NASA's Space Commerce Problem
NASA wants you to think that everything they do in low Earth orbit these days has some sort of business potential.
Alas, while that may be true, NASA is the least likely place to go if you want to find out what they are actually doing. In fact, most of the people dealing with commerce at NASA have no idea what commerce is.
Last week I saw an interesting tweet from @NASA_OSBP - NASA's Office of Small Business Programs saying "#DYK Over 800 #small businesses are contributing to the dev. of the #SpaceLaunchSystem? #NASA #DreamSmallBiz #NSBW" I replied via @NASAWatch "Interesting @NASA_OSBP can you post that list of companies online? #SpaceLaunchSystem? #NASA ". A few hours later @NASA_OSBP replied @NASAWatch List is pg 61-71 of new the pub. "SLS: A Case for Small Business" just posted at http://www.osbp.nasa.gov/publications.html". That link led me to the 74 page report "NASA Space Launch System: A Case For Small Business".
The report, published in 2016, is focused on things as they were in FY 2015. While the overall scope of the SLS program as it related to small businesses is discussed, only a few of those small businesses are profiled in any detailed fashion. There is a nice long list of the 800 or so small businesses associated with the SLS program at the end of the document. However, this is only a list in alphabetical order of the companies, their type, and who they subcontract with. Nothing is included about where the companies are located or what they do. Nor is there any sort of econometric information as to the value of each contract or the impact of these contracts on the local communities.
There is another report listed at the page link tweeted by @NASA_OSBP that looks to have been published in 2015 "
">NASA Deep Space Human Exploration Spacecraft Orion: A Case for Small Business". This report is structured in a nearly identical fashion to the SLS report complete with an alphabetical listing of all of the small businesses. But other than that there's little to explain how or why this is important to the business health of the national economy or to local communities. NASA just wants you to see that they are giving money to lots of small companies that you've never heard of.
There does not seem to be an intent to issue these two reports on an annual basis so as to allow people to understand how the program has adjusted to budgets, overall progress, and the addition or deletion of specific small businesses, or the current estimate of overall economic benefit to the communities where these small companies are located. Instead, NASA spends 6 months editing up and dumbing down last year's data, adding in some boilerplate PR, and then posts the document online. That's it.
So where can you find out what the current NASA small business data is? According to a link at the end of the report you can go to https://vendors.nvdb.nasa.gov and create an account for the NASA Office of Small Business Programs NASA Vendor Data Base (NVDB). Alas, once you register, you see that all it does is let you list information about your company and sign up for updates. You cannot search any databases about other companies. NASA does not seem to be talking specifics. But you know that they track this stuff - just like the large contractors do. They just are not inclined to share that information since too much detail invites scrutiny that the agency is simply unable to handle.