THE NASA WORKFORCE ENVIRONMENT

The committee defines in its broadest sense the workforce needed to accomplish the vision for space exploration. That is, to succeed in accomplishing the goals of the vision the nation will need the best expertise and best efforts of workers not only inside NASA but also in NASA’s partner institutions in industry, academia, and other federal agencies. Consequently, the committee will need to examine all these sectors to address its charge. This national civil space workforce is highly geographically dispersed. NASA’s own field centers are spread across the country. When one considers the contributions from industry and universities, the locations of workers who will contribute to the effort will be found in every state in the Union. In recognition of this, NASA has created the Systems Engineering and Institutional Transition Team (SEITT), which is charged with making recommendations in four areas—human capital and workforce, organization and management, support requirements and contracts, and infrastructure to fulfill the agency’s requirements for the space shuttle, the International Space Station, and the exploration systems architecture.

Some current statistics help to explain the state of the agency with regard to its civil service engineering workforce. According to the Office of Personnel Management, from 2001 to 2005 the number of engineers employed at NASA declined from 11,051 to 10,766. NASA hired only 411 new engineers in 2005, or approximately 3.8 percent. Of these only 6 were transfers from other agencies, indicating a lack of mobility within the government. During the same period, 749 engineers left the agency. At the time this report was written, the NASA jobs Web site showed openings for approximately 160 positions for an agency with nearly 11,000 engineers—a relatively small number of openings. NASA wages have been increasing and appear to be competitive. For example, from 2001 to 2005 engineering salaries rose from a mean of $80,195 to $97,998. These statistics demonstrate that the agency is currently contracting slightly, is eliminating engineering positions, and is not hiring many new people. Combined with other data that demonstrate a steadily increasing mean age of the workforce, it is clear that NASA is not simply suffering a supply problem, but is also experiencing changes in its workforce demographics as a result of agency policies and restrictions on its ability to hire and fire personnel.7

Although the committee was impressed and intrigued by what it heard at the workshop and at its second meeting, the committee’s overall conclusion was that substantial, high-fidelity demographic data on NASA’s existing workforce and future needs is still necessary but does not yet exist. Without it, the committee cannot draw meaningful conclusions about the agency’s ability to effectively meet the goals of the vision for space exploration. The committee awaits the completion of the SEITT study, currently scheduled for April 2006, to determine if sufficient data is available.

At a time when the engineering architecture and budget for the vision have drawn intense scrutiny, and when large space development projects have run into schedule and financial trouble, the quality and skill mix of the agency’s workforce will play a major role in NASA’s ability to implement the vision, and they therefore deserve intense scrutiny as well.

7  

See <www.fedscope.opm.gov/>.



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