NASA, working with Congress and the executive branch, should develop solutions to legal problems that limit the flow of senior and highly skilled employees from industry to NASA even when such employees are willing to accept lower salaries. Issues regarding shareholding, pensions, and perceived or actual conflicts of interest severely hamper personnel exchanges between industry and NASA. These problems stem from policy issues that cannot be resolved by NASA alone but instead require action by Congress and the executive branch working in concert with NASA.
Finding 3: NASA’s workforce requirements and challenges cannot be considered in isolation from those of other government and industry organizations. NASA is part of an aerospace workforce ecosystem in which the health and needs of one organization or sector can affect another. Thus, NASA’s workforce issues require the intervention and assistance of higher-level government organizations such as the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President.
Recommendation 3: Ensure a coordinated national strategy for aerospace workforce development among relevant institutions.
The committee recommends that representatives from relevant government agencies, the aerospace industry, including the emerging private sector, and the academic community work together to develop a coordinated national strategy to ensure an effective aerospace workforce ecosystem.
Finding 4: There is a longstanding, widely recognized requirement for more highly skilled program/project managers and systems engineers who have acquired substantial experience in space systems development. Although the need exists across all of NASA and the aerospace industry, it seems particularly acute for human spaceflight systems because of the long periods between initiation of new programs (i.e., the Space Shuttle program in the 1970s and the Constellation program 30 years later). NASA training programs are addressing some of the agency’s requirements in this experience base, but the current requirement for a strong base of highly skilled program/project management and systems engineering personnel, and limited opportunities for junior specialists to gain hands-on space project experience, remain impediments to NASA’s ability to successfully carry out VSE programs and projects.
Recommendation 4: Provide hands-on training opportunities for NASA workers.
The committee recommends that NASA place a high priority on recruiting, training, and retaining skilled program/project managers and systems engineers and that it provide the hands-on training and development opportunities for younger and junior personnel required to establish and maintain the necessary capabilities in these disciplines. Specific and immediate actions to be taken by NASA and other parts of the federal government include the following:
In establishing its strategy for meeting VSE systems engineering needs, NASA should determine the right balance between in-house and out-of-house work and contractor roles and responsibilities, including the use of support service contractors.
NASA should continue and also expand its current employee training programs such as those being conducted by the Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership (APPEL). To facilitate the development of key systems engineering and project management skills, NASA should increase the number of opportunities for entry-level employees to be involved in hands-on flight and end-to-end development programs. A variety of programs—including those involving balloons, sounding rockets, aircraft-based research, small satellites, and so on—can be used to give these employees critical experience relatively early in their careers and allow them to contribute as systems engineers and program managers more quickly.
Finding 5: NASA relies on a highly trained technical workforce to achieve its goals and has long accepted a responsibility for supporting the training of those who are potential employees. In recent years, however, training for students has been less well supported by NASA. A robust and stable commitment to creating opportunities at the university level for experience in hands-on flight mission development, graduate research fellowships for