case study memo

These assignments are designed to provide you an opportunity to think about how you would handle specific public administration issues. There is no right or wrong answer for the assignments, per se. Your memo should have the following sections:

 Central Issue  Major Factors in Development of Policy/Management Problem  Alternatives for Resolving the Problem  Author’s Recommended Solution and Rationale  Lessons for Public Administration

Grades will be determined on: ï‚·

Ability to present the relevance of the case, main facts, key issues, theoretical relationships, and practical lessons; ï‚· Ability to adequately address the five sections; ï‚· Ability to support your arguments; and ï‚· Ability to write in a professional fashion.

Case Study #1: HBS 304090 (Columbia’s Final Mission)

You may find these two reading helpful while writing your answers:

McCurdy, H. E. (1992). NASA’s organizational culture. Public Administration Review, 52(2), 189192.

Donahue, A. K., & O’Leary, R. (2012). Do shocks change organizations? The case of NASA. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 22(3), 395-425.

Recommended questions to address or to consider: 1. Assess the performance of Rodney Rocha and Linda Ham. Did each do all what he or she should have done? Why was it so hard to hold anyone accountable? 2. How organizational issues kept important technical concerns from being heard? How organizations should deal with “ambiguous threats” -weak signals of potential crisis? 3. What role did NASA’s culture play in the Columbia disaster? 4. Put yourself in the shoes of the managers in the case, consider the following questions: What prior assumptions and beliefs shaped the way that you thought and behaved during the Columbia mission? What pressures affected your behavior? Where did these pressures originate? In what ways did the culture impact your actions? If you were in that person’s shoes during the Columbia mission, would you have behaved differently? Why or why not?



To: Dr. Joshua Stockley, POLS 5001

From: <Name Omitted>

Date: September 6, 2015

Re: Case Study # 1: HBS 304090, Columbia’s Final Mission

Central Issue: Why wasn’t the tragedy of the Columbia prevented? This was the 3rd “galvanizing event” as noted by Donahue and O’Leary (2012) for NASA. A host of organizational failings, coupled with extreme external pressures, led to ineffective administration which costs the lives of seven astronauts and millions of dollars (a dwindling budget unsatisfactory to support proper protocol/design).

Some background: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created in 1958 in response to compete with the Russian launching of Sputnik. In the 1970s, the focus of NASA shifted to the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) and the International Space Station Program (ISSP); the function of the former being to create a fleet of shuttles to transport materials and crew to the International Space Station. To this end, NASA maintained over 15 research, testing, and development centers across the US with multiple private sector contractors, e.g., Boeing, Lockheed Martin, etc. These two contractors formed the United Space Alliance whose job it was to meet the contractual obligations of the Space Flight Operations Contract of 1996, while providing oversight with shuttle contractors. Two prior galvanizing events suggest NASA did not learn from prior failures—an Apollo capsule incinerated on the launchpad killing three astronauts in 1967 and the Challenger disaster in 1986, killing seven astronauts; numerous other near misses had occurred intermittently (Bohmer, Edmondson, & Roberto, 2010).

The Columbia tragedy: In 2003, after a flight spanning 16 days…

Major Factors in the Development of Policy/Management Problem: Where to start with this one? The problem stemmed from…

Alternatives for Resolving the Problem: Some alternatives to the scenario…

Recommended Solution and Rationale: In terms of recommendations, NASA needs to…

Lessons for Public Administration: Accountability is tantamount for a healthy, well-coordinated organized administration….


Bohmer, R. M., Edmondson, A.C., & Roberto, M.A. (2010). Columbia’s final mission. Harvard Business School Publishing: Boston, MA.

Donahue, A.K., & O’Keefe, S. (2007). Universal lessons from unique events: Perspectives from Columbia and Katrina, Public Administration Review, 67, 77-81.

Donahue, A.K., & O’Leary, R. (2012). Do shocks change organizations? The case of NASA. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 22 (3). 395-425.

Kettl, D. F. (2015). Politics of the administrative process (6th Ed.). CQ Press: Thousand Oaks, CA.

McCurdy, H. E. (1992). NASA’s organizational culture. Public Administration Review, 52(2), 189-192.

NASA (2006). Space shuttle Columbia and her crew. Retrieved on September 2, 2015 from

Shafritz, J.M., & Hyde, A.C. (2012). Classics of public administration (6th Ed.). Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, Boston, MA.

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