potential shortages (both for the near term and the longer term), NASA needs to pay particular attention to identifying and expanding ways to promote exchanges of personnel between NASA and the non-government sector (industry, academia, and non-government organizations). The committee recognizes that this is difficult to accomplish, but believes that it is important to try to overcome the obstacles that prevent it from occurring.
The interest and the willingness of current and potential highly qualified employees to continue or to seek employment in space research and development depends not only on their passion for space exploration but also on their belief that it will offer them viable careers. Later recruitment will be especially challenging in areas where NASA curtails or terminates work in the near term, thereby handicapping or preventing later restoration of that workforce segment in, for instance, areas such as astrobiology, life sciences, and microgravity research. The committee concludes that the ability to recruit and strategically retain the needed workforce will depend fundamentally on the long-term stability of the vision for space exploration and a sustainable national consensus on NASA’s mission. Similarly, when NASA produces instability in the institutions that provide its workforce, as it is now doing in microgravity science, it creates a perception that space exploration is a bad career option.
The committee makes the following recommendations:
NASA should develop a workforce strategy for ensuring that it is able to target, attract, train, and retain the skilled personnel necessary to implement the space exploration vision and conduct its other missions in the next 5 to 15 years. The agency’s priority to date has been to focus on short-term issues such as addressing the problem of uncovered capacity (i.e., workers for whom the agency has no current work). However, NASA soon might be facing problems of expanding needs or uncovered capacity in other areas and at other centers. Therefore, it is important to develop policies and procedures to anticipate these problems before they occur.
NASA should adopt innovative methods of attracting and retaining its required personnel and should obtain the necessary flexibility in hiring and reduction-in-force procedures, as well as transfers and training, to enable it to acquire the people it needs. NASA should work closely with the DOD to initiate training programs similar to those that the DOD has initiated, or otherwise participate actively in the DOD programs.
NASA should expand and enhance agency-wide training and mentorship programs, including opportunities for developing hands-on experience, for its most vital required skill sets, such as systems engineering. This effort should include coordination with DOD training programs and more use of exchange programs with industry and academia.
Finally, the committee wishes to stress that this is an interim report. The committee still has to complete its examination of the role that universities play in supplying, training, and supplementing NASA’s workforce. Part of this assessment will be to consider the role that universities can play in providing hands-on space mission training of the workforce, including the value of carrying out small space missions at universities. The committee also plans to review the final version of NASA’s Systems Engineering and Institutional Transition Team (SEITT) report. The committee will evaluate the skills that the study identifies as necessary to implement the vision for space exploration, assess the current workforce against projected needs, and identify gaps and obstacles to responding to NASA’s projected needs. In its final report, the committee expects to develop recommendations for specific actions by the federal government, industry, and academia, including organizational changes, recruiting and hiring practices, student programs, and workforce training and improvement to enable NASA to accomplish the goals of the vision.