have more than 50 people, regardless of the complexity of the task.
The impact of this draconian and largely arbitrary pruning activity was telling, but was not felt by just the SPOs. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) had depended on transfers of the most experienced personnel from the SPOs and launch bases to staff its own engineering, acquisition, and even operations efforts. By the late ’90s everyone was puzzling over the mysterious disappearance of the NRO’s once-legendary systems engineering capabilities. Then there was industry, which had always eagerly recruited experienced Air Force personnel, both the younger people and highly experienced retirees. One senior engineer with a major firm recently expressed his disappointment with the resumes he had been reviewing. One applicant might boast a series of impressive-sounding Air Force space launch assignments—all leading back to a liberal arts degree and no program office experience.
And lots more, regardless of administration, the only constant is change, and ever greater screw-ups. And yet more failed launches.
Rocket Science very often isn't just technically challenging, the management issues more often are the ones that lead to disasters. This appears to be true for all complex engineering tasks.