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JPL's Beginnings

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory traces its history from the 1930s, when Caltech professor Theodore von Karman conducted pioneering work in rocket propulsion. Von Karman, head of Caltech's Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, gathered with several graduate students to test a primitive rocket engine in a dry riverbed wilderness area known as the Arroyo Seco, located north of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Their first rocket firing took place there on October 31, 1936.

After the Caltech group's successful rocket experiments, von Karman persuaded the Army to fund development of strap-on rockets (called JATO, for "jet-assisted take-off") to help overloaded Army airplanes take off from short runways. The Army helped Caltech acquire land in the Arroyo Seco for test pits and temporary workshops. (The Laboratory now covers some 177 acres adjacent to the site of von Karman's early rocket experiments.) Airplane tests at nearby air bases proved the concept and tested the designs. By this time, World War II had begun and the rockets were in demand.

As the group wound up the JATO work, the Army Air Corps asked von Karman for a technical analysis of the German V-2 program, just discovered by Allied intelligence. He and his research team then proposed a U.S. research project to understand, duplicate and reach beyond the guided missiles beginning to bombard England. In the proposal, the Caltech team referred to their organization for the first time as "the Jet Propulsion Laboratory."

Funded by Army Ordnance, JPL's early efforts would eventually involve technologies beyond those of aerodynamics and propellant chemistry, technologies that would evolve into tools for space flight, secure communications, spacecraft navigation and control and planetary exploration. The team of about 100 rocket engineers began to expand, testing small unguided missiles (named Private) that reached a range of 11 miles. By 1945, with a staff approaching 300, the group had begun to launch test vehicles from White Sands, New Mexico, to an altitude of 37 miles, monitoring performance by radio. Control of the guided missile was the next step, requiring two-way radio as well as radar and a primitive computer (using radio tubes) at the ground station. The result was JPL's answer to the German V-2 missile, named Corporal, first launched in May 1947.

Subsequent Army work further sharpened the technologies of communications and control, of design and test, and performance analysis. This made it possible for JPL to develop the flight and ground systems and finally, on January 31,1958, to fly the first successful U.S. space mission, Explorer 1.

On December 3, 1958, two months after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created by Congress, JPL was transferred from Army jurisdiction to that of this new civilian space agency. It brought to the new agency experience in building and flying spacecraft, an extensive background in solid and liquid rocket propulsion systems, guidance, control, systems integration, broad testing capability and expertise in telecommunications using low-power spacecraft transmitters and very sensitive Earth-based antennas and receivers.

JPL's Mission & Accomplishments

In the four decades since then, JPL has led the world in exploring the solar system's known planets, except Pluto, with robotic spacecraft. Jet propulsion is no longer the focus of JPL's work, but the world-renowned name remains the same. The tools developed at JPL for its spacecraft expeditions to other planets have proved invaluable in providing new insights and discoveries in studies of Earth, its atmosphere, climate, oceans, geology and the biosphere. Approaching the new millennium, JPL continues as a world leader in science and technology, breaking new ground in the miniaturization and efficiency of spacecraft components. At the same time, the Laboratory is pushing the sensitivity of space sensors and broadening their applications for a myriad of scientific, medical, industrial and commercial uses on Earth.

From an institutional perspective, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has a dual character that reflects its status as a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC). FFRDCs exist to perform specifically defined research and development activities over long periods of time for the federal agencies that sponsor them. JPL's primary sponsor is still NASA and, therefore, JPL is in a sense a NASA center. But, like most FFRDCs, JPL is staffed and managed by a private contractor. Thus, most of the 5,000 people who work at the Laboratory are either employees of the California Institute of Technology or contractors.

The Laboratory's mission is to expand the frontiers of space by conducting challenging robotic space missions for NASA that: (1) Explore our solar system (2) Expand our knowledge of the universe (3) Further our understanding of Earth from the perspective of space and (4) Pave the way for human exploration.

In addition, the Laboratory is frequently asked to apply its special capabilities to other technical and scientific problems of national significance.

About 90% of JPL's funding comes from NASA, and most projects center on space exploration of the solar system. The Laboratory also does important work for several defense and civilian agencies of the Federal Government. This work is of national importance and is compatible with JPL's mission.

Ethics Office Beginnings

The decision to establish the JPL Ethics Office was based on a recommendation of the JPL Business Ethics Study Group, which was formed by JPL's Manager of Business Operations on November 1, 1989. The Study Group found that Laboratory employees were not generally aware of JPL's ethics policies and did not know where to report ethics violations. It also noted the growing concern in the Federal Government regarding the ethical practices of contractors and recent changes in JPL's prime contract with NASA that emphasized ethics issues. Thus, the JPL Ethics Office was established on a voluntary basis in May 1991. The charter of the office states that it will help the Laboratory fulfill its mission by providing our employees, customers, vendors, and the public a resource to which they can direct questions or concerns.

The Manager of the Ethics Office reports to the Deputy Director of the Laboratory and has direct access to the Caltech General Counsel's Office, the JPL Chief Scientist, and Senior Line and Program Management. The first Manager of the Office was Gerard Tembrock who held that position from May 1991 until he retired in 1995.

Roy Harris took the Ethics Office leadership reins in 1995. He was selected to head the JPL Ethics Office after a nationwide search. Roy focused on reducing the time it takes to perform ethics investigations, expanding ethics training opportunities for all JPL employees, and fostering an approach to ethics that emphasizes the values of the JPL community.

Ethics Office Staff

The current Ethics Office Manager is Lani De Benedictis who assumed responsibility for the office in September of 2003 following Roy Harris's retirement. From 1989 to 1994, Lani worked in Contracts and Pricing, Law Department, and the Office of Ethics & Business Practices in various corporate governance and compliance-related assignments.

In 1994, Lani managed the Rockwell International Ombudsman program and subsequently managed the Boeing Ethics Line. In those positions, she designed global ethics and compliance-training programs, advised executive management and was instrumental in the integration of the Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and Boeing North American ethics and business conduct programs.

Prior to joining JPL, from 1997 to 2003 Lani directed the Ethics and Business Conduct program for Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems business segments of Expendable Launch Systems, Homeland Security and Services, and Space and Intelligence Systems headquartered in Seal Beach and Huntington Beach, California.

Lani has an M.B.A. with an emphasis in international economics from Pepperdine University. Lani is also a member of the Ethics Officer Association and National Contracts Management Association.

Other professionals on the staff include Doug Sanders and Karen Bermeo, who have been Ethics Advisors since 1991 and 2005, respectively.

Doug has been with JPL since 1979 and was a member of the Study Group that recommended creating the Ethics Office. Before joining the Office he spent several years in the Contracts Management Office where he helped negotiate the Caltech/JPL prime contract with NASA and developed JPL implementation strategies on numerous Federal laws and regulations affecting the Laboratory. Before that, he spent five years in the JPL Procurement Division, three as Manager of the Subcontract Review Office. As a staff person in the Business Operations Directorate in the mid-1980s, he oversaw the rewriting and consolidation of several Laboratory administrative manuals. Before joining JPL, Doug was editor of the Government Contracts Service, a news/information service for aerospace and defense executives. He was also the writer and editor of Defense Contracting Briefs and Government Contract Management Briefs. Doug has been a government contracts consultant to several large accounting and law firms. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the Claremont Graduate School, a masters degree in public administration from the University of California, a masters in contracts management from the American Graduate University, and BA from BYU. Doug has authored several articles on public policy issues and has been a guest lecturer on business ethics and science and technology policy at the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Naval Postgraduate School, and Caltech.

Karen comes to us from JPL Employee Relations where she partnered with the Ethics Office in resolving employee issues and investigations. She has over 20 years of Human Resources experience and has held various postions, including Director of Human Resources for a local entertainment company. In addition to the entertainment industry, Karen has worked for environmental engineering, financial and not-for-profit organizations. Karen has a B.S. in Business from Woodbury University.

Ethics Offices Philosophy

From the beginning we have based our program on the values our employees bring to the job. Our guidance to new employees is to know and understand Laboratory policies, and the reason for them, then use the value set they use in their personal lives to make decisions on the job. Our policies are designed to respect our employees and the values they bring to work.

We believe our philosophy is the right one. The number of calls to the Ethics Office increases each year with an average of 86% of the calls coming from people asking for advice or wanting to discuss a situation with us. The remaining 14% involve concerns about something that has seriously offended their values or sense of right and wrong.

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