Proficiency in government administration, political science and international relations can make a big difference even in a tech-centric realm like NASA Johnson Space Center.
As the lead for export control and foreign national access in the International Space Station (ISS) Office of External Relations, Jennifer Mason used her training in those disciplines and experience in Information Technology to develop time-saving changes to the Technical Transfer Control Plan (TTCP) administered within the space station program.
The two-year initiative earned the 24-year NASA veteran a bronze-level POWER of One award this summer for organizational impact. Now, Mason plans to join with others across the agency to see how the streamlining she and her colleagues developed and introduced might be applied to other NASA multi-national programs and projects.
"I don’t have a technical background, so I'm surprised almost every day that I’m still here, because at the time I had no idea there were things I could do,” Mason said, recalling her decision to join NASA. “Every five years I’ve done something different. I’ve stayed because it’s been interesting. There’s been a lot of cool stuff for a non-technical person to be involved with.”
She was nominated for the award by Ven Feng and Ralph Grau, the manager and deputy manager of the ISS Office of External Relations, who gave Mason a lot of leeway to carry out the assignment.
For her Power of One mission, Mason organized a multi-disciplinary, cross-center team to identify, formulate and then implement new efficiencies in the TTCP that the station program follows to protect its intellectual and physical properties. TTCP requirements affect 1,700 personnel who work for NASA’s space station partners in Europe, Japan, Russia and Canada, and about two dozen at JSC who manage annual Access Control Plans for each of them.
Each access plan required 75 to 100 days and five to 10 approvals to process annually, and sometimes more than once per year, as Mason stepped in to organize a Kaizen exercise to develop and introduce reforms. The process developed with Mission Operations, Security and Export Services, as well as the ISS program, is automated, requires about two weeks and eliminates much of the duplication found in the old procedure.
The European Space Agency became the first of the ISS partners to adopt the protocol in May, followed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in September.
“We are rolling it out slowly,” Mason said. “It’s a significant change. We have to educate people. We have to make sure the procedures are in place.”
Her NASA career began with the ISS Program, where Mason served as a liaison to the Canadian Space Agency, as well as the export administrator. She then took on the export administrator role for JSC Center Operations.
Next, Mason moved to the Information Resources Directorate, where she managed customer service, business management, outreach and communications. Two years ago, she rejoined the ISS Program in her current post.
“It was a unique position that just fit perfectly with my background, even though my background does not seem to have a whole lot of common threads,” Mason said. “It’s working with the international partners, using export control knowledge and information systems.”
She’s quick to emphasize that much of the groundwork for the changes that sprang from the three-day Process Development Kaizen exercise in July 2012 were started by her processor, Bill Jordan. Some of the procedures had been in place for more than 15 years.
The JSC Export Services Team was also instrumental in the success of the Kaizen session. Bill Joiner, Mason’s export control and foreign access alternate, co-led the Kaizen session. Gloria Cybulkski, an ISS foreign access control veteran, and Cheryl Andrews and Kelle Pido were indispensable in developing the new procedures. Ari Blum and Judy Elam were also critical to the session’s success, because without their approval and participation, substantial process and culture change would not have happened.
“I don’t have all the answers,” Mason said. “I very much rely on the people around me to figure out what we need to do.”
Now starting to wind down, the TTCP task was demanding, leaving Mason little time to pursue outside interests. She’s focused much of what there is on caring for her elderly mother and joining with husband Sean Power in getting their sons, Makai, 11, and Keoni, 9, to soccer practice.
What’s next professionally?
“Our office does education and outreach for the ISS,” Mason said. “That is something I would love to get involved with.”
Jennifer Mason is a 24-year NASA veteran and a bronze-level POWER of One award winner. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz