Nancy Roman on politics in a government science organization.

Oral history audio excerpt

Nancy Roman on politics in a government science organization.

Download files:

Roman:

Another thing that stuck in my mind, and I guess I can't say it's had any particular relevance to my job, but it's meant something to me as a citizen, is the recognition of the importance of politics. I guess that's helped my job too. But the recognition of the importance of politics and the role of politics in the American government, and the realization that politics should not be a pejorative term.

The fact is that the system isn't going to work without it. And the thing that really sticks in my mind is the recognition that the probably most critical attribute of the President is that he must be a good politician. I look over the Presidents that I've been aware of, and I can see how true that is. The ones that were good politicians have been successful Presidents, and the ones that weren't have not. Take Lyndon Johnson, for example, who was the supreme politician, or Harry Truman, who nobody thought could possibly do the job. But he was a sufficiently skilled politician to come through and do remarkably well. I think you can take Eisenhower as an example on the other side. I don't know if those are the sorts of answers that you had in mind?

DeVorkin:

Yes. I would certainly like to take the idea of the politician and trickle that down to what was going on in NASA.

Roman:

Well, I think there the answer is the realization of the importance of the politics in the scientific community and the government community, and the fact that it's something we have to deal with. We do have to deal with it, even though we would like to make all of our decisions in a vacuum strictly on scientific and technical grounds. But unfortunately that's an impossibility because we don't live in that kind of world. We can't even get money in that kind of world. I think it helped to understand some of the things which are done for political reasons, even though they — I won't say are against science — would not be done for scientific reasons alone.