Development of the Orion and Ares I, and
NASA’s move to full-cost management.
A key principle underlying the strategy is a commitment to build and maintain 10 healthy field centers. All centers are expected to have clear and stable roles and responsibilities, including major in-house spaceflight responsibility, to ensure that they all are fully engaged and productive. To ensure the workforce’s flexibility in responding to both internal and external changes, the strategy indicates that NASA should move toward using a mix of permanent and non-permanent civil service personnel.
As indicated in the NASA document, the strategy is based on total NASA workforce projections that anticipate a budget-driven 10 percent decrease in the NASA workforce between 2006 and 2011, a reduction of nearly 2,000 personnel. The most significant changes described in the character of the work to be performed are for work in the ESMD and SOMD, where NASA anticipates transitioning from an operationally oriented workforce (as the Space Shuttle is retired) to one that is more focused on parallel development of the new Orion and Ares I launch vehicles, and then on developing new vehicles such as the lunar lander and Ares V rocket, and other systems required for the lunar outpost such as lunar rovers, as well as conducting spacecraft operations.
The pressures on NASA to manage its workforce while still preserving skills over time, within manpower ceilings, are amplified by events outside NASA’s control, such as changes in the NASA budget compared with amounts assumed when Constellation program element schedules were developed. NASA’s management efforts are also challenged by factors that are internal to NASA but are unquantifiable, such as the impact of development problems on schedules.
To enable NASA to prepare for its future workforce needs, especially to achieve the Vision for Space Exploration, the strategy assesses trends in the demand for future workforce competencies. The document summarizes the current extent of uncovered capacity (i.e., portions of the present workforce whose primary skills are not needed by the current program) and assesses both growing and diminishing competency needs for two time periods—2006 to 2009 and 2010 to 2011.
According to NASA, the immediate problem with employees whose primary skills are not currently needed is most significant at the three aeronautics centers (Ames, Glenn, and Langley). NASA identified an excess capacity in the areas of “engineering and science support (technicians), workforce operations and support; program/project management; computer science and information technology; space sciences; business operations; various systems engineering competencies; electrical and electronics systems; fundamental human factors research; and certain management competencies.” The committee notes that as this study was being completed, NASA reported that the agency had significantly reduced its excess capacity problem. The committee notes that the recent reductions of excess personnel, in areas such as “program and project management” and “various systems engineering competencies,” were primarily in aeronautics programs, not spaceflight programs.
NASA’s Workforce Strategy describes a variety of approaches that NASA will use to meet its long-term needs for recruiting, retraining, and sustaining its workforce. Identified recruitment tools include targeted programs (e.g., co-op student programs, internships, Presidential Management Fellows Program), streamlined hiring authorities and special incentives available through recent legislative authority, and NASA-sponsored education programs. Retention tools include nurturing NASA’s reputation as one of the best places in the federal government to work, pursuing the strategy of building and engaging all 10 NASA centers, establishing an agency-wide career development program to foster lifelong learning, and using a number of targeted incentives (e.g., pay and relocation incentives, pay enhancements for exceptional candidates in critical positions, and Intergovernmental Personnel Act assignments).
The strategy also considers steps that the agency should take to respond to inevitable attrition, including retirements. These steps include the possibility of offering retirees who have critical skills post-retirement employment without the loss of annuity payments, as well as programs designed to transfer expertise from senior employees to less highly skilled employees by methods such as mentoring programs. NASA officials indicated to the committee that two related documents—a mission support implementation plan and a workforce implementation plan—are being developed by NASA to identify specific actions to be taken to implement the strategy.