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Challenger Disaster

June 20, 1986

The root of the Challenger disaster, as your editorial of June 10 makes clear, was that "it was easy for managers to brush aside the concerns of engineers . . ." This point was reinforced by Caltech physicist Richard Feynman's observation that managers were much more likely than engineers to underestimate the risks.

In order to minimize the chances of future catastrophes, we need to be less complacent about the laws of Parkinson and Murphy. Parkinson's Law, which in 1955 was based on the first analysis of the inexorable growth of bureaucracies, operates to insure that the hierarchy of almost any large organization will be increasingly made up of "managers" and "administrators" bossing the real experts who do the substantive work. Thus chances increase that anything that can go wrong will do so--Murphy's Law.

It's not likely to happen, but our federal bureaucracy ought to revert to the pre-Parkinsonian notion that administrators essentially are housekeepers and need not rise above the assistant secretary level. (Private bureaucracies, too, could profit from the example.)

MARSHALL PHILLIPS

Long Beach

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