This paper will discuss the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in terms of Anthony Downs’ “The Life Cycle of Bureaus” and Max Weber’s characteristics of bureaucracy. According to Downs, government agencies go through eight stages of development: birth, dominance by advocates, struggle for autonomy, struggle for support, rapid growth, deceleration, the crisis of continuity, and death. NASA generally follows the developmental life cycle described by Downs since it has gone through expansion and decline and became more bureaucratic in the process.
NASA is an independent federal government agency founded in 1958. In the beginning, NASA was led by “a nucleus of skilled technicians” who can be considered advocates according to Downs’ life cycle (Levine 9). Further, in 1961, the government made a decision that NASA should organize a human spaceflight, during which a man should land on the Moon. As a result of this decision, NASA gained much government support and funding, which contributed to its rapid growth. In 1966, NASA was allocated 4.5% of the federal budget, but after 1969, the year in which NASA’s astronauts landed on the Moon, the agency’s funding was significantly reduced (Heracleous et al.). By 1968-1969, NASA had also become more bureaucratic since decisions had to be approved by headquarters, which extended the accomplishment of various procedures, such as contract processing (Levine 98). At this period, NASA came into the stage of deceleration, according to Downs’ life cycle. Although NASA continues to exist, which means that it has not reached the death stage, its developmental life cycle follows Downs’ pattern of birth, rapid growth, and decline.
Weber’s six characteristics of bureaucracy include hierarchical management structure, division of labor, formal selection process, career orientation, formal rules, and impersonality (“Bureaucratic Management”). NASA has a hierarchical management structure, with agency management residing at headquarters and strategic enterprise management overseeing NASA Centers. NASA is divided into several divisions, such as aircraft management and environmental management divisions, employees in which specialize in tasks related to the assigned field. The agency hires employees based on their experience and expertise and prohibits nepotism and favoritism (NASA 1). Finally, NASA has many rules and regulations in printed and electronic format to ensure that its employees know what conduct is expected of them. Thus, NASA has all characteristics of bureaucracy described by Weber, which allows for considering it a bureaucracy.
“Bureaucratic Management.” Lumen Learning, Web.
Heracleous, Loizos, et al. “The Reinvention of NASA.” Harvard Business Review, 2018, Web.
Levine, Arnold S. Managing NASA in the Apollo Era. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1982.
NASA. “Chapter 9. Nepotism, Personal Favoritism, and Recusal.” NASA Procedural Requirements, Web.