NASA is undergoing a fundamental mission shift that will require the agency to adopt a knowledge- based, data-driven strategy to better align its workforce, according to a National Academy of Public Administration report.

NASA is working to refocus many aeronautics and scientific programs, phase-out the Space Shuttle by 2010, and develop new vehicles to go to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. This fundamental mission shift requires significant workforce changes. But, Congress has banned permanent workforce cuts at the agency. And, NASA has sought to ensure that every field center has a place in the new programs with funding to cover existing civil servants. This has resulted in workforce misalignments.

With its heavy reliance on a multisector workforce of civil servants and contractors, NASA has an opportunity to be at the forefront of the public sector, proving that federal agencies can respond effectively to changing mission requirements, said Academy Fellow Sallyanne Harper, who chaired the panel overseeing the study. The Panel has developed a package of practical tools to help NASA ensure it has the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

In its report, the Panel urged NASA to realign its workforce by making maximum use of its existing human capital flexibilities and pursuing a package of new ones. It also recommended that NASA adopt a workforce management strategy to ensure a flexible, optimally sized, and appropriately skilled workforce. Specifically, the Panel called on NASA to:

  • Assess field centers annually and take corrective action based on a comprehensive framework and metrics.
  • Integrate acquisition and workforce planning at the highest levels of the agency.
  • Use a formal decision process and metrics to determine the appropriate distribution of work between civil servants and contractors.
  • Use a similar approach to determine the most appropriate type of appointment for civil service hires.
  • Maximize existing authorities for recruiting and retaining the best and brightest employees, and sharing talent with other federal agencies and levels of government.
  • Seek statutory and regulatory authorization for modified reduction-in- force rules, buyout changes, and limited emergency retirement reform to remedy skill imbalances.

To read the report, go to