Norman Augustine

Norm Augustine

Norm Augustine is the recipient of Sigma Xi’s inaugural Gold Key Award. He is the retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation and served as assistant secretary of the Army (R & D) from 1973–75 and undersecretary from 1975–77.  He was a professor at Princeton, his alma mater, from 1997–99. 

Augustine has been presented the National Medal of Technology by the president of the United States and received the Joint Chiefs of Staff Distinguished Public Service Award. He has five times received the Department of Defense’s Distinguished Service Medal. He is co-author of The Defense Revolution  and Shakespeare In Charge  and author of Augustine’s Laws  and Augustine’s Travels

He served on the boards of Black & Decker, Procter & Gamble, and ConocoPhillips. Augustine was chairman of the American Red Cross for nine years, chairman of the National Academy of Engineering, president and chairman of the Association of the United States Army, chairman of the Aerospace Industries Association, president of the Boy Scouts of America, and chairman of the Defense Science Board. He is a Trustee Emeritus of Johns Hopkins, a former member of the Board of Trustees of Princeton and MIT, and is a Regent of the University System of Maryland. 

He has been elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Science, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Explorers Club, Tau Beta Pi, Phi Beta Kappa, and Sigma Xi. He holds 34 honorary degrees.

Interview with Norman Augustine

Interview Transcript

Heather Thorstensen:
Hello and welcome to this interview from Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society. My name is Heather Thorstensen, and I'm the Manager of Communications for Sigma Xi. My guest today is Norman Augustine, the retired Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, and the recipient of Sigma Xi's first Gold Key Award. The Gold Key Award is presented to Sigma Xi member who has made extraordinary contributions to his or her profession, fostered critical innovations, cultivated integrity in research, and promoted the public understanding of science. Congratulations on being named the first Sigma Xi Gold Key Award recipient, Mr. Augustine.

Norman Augustine:
Thank you very much, and I am indeed honored and have been a member of Sigma Xi for many, many years.

You received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in part for your visionary leadership in the aerospace industry. What are you most proud of in terms of your contributions to the aerospace industry?

I think there's probably no one thing that really stands out, but a number of things come to mind. One is that particularly early in my career, I was able to have a hands-on involvement in research and also in development of a number of aerospace products. I played a tiny, tiny role, and that's not modesty, it's just fact. I played a tiny, tiny role in helping put 12 of my friends on the moon and getting them back. Also, clearly within the aerospace industry, I was very much involved in the restructuring of the industry to bring it into a forum in which it exists today. I'm clearly very proud of Lockheed Martin, where I worked for 20 years of my career. A company that I helped build.

What do you hope to see in the future of the aerospace industry?

The industry, of course, has a very proud past. It's going into a time of substantial change. My hope would be that the industry could continue to be a leader in innovative thinking and pushing the envelope of technology and science. That the industry could continue to provide important benefits to humankind, and that it could continue to inspire young people to take an interest in science and engineering. As I think back, I spent a good deal of my time since I retired on K through 12 education, particularly in science and engineering or technology, if you will. I discovered, particularly with younger children, the thing about science and technology that inspires them most are space and dinosaurs. We're short on dinosaurs, so it's important I think that aerospace continues to play a key role.

If you look at people of my generation, many of them, not one, but that went into science and technology for this reason, but many of those of my generation went into science and technology, not necessarily in aerospace, but because of the space program. We need examples. Today, they're out there. The work on the human genome has inspired many, many people, young people. So many other breakthroughs in science. It's a great time in science and engineering and aerospace. Although it doesn't involve itself in all of the fields, it certainly has a role in many fields and has become an integrator of a lot of disciplines.

What are some examples of the K through 12 education for science and engineering that you've been doing in your retirement?

There are a number of things that I became involved in, and I perhaps should say why. When I retired, I tried to decide how I might spend whatever runway I have left, and it occurred to me that two problems stood out in my mind as very fundamental to many of the problems that our country and the world face. Those challenges, if you will, were to strengthen the K through 12 system in this country, which is not very strong in public education. Others are getting better while we're staying the same, roughly. That was an important challenge I thought I would like to take on.

The other was most of the creation of jobs in this country and the basis for solving most of our problems is derived from basic research. I decided that research should be my second principle of focus. Since I retired, those have been my major areas of emphasis, although there have been others. In terms of K through 12, one of my endeavors has been to try to see if we can't make changes to the K through 12 education system to better prepare young people for careers in science and engineering, to try to explain to young people what scientists and engineers do, and the importance of what they do, the impact it can have, the good it can do for society. That's been a major goal.

Then there have been other specific things, for example, I'm vice chairman of the National Math and Science Initiative, NMSI, that has really had some amazing impacts on education across the country. One of the things we have done is encourage young people to participate in AP, advanced placement, programs in high school. There's good evidence we now have that if you succeed in an AP course, you're more likely to go to college, more likely to stay in technology in college, or whatever field, and more likely to graduate from college. We have been able to show that, with our NMSI approach, that the first year, invariably, we can increase the number of students graduating in AP by about 68 percent in the schools where we go in. That's just in one year. Those are some examples of the sorts of things I've been doing. There are many examples. Locally, I helped establish the Maryland Business Round Table for Education, K through 12 education, where we have the major business leaders in Maryland trying to support our public schools in the state.

Strengthening the K through 12 education and increasing the research budget for basic research has been something that you've been supporting for a while, and it was part of the recommendations of the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report that you helped to put together that you led from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Where do you think America stands now in its ability to compete for jobs on a global scale?

I think we stand in a very precarious position. We're basically living off of past investments, and so I think the key question is if we maintain the path we've been following in recent years, where will we stand 10, 20 years from now? Where will our children get jobs? Where will our grandchildren get jobs? Other countries, I mentioned briefly, are improving very rapidly in this regard. They're increasing their investment in research. Their educational systems are improving rapidly, K through 12.

We've had the big advantage over the years of having the finest university system in the world. For example, the Times of London and also there's a group in China that ranks universities, and typically the two of them will have all five of the top universities in the world in the United States and about 18 of the top 25. Many of those are public flagship universities, are state universities. Today, those universities are in a very hazardous position because our states, by and large, not totally, but nearly totally, decided to disinvest in public higher education. Our universities are endangered by that.

When it comes to basic research, the federal budget in research in most countries is going up rapidly. It's declining here at this point. When you look at public support for research, federal support, the United States ranks 79th out of 94 nations in terms of the fraction of research that's paid for by the federal government that's conducted within that country. US industry has all but abandoned basic research. There are a few exceptions, but great institutions like Bell Labs, home of the transistor and home of the laser and home of eight Nobel laureates is only a shadow today. The Xerox Park and you could go down the list.

Industry has said, "We're going to be in the development business, not in research." That means that the seed corn for future jobs, where solving future problems like the energy problem, the environment problem, national security, homeland security, creating jobs, and so on, are not going to ... That seed corn won't be available. I hate to be pessimistic, but since we did the Gathering Storm study that you referred to, the situation in this country on a relative basis to other countries has deteriorated. We're in a much weaker position than we were ten years ago, which was then much weaker than we were 20 years ago on a relative basis.

In addition to strengthening the K through 12 education and increasing the federal basic research budget, is there anything else that you think that the country could be doing to be more competitive for jobs in the global economy?

The list is very long of opportunities we have. They go all the way from immigration policy, H1B visas, which are visas that prevent individuals from other countries to come to this country often to study, and then to work in the US. We have a very limited number of those visas. Other countries have much larger allocations on a relative basis. I mentioned the educational system, our tax policy, the R & D tax credit, for I guess it's been 20 years that I've been trying to help get it made permanent. Only in this past year did that happen. Just public policy in general has not been as mindful, in my opinion, of the importance of research and technology as it should be, given the potential role of research and technology in solving the kinds of problems I listed a moment ago.

You were also on a committee for a study on American security in the 21st century, and that recommended developing a Department of Homeland Security, which was developed after the September 11th attacks, and you have been the Under Secretary of the US Army. Where do you think American security stands today?

The world today is a very different kind of place in terms of national security than it was prior to about 1990. The US had downgraded its capability of national security. We have the eighth largest army in the world today if you include all elements of the military, reserve forces and so on. The US is still very strong. We have the best equipment in the world, but the threat has changed a lot too. The idea that we would be worrying about homeland security 25 years ago was basically unimaginable by many people.

The study you referred to was one that was requested by the Congress on a bipartisan basis, both the House and the Senate. It was referred to as the Hart-Rudman Study, named after Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman. There were about 20 of us that served on that study. It went on for about two years. The study was done prior to 9/11, as you pointed out. It was a study on national security. Interestingly enough, when we put out a list of things that needed to be done, top priorities went to fixing the K through 12 education system and investing more in R and D. Then we went on from there.

One of the recommendations however, was as you said, that we needed to create a Department of Homeland Security because our fear was that our Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and our Coast Guard, are strong enough, particularly at that time, which the Soviet Union had just collapsed, that no other nation would be likely to take on the United States in conventional warfare or nuclear warfare. We were just too predominant. It was our belief that other nations would look for other ways to engage us militarily or to attack us. We felt that the way that they would do that would be through terrorism and through attacks of a highly visible nature and where they could within the borders of the United States. In fact, we said fairly specifically that the thing that we needed to be worrying about in this country was terrorist attacks.

At that time, I believe there were 15 different organizations in different departments and agencies in the US federal government that dealt with homeland security. We said all 15 should be put in one place within one department. Unfortunately, our report went in just at the time a highly contentious presidential election was taking place, and our recommendations were widely ignored. Not too long after our report went in, 9/11 occurred. All of a sudden, our report was a best seller, and indeed, the Department of Homeland Security was created.

I think the Department is a very important element of the federal government. I think that it plays a key role that 15 separate agencies couldn't fill. I am also candidly disappointed with how long it's taken to bring it together as truly a Unitarian department. We've had some great secretaries, but today I believe there are 110 congressional committees and subcommittees that oversee the Department of Homeland Security, if you could imagine that. Its ability to build a cohesive, focused organization I think has been limited way beyond what we imagined. On the other hand, we're a lot better off with it than without it. My overall assessment is that it's the right thing, but has a lot yet to accomplish.

What do you think will help keep America secure going forward as we get more into the global economy and more into technology that connects all of us?

There's the short-term things that could be done and then the long-term solution. The short-term, near-term, matter of a few years, there are many technological things that could be done that will help secure the nation. I worry very much about a nuclear weapon getting in the hands of a terrorist, not a US weapon, but a weapon obtained elsewhere. The ability to detect them, locate them, neutralize them, just one example, the biggest example perhaps, but biological weapons is another example where science and technology play a very key role in defense.

I should also mention cyber security in that regard, because there are some opportunities for a great deal of mischief in that area on a scale way beyond anything that we've seen to date. In terms of the long-term, the answer I believe is to reduce the disparity between the very well-off in the world and those who are very poorly-off. I just returned from visiting, I think it was 14 countries on the west coast of Africa, where the average person lives on about a dollar a day, a little over a dollar a day.

You compare that with the United States where the average person, the bottom decile of income, is better than 70 percent of the non-Americans on the planet, where our GDP per capita is six times what it is in all the rest of the world. We are living very well. There are a lot of people who are not living well. The people who are not living well will, I think, become increasingly resentful, and I don't suggest that we live less well, but I think it's important that others of the world have a chance to elevate their status. Again, I think the key to that anywhere has to be education and new knowledge. Education and research if you will. Until we solve that problem, we're going to suffer with the consequences of such great disparities. Those disparities certainly exist within our country, not to the extent of many countries, but they're here.

That philosophy of being able to elevate yourself through education is something you experienced yourself. You were the first one in your family to go to college. What was that like?

It was kind of a shock for me and I think a shock for the university where I went. As you said, nobody in my family had gone to college. My mother had gone to high school, and these were very brilliant people who never had the means to attend college. They had to earn a living when they got out of eighth grade, or fourth grade in the case of my grandfathers. They just didn't have the opportunity. I grew up in Denver, Colorado. I went to a very large high school. It was larger than the college I went to.

A teacher called me in one day and asked me what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to be a forest ranger. The teacher said, no, that's not what I was going to do and handed me two envelopes. One was an application to Williams, and one was an application to Princeton. He told me to go fill those out. I said that even if I could get into a place like that, we couldn't afford to go. He said, "If you can get in, they'll pay your way through." The next thing I knew I was on a train headed to Princeton hoping to study forestry. As I say, Princeton wasn't ready for me because when they heard that I wanted to study forestry during the application process, they thought that was quite humorous.

I asked someone at the university what they taught that was like forestry. The answer was geological engineering would be like forestry, so that got me into engineering. I studied geological engineering for a year, and then for a long story, but I switched to aerospace engineering. I was hugely lucky, as I have been throughout my career. I started graduate school and did aeronautical engineering the very week that Sputnik went up and the space boom occurred. My life and my career have been like that. I've been very fortunate to blunder into being at the right place at the right time.

Something that we've been talking about a lot is the need to increase the budget for research. Budget cuts is something that you've dealt with before when you were the leader of Martin Marietta Corporation, and then it was merged with Lockheed Corporation. That was partly due to the budget cuts on defense. What do you think would help the research industry when faced with budget cuts?

I think there are two sides here. One side is the research industry could become more efficient. I say industry, the research endeavor in this nation, research enterprise can become more efficient. I saw a recent study that showed researchers in universities spend 42 percent of the time available for research not doing research. Writing grant requests, writing reports, and so on. There's room there for great improvement.

I think the greater leverage comes from increasing the nation's investment in research. I don't think industry's going to do that, because shareholders of the American industry today want short-term results. Shareholders of American industry don't care about research by and large. There are a few exceptions, pharma being one. They want short-term payout. The federal government is going to have to be the principal funder of research. It does fund a lot of research today, but in my view, not nearly enough compared to the trends that other nations, compared to the standard of living we should hope to maintain in this country.

There's bad news and there's good news. The bad news is that our basic research budget in this country, if I remember correctly, is about two-tenths of one percent of the GDP. Both the bad news and the good news, if you will, is that the research budget is about two-tenths of one percent of the GDP, which means it's too small, but it would be easily doubled without having any impact on the grand scale of the federal budget. People who say we can't afford to increase the spending in research, I just dismiss that. Double it for two-tenths of a percent of the GDP. We can afford that. The issue is one of priority.

I first got very interested in the subject of trying to increase the research budget in this country 25 years ago and worked very closely with Burt Richter, a Nobel laureate. The two of us, a business guy like myself, an engineer, and Burt, a great scientist, would go together, beat the halls of Congress, talking about the importance of research. At that time, it was not generally recognized, the importance that research has and the impact it has, for example, on creating jobs. Not jobs for researchers, but jobs for the average person. Today, fortunately, we're past that point. There's a widespread understanding in Washington of the importance of research, but there's still this sentiment that we can't afford it.

One of the things we have to do is change that. How do you change that? One thing is you get researchers to do a much better job of speaking out. Researchers, all too often, view what they do is so important they shouldn't have to explain it to people. That's not the case sadly. The other is that it's much more effective when non-researchers, I was a researcher early in my career but no longer. I'm viewed more as a businessperson. When people who are not current researchers go to the Congress, go to the President, go to the media, and say research is really important, candidly it carries more weight than when a researcher says that. It probably shouldn't be that way, but nonetheless, that's I think a fact of Washington life.

One of the things we have to do is get more people who are the beneficiaries of research, which is almost everybody in the country, to speak out. The biomedical field has been quite successful at that. People who have an interest in a particular disease, curing cancer, or curing AIDS, or what have you, have had a great impact, but when you're talking about the importance of, if you were doing this today, of quantum mechanics or particle physics, that's much more difficult. We need to do a better job of it.

One of the reasons that you are receiving the first Sigma Xi Gold Key Award is because you have been somebody who's been able to speak out on the need for this extra budget for the research in America. You were on the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. What are you most proud of in terms of what you were able to accomplish as a part of that council?

There were a number of specific things that, with the group as a whole, no one of us did anything that wasn't done as a collective effort. The group as a whole, I think, dealt with a number of specific issues that were very important to where we made contributions. That included the focus on nanotechnologies, focus on cyber security, focus on advanced microelectronics, some of the biomedical work, and so on. I think the overall main thing that I would be proud of is that the group, I believe, did have an impact in convincing the leadership of our country, particularly the Administration, of the importance of scientific research.

The reason that I think that's so important is that there are very few scientists or engineers either in the Congress or in the Administration. That's another whole topic, but there are very few. As a matter of fact, the number of physicists in Congress I think dropped by 50 percent last year when one member retired. There's not a built-in understanding within members of Congress and within much of the Administration. I don't speak to this Administration specifically, but in general, as to the importance of science and the importance of technology. I think the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology had a position to the bully pulpit, if you will, to make that case. That may have been the most important impact and the thing that I guess I would be proud of.

Of course you've also had many leadership positions, not only as a leader at Lockheed Martin, but you were also Chairman of the National Academy of Engineering, and you're still in leadership positions now even in your retirement. What do you think has helped you be a successful leader?

That's a hard question. I guess, first of all, you'd have to say what's the definition of success? My definition of success is to be happy and to feel that you've made the world a little bit better than when you found it. I had the fortune to have parents who were very committed to doing the right thing. They were people who believed in ethical comportment, so that was in my DNA. I had the opportunity to get a world class education that others, whom I never met, paid for. I've had great bosses throughout my career.

As I said, I've been in the right place at the right time when problems occurred to be able to try to help solve them. I have not been fully successful, but I've had a decent batting average I think. I happen to believe that leadership is something you grow into. I don't think you're born with it. I'm not even sure it can be taught. I think it could be learned. I've tried to teach it, incidentally, but I think you learn through experience. There have been a number of factors that have contributed to whatever I've been able to do. A lot of it is just being around great people and studying them and seeing what it was that caused them to have a constructive impact.

Thank you for speaking with me today. For those who would like to hear more from Mr. Augustine, he will deliver a keynote lecture at the Sigma Xi Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference on November 12th in Atlanta. You can learn more about that meeting at