1992 December Don Lauer First All Hands

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The first all hands at EROS, led by Dr. Donald Lauer in 1992


Date Taken:

Length: 00:33:31

Location Taken: Sioux Falls, SD, US


Can I get your attention?

I was expecting this room to be full to the brim. It’s about half full.

It means we’re going to – maybe it’ll get full tomorrow, or maybe people don’t want to know who I am.

Not sure.

What I thought I’d do today and tomorrow is have something – I don’t know what to call it.

I’ve heard them called all-hands meetings or town meetings or whatever.

But I thought I’d try to get everybody at the center, if we can – swing shift, night shift.

We can’t get people from Niamey, Africa, and we can’t get people from Alaska.

So therefore, Don’s going to try to get a little of this on tape.

But just get us together.

And really the sole purpose of this is, if you don’t know who I am, now’s your chance.

If everybody’s saying, hey, there’s supposed to be a new center chief.

Who is the guy?

I’m going to try to tell you who I am.

And in that process, tell you a little bit about, oh, kind of my insights of where we’ve been and maybe where we are today and where we think we’re going.

So that’s – it’s going to be very informal and relaxed.

And I guess my hope is we might do this – not – you know, not, like, once a month or every six months, but we’ll do it frequently enough when there’s something to say.

Sometime here soon I hope we have a building addition where we have a large enough auditorium where we could do this all at once rather than having to – I got to go through this three times this afternoon and two more times tomorrow.

Lo and behold, the federal government made a decision, and they [chuckles] – they named the head of an EROS Data Center. 

It takes a little bit of time.

If you read my little note – had sent out, I was supposed to be a short-termer just acting for Al Watkins.

And they had the courage to offer me that job 14, 15 months later.

And I’ll share with you, I accepted.

I accepted with really great pride and honor.

I think I might be – like many of you, if I went back 18 years ago, when I came in to EROS, it would be beyond my comprehension that I’d ever be chief of EROS Data Center.

I came walking in, and I took a job, and I’ve had three or four jobs since I’ve been here.

And I can’t believe that here, all the sudden, I’m sitting up in that desk.

But that’s kind of a neat thing, and I take great pride in that.

And I promised my wife 18 years ago that we would move to South Dakota and only stay two years.

And if you look closely on satellite images for the western half of the United States, what looks like the San Andreas Fault going east and west are her
heel marks as far as pulling her to South Dakota.

Born and raised – I’m going to tell you who I am.

We were born and raised out there, both my wife and I.

We lived out therefor 30 years.

Went to school out there.

Had a couple of kids – two boys – out there.

I worked in a – after finishing school, and worked in a – in a university research program.

The opportunity at EROS came about.

And it was – it was nice.

I had been in research for a while, and definitely was looking for something maybe with a little bit more long-term career opportunity.

So I came. In fact, a couple of my classmates who I went to school with came along at the same time – Bill Draeger and Dave Carnegie.

We were all in the same class.

What class when we were going to college?

Looking at Bill over there. I don’t know what they call it today.

Back then, it was natural resources and forestry.

I thought I’d be sitting on a fire tower someplace watching for fires at this time in my career. But no, I’m director of EROS Data Center.

There was a fellow that certainly influenced me way back then.

He was a college professor. And I always like to tell the story, and it’ll only take two seconds, in this case. I won’t give you the long one.

He was a fellow that got – he was a forestry professor, and he got interested in aerial photography during World War II, and he became a supreme expert in photo interpretation.

And he wrote manuals and books.

He influenced my life tremendously. He was an inspiration.

He’d stand around, and he’d be looking at these photos, and he says, you know, someday we may be flying satellites that could take satellite photos and send them down to the ground. And we’d be able to interpret large masses – and everybody’s saying, oh, yeah, sure.

But he was quite a visionary and an inspirational kind of guy.

And that’s kind of fun when you’re – when you – somebody like that really touched my life.

And he got me, and I think Bill, too, to a certain extent, and Dave Carnegie, because we were lucky enough to have him as a professor, he got us into this field very early in our lives.

And we were doing fun experiments that all were kind of precursors to what we do here at the EROS Data Center. Tremendous experience.

When the opportunity came here, we came, settled in.

We’re true-blue South Dakotans.

Right now, I don’t think I want to go back to California – that zoo out there, in terms of the number of people and all the problems they have.

My two boys went through the school system here.

Went to college. On the West Coast.

One of them – one of them – built models his whole life.

Space ships, rockets. He wanted to be something like an engineer.

Well, he ended up being an aero/astro engineer, and he works for McDonnell Douglas, and he’s a systems design engineer for the space station, which is kind of neat. He kind of followed through.

Now, my other son, he kind of liked to play in the dirt and talk to people and kind of wandered around – really fun.

And he graduates from college in two weeks.

Kind of a miracle.

And his major is in anthropology.

And what he likes to do, which he did all last summer, is wander with his backpack through the highlands of Guatemala and living with the Mayan Indians.

And I find both of these kids absolutely fascinating, and it’s amazing how different they are.

But I doubt if they’ll settle back here in this part of the country.

They’re long gone. My wife a registered nurse, and she works at Sioux Valley Hospital part-time.

She used to work full-time, and she teaches what they call childbirth education. And there are –
and I’m not sure if I recognize anybody here – several folks – couples, families, in this center who have taken her coursework and has helped them bring new people into the world.

And she’s teaching that class tonight down at Sioux Valley Hospital.

So that’s kind of maybe a short nutshell how I ended up getting here and what the family’s all about.

Came here in 1974.

Was asked to help out in the area of training and technical assistance back in our science and applications area and help kind of set up training programs back there and got involved in – coming from a university, that’s kind of what I wanted to do.

And, over the – then eventually was offered the opportunity to be head of the science and applications branch and did that for 14 or 15 years and took one assignment for a couple of months in Reston, Virginia, to sit in for one of the senior managers up there.

So I got some experience as to how that place – that zoo runs.

The – so a little bit of experience in the program.

I’ve been working with – basically with EROS for the last – for the last 18 years.

Now, here’s an observation of just me speaking as to kind of where the center has been – where I felt that I really, not only watched, but participated all the way along.

Kind of got here at a time – not part of the original crew.

Some of you were a part of the original crew – the first half-dozen and then 18 and 30. I came in ’74.

I’m going to guess there were maybe 100 people.

The center had been open about 12 months.

Maybe 100, hundred and a quarter, people.

And I kind of – I kind of watched the center move through five – these are my terms – five phases over the last 18 years.

The first phase was growth.

I mean, it was – all the offices were empty.

The computer floor was empty. The data analysis lab had nothing in it.

First thing we did was decide what color to paint the walls.

I mean, that’s where we were starting. And it was fun.

But growth – pain like you can’t believe of trying to get the center up and running.

And I was participating from where I was trying to run training programs, and it was really kind of fun.

Then we went from a period of rapid growth to what I call the golden years.

The golden years were kind of in the late ’70s. And this is my perception.

And that’s where we – we must have had, maybe, at one point, 400 employees here.

And we were – from a science standpoint, we’re out fishing for projects to work with other agencies, to get them involved in this technology.

And we caught way more fish than we wanted. We had zillions of projects.

They were fun. They were all over the country.

We had a vision to start an office in Alaska, and we did it.

And there was financial support, and we had a lot of independence and autonomy.

And those were the – those were – I call golden years.

Then, in the late ’70s, there were some major changes.

Commercialization of Landsat.

Landsat was kind of our bread and butter. It was our niche in life.

Federal government decided to commercialize it, much to our disgust.

I didn’t think that was correct at the time and still don’t.

At least with the speed with which the government wanted to do it.

So that kind of put an uncertainty into the data center.

There was also a reorganizational change. We lost our independence.

We used to report directly to the director of the USGS.

We moved into one of the major divisions, which put us – put another division between us and the director, and it caused problems on budgeting and everything else. We got into this problem of uncertainty.

And then we had new administration too. We changed from the Carter administration to the Reagan administration.

By the mid-’80s, things had deteriorated to the point where we were in a state of survival.

Wayne Rohde and I probably – you remember, Wayne.

We did an exercise mid-1980s where we did a projection that the data center would have 150 to 200 employees.

We would be scoped down. Our niche in life was gone. Landsat was gone.

We were involved in a mapping program, and we – the technology we had didn’t relate directly to mapping.

And that was a real tough time at the center.

And I take my hat off to the director and associate – and deputy that was here that we found our way through that by diversifying and getting involved with the Department of Defense and NOAA to try to help them in the Landsat program.

And we kind of just hung on through some really tough periods.

Then we moved, here, about three years into a period of what I call kind of a new arrival – a new awakening.

The whole world, the nation, became much more environmentally conscious.

We had some change in administration with the Bush administration coming in, and he called himself the environmental president.

I don’t think – not – that was controversial, but at least there was an awakening.

And there was an awakening for a need for EROS and the kinds of data we had in our archives and the historical perspective of our data archives.

And we really provided some opportunity. And NASA started a Mission to Planet Earth, and we made a partnership with them.

And the Environmental Protection Agency has accelerated their programs, and we’ve made partnerships.

And the Agency for International Development reached out, and we grabbed on and made partnerships with them. And we just – we really started to roll here.

Plus the nation started a climate change research program, and we became a partner in that program.

So we formed some partnerships, and things got really exciting.

No single phase was any easier than the other. They are all really hard.

Whether you’re growing or in your golden years where you’ve got too much work, or whether things get uncertain, and then they kind of slide in a survival, and then you start – it’s just – it’s hard. But it’s pretty exciting.

We always have something new on the horizon that we’re reaching for.

That’s kind of my perspective of – kind of looking back.

I personally feel that this last year or so has been an extraordinary year.

And I’ve just listed – you can’t list everything that I would say were accomplishments.

But here are maybe a half a dozen.

And I think this last year might have been as good as any year we’ve ever had in terms of accomplishment.

In our – in our whole area of data services, from a – from customer services through the photographic laboratory,data management, digital services, we’ve probably done more work in units of production, and definitely in the dollar area, then we’ve done in a long time.

Bill, I think – Bill, I think our – just in our product sales – went up by $400,000 to $500,000.

From just the previous year.

And that’s extraordinary when you consider the country’s in a recession, and supposedly the whole economy is not going too well.

But it’s kind of like there’s a new awakening for the value of those data.

And it certainly put the pressure on us to be able to meet those demands.

That’s certainly one area that was very obvious to me.

Another one would be, in our whole area of modernizing our ADP facilities.

Today, Ron Parsons took us down and took some of us, and we wandered through the computer floor.

And I stuck my head into this thing that’s 7 feet high and 11 feet around called a state-of-the-art robotic mass storage facility – one of two or three or four new high-tech state-of-the-art ADP facilities that we have within the – within the data center.

Wasn’t too long ago we were dealing with 10-year-old VAXes, primes, power nodes – what else.

And over a short period of time, we were able to remove some of – equipment that we’ve been – worked very well for us but would – certainly becoming very out-of-date and inefficient.

So this whole upgrading of our ADP facilities, I think, is a tremendous accomplishment.

And it makes it exciting to work here because we have new facilities to help us carry out our work.

Another point.

We are now a major player in the National Mapping Division’s modernization program.

They reach to us to help in modernizing the mapping activities.

And specifically in the area of DLGE, which is formatting and new ways of, of course, automating the map-making process and totally new computerized tools for creating those digital files.

They looked to us, we took the responsibility, we put an annex together downtown and have 15, 16 people working down there carrying out – and we’re getting tremendous review – positive reviews from the division on that contribution.

Another thing – we talk about the land process as DAAC – distributed active archive activities with NASA – as to when we were going to be a DAAC.

We’re going to be a DAAC.

Strike the terminology. We are a DAAC.

We signed a memorandum of understanding.

We’re about ready to sign another one to further clarify.

We’re right in the middle of a design study for a building addition.

You see the models around.

Denny Hood is going to brief our center management on a mid-year review of the design of the building addition.

And NASA is funding us to the tune of 2 to 3 million dollars to prepare for the future for our role as the primary receiver and processor of data from the satellites – the constellation of satellites that’ll fly on EOS called Mission to Planet Earth.

And we’ve really secured ourselves in that land processes DAAC activity.

Here’s another one. We opened an international office in EROS, which is rather unusual.

That’s a United Nations office called the UNEP/GRID for Global Resource Information Database.

The U.N. doesn’t do that very often, particularly in a developed nation like the U.S.

Where they will actually put resources – where they’ve assigned Ashbindu Singh here, and then NASA and us are supporting that, and which hooks us up globally to GRID facilities in Bangkok and Nairobi and Geneva and other places.

Which, really, it’s an opening to us to data sources, and of course opens our data to, principally, Third World nations through the UN program.

I can keep going here, and I’m going to have to stop.

And I can’t bring ecognition to everything.

But here’s one. The director of the USGS calls research that we do here in one particular area world-class. Sounds pretty good to me.

And it’s the whole area of building databases and taking a whole new approach to land surface characterization.

Certainly using temporal analysis using AVHRR data and then building in the soils and the geography and the – and the topography and everything else and coming up with the procedures to do that and then going through the science and analysis to determine what value that data set has.

That, from a – and the director of the USGS is one of the senior-most senior scientists in the nation, and he considers that work world-class. And we are very proud of that.

Another one – we show quick response.

We’re doing all these wonderful things.

Thank goodness we didn’t have another war or conflict like we did the previous year, but there were hurricanes.

There were volcanic disruptions.

EPA asked for some quick turnaround. And we respond.

When Hurricane Andrew hit, we were shipping data – Bill, I think, with – just within hours.

And to be able to maintain that quick response brings attention to EROS Data Center in terms of its flexibility and capability.

Our budget was higher than it had ever been – $23 million last year.

And our staff did increase slightly – up about 20 positions.

And this was monumental because there’s severe downward pressure on budget and staffing.

And so I look at that as a successful year.

I don’t know if we can ever match that. But we’re going to try.

We have some challenges.

Or would – you could also call them opportunities.

We’ve got to make this DAAC work, even though – the building’s not there, but we have all these responsibilities for advanced information processing systems and doing experiments with 1-kilometer global data sets from AVHRR.

And we’re up to here with work, and we got about this many resources to do it.

So we’ve got a real challenge to make our responsibilities in the area of DAAC – not – I mean, I’m saying everything, but that it means so much to our long-term future.

We also have the opportunity with Landsat to recapture the responsibilities we had 15 years ago.

The commercialization direction has been turned, based on new legislation that now brings management of Landsat back into the government.

And it’ll be a joint program by the Department of Defense and NASA.

And NASA reaches to us for a partner for the ground process.

So that’s a new opportunity, and we’re getting – we’re trying to move as quickly as we can to grasp that opportunity.

Landsat 6 will be launched here – probably a little bit of slip in the launch.

It’s not in January. Probably be February or a little later.

And we have a whole crew of people – as many as 40 people coming in next week.

The General Electronic Company, who is going to build Landsat 7, they’re sending 20 people out here next week.

And then the Air Force – the DoD side of the house that’s responsible for management, and NASA, are each sending 10 each.

And we’re starting one of our first major technical exchanges on Landsat.

In this case, Landsat 7.

So there’s a challenge and an opportunity for us.

Another thing we have to be careful of, we’ve got to continue to improve our expertise and our skill.

So things change. I mean, I don’t – every job I’ve moved to in this center, I don’t do what I used to do.

I do something totally different.

Hopefully I would leave you with a message that – be receptive for doing things different. And don’t be afraid of it.

Step forward for training opportunities and for shift in responsibilities.

That’s the name of the game at EROS Data Center. Always has been.

And that’s a challenge, for all of us, to be able to recognize when we need to improve our skills and get some additional training so we can move into new assignments.

Lastly, from a challenge, we’re – I personally started a study last spring called the Concept of Operations.

I kind of wanted to stand back and look how we run the data center.

We’ve kind of done it the same way all these years, and it’s worked well for us.

But we all felt that there probably was time, because of these new initiatives and new opportunities, to look – to at least examine – might be better ways to actually perform our duties and set up our management processes.

I hope the term “concept of operations” isn’t too foreign to you.

It shouldn’t be because part of the process is to involve people and to get people’s input on how we might be able to run our programs more effectively.

We put a small team together, not making that team the sole source of knowledge.

That team went out and set up sub-teams, and we got briefings back into the branches, offices, and sections.

We’ve been outside the center, toured other facilities to see how they do business in a modern day.

And ended up putting a report together.

Now, we’re trying to figure out, well, might we put into – some changes in exactly how we structure the center?

And what tools do we really need to do business differently to increase our efficiency?

Agendas in the past were set by branches and offices.

Today, we’d rather set our agendas by our programs.

Makes sense. It’s the way you really should do business.

But sometimes it’s easier to do it by branches and offices.

And programs are composed of projects. And if that’s where the work’s being done, let the agenda for work be set there.

It’s kind of the philosophy between – behind concept of operations.

And we do want to make those changes, but we need everyone’s understanding and participation.

I guess that’s really important.

I’ve got a personal assignment on this, and that is – I call it the vision.

And one thing I hate is slogans.

Every time you see a TV ad, it’s a slogan for this company or that organization.

But people have shared with me – there’s a thing called total quality management that’s a kind of a rave in industry and government where you really involve people to the point where people really know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

And they said, the best way to find out is, send a stranger into your center.

First person they see, grab them on the shoulder and say, who are you? What do you do here? And why do you do it?

And if you get 10 different answers, the center’s got a problem.

Need to stop to think for a minute, if a stranger came up and grabbed you and said, who are you, you can probably answer that one.

What do you do?

Well, yeah, I hope you can answer that one too.

And then, why do you do it? That’s the tough one.

Keeps me busy. Paycheck.

That’s what you get sometimes.

If you can get any kind of a consistency in, well, you know, my contribution – what I do right here helps this program be more successful, which really means something to environmental assessment, program management, ozone hole. I don’t know what. Rainforest depletion.

If you’ve got a kind of a – if you can really get a feel for what you do personally and how it connects to the program that the government is behind, it’s a – it’s a healthy thing.

Now, and so it’s not just slogans.

Somehow – I don’t know how I’m going to do this, but somehow I’d like to get everybody kind of involved.

How do you creative a vision statement everybody can kind of buy into and believes in?

Yeah, that’s kind of why I go to work.

And we’ll – over the next couple of months, we’ll try to come up with something that we can – we can agree would be why we come to work every day.

This page is the one I didn’t want to turn to because it says “problems.”

And I’m only going to mention two. Got to have problems.

One, we talked glowingly about our building addition.

60,000 square feet that we’d like to start some construction on here in the springtime.

We don’t – we’ve got a partner in NASA that wants to pay for that.

We’ve got a design study that’s got a well – well vamped out as to what we – how we want to build it.

And we’d like to build an auditorium in there where we could all sit together – maybe 300 of us rather than break into three groups. Large computer area.

Things are just really rolling along. There’s an administrative hang-up, and it’s the Office of Management and Budget has thrown a deal in and says there are some procedural reasons why we can’t let you do that building using the standard lease purchase unless you have all the money upfront.

We can’t have all the money upfront.

We’re going to pay for that building over 20 years like we did this one.

They’re saying you can’t do that.

Well, NASA’s paying for it.

Department of Interior wants it.

We’ve designed it.

And you go up and down that line, everybody says, this is crazy.

We’ve got to find a solution.

So, really, there’s – we think there’s – we think we’ll find our way out of this.

If you asked me today, what’s the solution, don’t have a clue.

But we’re going to find our way out of this one way or another and get that building done.

But right now, we’re stuck.

We’re going to have a design review again tomorrow, and we’re meeting with the Sioux Falls Development Foundation that’s going to help us build it here in a couple weeks.

And this is a problem.

Don’t have a solution for it yet.

The second problem is what I’m going to call declining budget.

It is serious.

Clinton, Gore, coming on board.

They face $4 trillion in debt.

They face $300 billion in deficit on a year-to-year basis.

All the federal agencies arelooking at smaller budgets.

And National Mapping Division inUSGS is looking at a smaller budget.

From $160 million a year at that level, it’s reduced by $9 million from last year to this year.

And we are absorbing – being asked to absorb our fair share of that.

And that – ooh, we had a horrible meeting – staff meeting or something here this morning where we said, how are we going to do this?

We use our innovation. We find ways.

We’ve had budget problems in the past.

Seems like every year we’ve got a budget problem or two.

I think it’s got to be recognized by all of us, the federal government has got a major problem in its deficits.

And it’s being translated into programs like U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, DoD for sure.

And it’s going to be tough.

And these are serious problems, but we will attack them the best way we can.

Kind of wanted to close on a real positive note, and that is, we’re getting in some holidays seasons – season.

I hope everybody enjoys Christmas and family and all that kind of good stuff.

We have one charity that we participate in.

We put a Christmas tree out here, and we call it the Friendship Tree.

It’s been a tradition. I say we – I vote that we continue to do that.

We’ve picked a couple of charities in town where food, toys, dollars are just desperately needed.

Please, if you could and would, participate in the Friendship Tree.

It’s been a tradition of EROS, and I think it’s a neat tradition.

The other is, we have a Christmas party.

I’ve been to 17 out of 18.

My wife really likes to dance, so I’m there until the band leaves.

But I always have a good time, and I hope to see all of you there.

And that’s two – when is that? The week after – Saturday after next.

The 12th, I think. So I hope you come to that.

And I kind of wanted to hold forth for 20, 30 minutes.

We have some vans to catch here in a little bit and break up.

And that’s pretty much all I had to say.

Let you know who I am.

We can sure hang on here for a few more minutes.

And if anyone wants to throw a question my way – probably can’t answer it, but I’d try.

And if you have something, hit me now.

Yes, sir?

- Building construction is kind of on hold, then. Is that what you’re saying?

- We would like to say we’re still – based on our milestone chart, we’re pretty much on schedule.But we’re really pinching downto where, if we can’t turn the Sioux Falls Development Foundation on to secure a construction loan – and that’s going to take them a couple of months to do that, and if we don’t do that real soon, it’ll put us behind schedule.

But right now, we would say – I think we’d generally say we’re still on schedule, that we would want to start construction in the spring.

And Denny would be here, if he could, to tell me exactly what the – you know, it’s, like, about a year under construction before we would be in a position to move in.

Maybe a little more than a year.

We’d want to get the frame up and internal construction could be done duringthe winter months next year.

But right now, we can’t turn the Sioux Falls Development Foundation on to secure the – basically it’s a loan so that we could start construction.

Until we get this administrative problem solved.

Al Watkins, our – who was our directorfor so many years is division chief.

He’s coming out in two weeks,and that’s number one on our list.

How do we strategize to beat down this wall?

Mainly a problemin Washington, D.C.

It’s very difficult for us to solve it from here in Sioux Falls.

Keep you posted.

Anything else? Yeah, Tom?

- With the new administration and maybe perhaps more emphasis on environment and more forward-lookingon technology – high technology,does the data center play a role in that?

- You know, I think, Tom, the general feeling is that there’s a sense of optimism that things should be good.

Particularly the vice president, if everybody watched all the stuff.

What do they call him? The Ozone Man and a few other things.

And he’s written a book. And he went to Rio forthe big conference on – the UN conference there.

And he really believesin environmental protection.

The president does too, I think.

Both of them are new generation, for sure, and they believe in technology.

Now, Tom, how that relates to USGS – well, to Department of Interior, USGS, mapping, and to us, no one can predict.

Transition teams are being formed right now.

We should know within a week or so who the Secretary of Interior will be.

There’s a couple good candidates that are being bantered around, and you read about that in the newspaper.

There’s two or three there that – and that’s speculation, so no use naming names.

The undercurrent is, this administration faces huge financial problems.

So, you know, robust budgets are, I don’t think – no one could predict that.

It’s maybe some shift in emphasis that may be beneficial for us.

And for FY ’93, we’re looking at some deficits that are really tough right now and use our innovation for cooperative activities and new initiatives and get more efficient and try to work our way through.

And then we’ll see what the new administration does.

Okay. Thanks for coming, and still time to catch a van, and thank you.