Congress responded to these concerns by approving the NASA Flexibility Act of 2004.5 Among the act’s provisions was the expansion of NASA’s authority to offer employee recruitment and retention bonuses. The committee believes that this act has given NASA a valuable tool in recruiting and hiring workers with the necessary skills. It applauds the agency’s initial efforts in taking advantage of the act’s provisions and encourages NASA to utilize the act fully. However, the committee concluded that further congressional and executive branch involvement may be necessary, particularly to address the legal and ethical issues that accompany recruiting skilled personnel from industry.

The committee believes that the general focus on the age of the NASA workforce and a looming “retirement crisis” tends to obscure more complex and subtle demographic issues. Although a massive and simultaneous wave of retirements among eligible employees would be a devastating blow to the agency, it is likely that NASA will continue to retain employees beyond retirement age and to engage the retiree community as consultants and mentors, as it has done in the past. The committee believes that the most relevant issue facing NASA’s workforce is not its age, but rather the number and distribution of skilled employees within the agency and the ability of the agency to ensure that it has, and will continue to have, an adequate supply of trained employees.

The committee notes comments made before a House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee hearing in 2002 by NASA’s then-administrator Sean O’Keefe, who stated that although there were fewer hires in fiscal year 2001 than in the previous year, NASA needed almost twice as many recruitment bonuses to attract the desired recruits. “Even utilizing all the tools at hand, we are at a disadvantage when competing with the private sector,” he said.6

The workforce situation at NASA is highly fluid and complex. The agency is currently hiring very few new employees and has recently emerged from having excess employees—the so-called uncovered capacity problem. NASA does need to attract, train, and retain highly skilled personnel, but the committee believes that it is difficult to characterize the agency’s needs in aggregate numbers and that only a detailed examination of workforce needs can indicate where the problems lie.

The context for NASA’s future workforce was sharpened in January 2004 when President George W. Bush announced the new national Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) with the fundamental goal “to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program” that would involve human and robotic exploration of space, including sending humans back to the Moon and later to Mars.7 Implementation of this policy has added new clarity to the direction and potential scope of the nation’s human spaceflight program, and consequently has provided the basis for a more precise assessment of future space program workforce needs. In September 2005, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin unveiled the agency’s plan for the human lunar exploration program, making clear that one of his goals was to avoid losing engineering experience and personnel during the transition from the Shuttle and Space Station era to the lunar exploration era.

Congress was also concerned about NASA’s workforce and in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 directed NASA to develop “a human capital strategy to ensure that NASA has a workforce of the appropriate size and with the appropriate skills to carry out the programs of NASA.”8 The National Space Policy released by the White House in early October 2006 also emphasized the importance of a skilled workforce. The policy stated:

Sustained excellence in space-related science, engineering, acquisition, and operational disciplines is vital to the future of U.S. space capabilities. Departments and agencies that conduct space related activities shall establish standards and implement activities to develop and maintain highly skilled, experienced, and motivated space professionals within their workforce.9


S. 610, “The NASA Flexibility Act of 2004,” Public Law No. 108-201.


Testimony by Sean O’Keefe before House Science Committee Hearing on NASA’s Work Force, July 18, 2002.


National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), The Vision for Space Exploration, NP-2004-01-334-HQ, NASA, Washington, D.C., 2004.


House Report 109-173, NASA Authorization Act of 2005.


See U.S. National Space Policy, 2006, which can be found at the Office of Science and Technology Policy Web site,

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