(Washington, DC) -The House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing to examine the health of the U.S. aerospace workforce and industrial base and to determine how upcoming decisions on NASA’s direction and funding would affect them, including decisions on human spaceflight plans. The aerospace workforce and the industrial base are vital to the success of the space enterprise. As the nation looks forward, it will continue to depend on these talents and capabilities to support America’s goals and objectives for its space activities.

“This workforce is a lot like humpty dumpty–if it is taken apart, it won’t be easy to put back together,” said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN). “They have the unique skills and the institutional knowledge crucial to the success of our aerospace industry and, therefore, to our overall national competitiveness.”

“Aerospace jobs are high-paying, high-skilled jobs–jobs that will enable us to compete–and lead–in the 21st century, not just in space but back here on Earth too,” said Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).

The aerospace workforce includes NASA civil servants and its contractor space workforce; the broader aerospace workforce that support space, aviation, and defense programs; as well as a chain of suppliers, businesses and service organizations that also support the aerospace sector.

According to a series of advisory reports, the U.S. aerospace workforce and space industrial base face growing challenges including: the aging of the aerospace workforce, the stability of space-related programs, the skills required for major programs, and the status of the pipeline for future workers. These concerns are particularly relevant during a period in which NASA is moving toward a planned retirement of the Space Shuttle, is developing the next human spaceflight system, will be relying on non-U.S. means of access to space during for a period of at least 5 years, and is preparing for key decisions about the space program and NASA’s plans for human spaceflight.

To address the aging workforce situation, NASA and the aerospace industry have taken steps to encourage and create opportunities for students to pursue education and then careers in STEM fields and to gain experience on space projects, but even with these ongoing efforts, NASA and the industry face challenges in building the pipeline to replace retiring workers, including the need to adequately fund and sustain projects that can employ younger workers and provide the means for them to learn from the more experienced workers before those workers retire. Witnesses consider that need particularly important in the area of human spaceflight.

Another concern raised during the hearing was the impact of the transition from NASA’s Space Shuttle program to the Constellation Program. There are workforce transition programs in place but questions still exist over what impact the gap between the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the time when the Constellation Program is fully operational will have on the workforce and knowledge base. Witnesses made the point that keeping work going on the follow-on program during the gap will be critically important from the standpoint of both preserving key workforce skills and maintaining the necessary industrial base.

“The United States would not have achieved its leadership position in space without the dedication, expertise and skills resident in the aerospace workforce and industrial infrastructure that supports the nation’s space program,” said Gordon. “We will need to maintain that high-quality workforce to maintain our competitiveness.”

“The decisions we collectively make about the future of our space program will have a lasting impact on our workforce, our industrial base, and our standing in the world,” Giffords said. “I worry that if we make the wrong decisions and waver in our commitment, we will not be keeping faith with that generation of young people we are seeking to inspire. I believe that we need to keep a long-term perspective front and center when we look at the potential impact on the workforce and the space industrial base of pending decisions on NASA’s future “

This hearing is the latest in a series that the Committee and the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee have convened on the critical factors that will need to be considered when making decisions on the future direction and funding for NASA.

Also during the hearing, the Full Committee approved the subcommittee assignments of Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA). The House appointed him to the Science and Technology Committee on November 19, 2009 with H. Res 921. Yesterday, the Committee assigned him to the Technology and Innovation and Energy and Environment subcommittees.

“John Garamendi comes to us with more than 34 years of public service,” said Gordon. “He was elected to the California State Assembly in 1974, and to the State Senate in 1976 where he attained the position of Senate Majority Leader. He chaired the Joint Committee on Science and Technology where he helped develop an overall State agenda for economic competitiveness and scientific advancement. He also served as U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior for the Clinton Administration and, most recently, as the Lieutenant Governor of California.”

“As the representative of some of the nation’s leading cutting edge research facilities, it is an honor to sit on the Science and Technology Committee, working with my colleagues to spawn the innovations that will get Americans back to work,” said Garamendi. “We can create millions of green jobs, weatherizing buildings, installing solar panels, and constructing wind turbines. As I begin my service on the Energy and Environment and Technology and Innovation subcommittees, I know the stakes are high. We must develop the clean technologies that will enable strong economic growth without devastating environmental destruction, because if we don’t, we either sacrifice our prosperity or our planet and likely both.”