Legislation Heads to President for Signature

WASHINGTON – Today the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation sponsored by U.S. Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) to improve NASA’s ability to recruit and retain a world class 21st century workforce.

NASA’s workforce is aging and 15 percent of agency employees are currently eligible for retirement. A quarter of the agency will be eligible to retire over the next five years. Scientists and engineers over the age of 60 outnumber those under 30 by nearly 3 to 1. The potential loss of skilled workers with institutional knowledge is of grave concern to NASA.

“Our space program is more than high-tech machines and advanced computing, it’s the product of smart people – very smart people – working together for our nation. Fulfilling President Bush’s vision for NASA means making sure the best and brightest minds view it as a premier place to work,” said Voinovich. “NASA’s personnel policies are dated and are holding the agency back. The modernization that my legislation provides will make it easier for NASA to compete for the best minds so that tax payers will get the value they deserve from this agency.”

The bill is a product of research Voinovich has done into NASA’s human capital needs, including a hearing in March where NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe testified that the agency’s workforce is facing a serious human capital crisis.

Voinovich is chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management which has oversight of the management of federal agencies, including the 20,000 federal employees at NASA.



NASA Workforce Flexibility Act of 2003

Fact Sheet


  • Introduced by Senator Voinovich on March 13, 2003. Passed the Senate by unanimous consent on November 24, 2003 and passed the House by unanimous consent on January 28, 2004.
  • On March 6, 2003, Senator Voinovich chaired a hearing of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management to evaluate human capital concerns at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

During his testimony at the hearing, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe helped shed light on a human capital crisis which the agency was facing, including:

  • Needed flexibilities that would assist NASA recruit and retain the best and brightest. While NASA had made significant progress in addressing its workforce challenges, additional flexibilities are needed to stop its human capital challenge from becoming a crisis;
  • NASA is faced with a workforce where scientists and engineers over age 60 outnumber those under age 30 by nearly 3 to 1, 15 percent of its workforce currently is eligible to retire, and 25 percent will be eligible in 5 years;
  • During the 1990s, NASA underwent a period of significant downsizing. While the agency benefited from this workforce reshaping, there were problems in the process that have left the agency with a skills imbalance. The Agency finds itself with an abundance of a particular skill set, but lacking even the core competencies in another. Like all federal agencies, NASA is faced with the problem of a large number of experienced employees soon to be eligible for retirement. Additionally, NASA’s workforce differs significantly from other federal agencies in that more than 60 percent are scientists and engineers. This places NASA in a difficult position; nationally, the number of graduates, both under- and post-graduate, in the sciences continues to decrease. NASA routinely finds itself facing greater competition for talent from both academia and the private sector without the ability to offer the individual a competitive pay and benefits package. NASA’s scientific and technologically based workforce is not unique in the federal government; however, Congress has recognized and taken action to assist other agencies facing similar problems.


The NASA Workforce Flexibility Act of 2003 gives NASA new authorities to better manage its workforce needs. Specifically, it provides the authority to:

(1) Pay recruitment, redesignation, relocation, and retention bonuses;

(2) Extend contract appointments and intergovernmental personnel act assignments from four years to six years. Typically, projects at NASA take five to six years to complete;

(4) Develop a program to give science and technology scholarships to students in exchange for their commitment to NASA upon graduation;

(5) Appoint distinguished scholars as NASA employees;

(6) Deem periods of certain non-federal service as federal service for annual leave qualification purposes; and,

(7) Provide superior qualifications pay to certain employees.

The legislation requires the NASA Administrator, before exercising any such authorities, to submit a written workforce plan to employees for comment and to the Office of Personnel Management for approval. It requires such a plan to be provided to all NASA employees at least 60 days in advance of its implementation.

The bill limits the number of NASA limited emergency appointees to 10 percent of the total number of Senior Executive Service positions allocated to NASA.