Defense Space Activities:

Management Actions Are Needed to Better Identify, Track, and Train Air Force Space Personnel

GAO-06-908: Published: Sep 21, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 21, 2006.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Davi M. Dagostino
(202) 512-3000
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The Department of Defense (DOD) relies on space to support a wide range of vital military missions. Many factors contribute to DOD success in space activities, and having sufficient quantities of space-qualified personnel to design, oversee, and acquire space assets, on which DOD expects to spend about $20 billion in fiscal year 2007, is critical to DOD's ability to carry out its mission. The individual services are responsible for providing adequately qualified space personnel to meet mission needs. The Air Force provides over 90 percent of the space personnel to DOD's mission, but has not identified the space acquisition workforce. This report examines the extent to which (1) the Air Force's space acquisition workforce is managed using a strategic workforce management approach, (2) there are sufficient numbers of Air Force space acquisition personnel to meet DOD's national security needs, and (3) the Air Force's space acquisition personnel are adequately qualified for their positions. For its analysis, GAO identified the space acquisition workforce as those Air Force scientists, engineers, and program managers with experience developing space assets.

While DOD and the Air Force have not achieved consensus about whether the space acquisition workforce should have a designated career field or a separate workforce strategy, the Air Force is responsible for strategically managing this segment of its workforce as it has for other workforce groups, such as pilots and navigators. The Air Force has done needs assessments on certain segments of its space workforce, but has not done an integrated, zero-based needs assessment of its space acquisition workforce. Such a strategic assessment would help inform the Air Force's planned force reduction that will result in a decrease of 40,000 active personnel and a 25 percent reduction of contractor support over 5 years. However, the Air Force is not using a zero-based needs assessment that includes the entire space acquisition workforce--unclassified and classified programs and military, civilian, and contractor personnel--as part of its force reduction planning and process improvement efforts. Such an assessment would identify if there are skill and competency gaps. As a result, the Air Force may not be able to manage the impact of its force reductions on the space acquisition workforce or take actions to mitigate the impact to ensure this workforce meets national security space needs. In the absence of an integrated, zero-based needs assessment of its space acquisition workforce and a career field specialty, the Air Force cannot ensure that it has enough space acquisition personnel or personnel who are technically proficient to meet national security space needs. The Air Force has a shortage of midgrade and senior officers who play vital management and oversight roles in space acquisition. At the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), 37 percent of the critical acquisition positions were vacant as of April 2006 and about 50 percent of the center's workload was being done by contractors. Also, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) depends on Air Force personnel to fill many of its key space acquisition positions. Continuing shortages may hamper SMC's and NRO's ability to meet mission needs and highlight the Air Force's need to strategically manage its space acquisition workforce. The technical proficiency of the Air Force's space acquisition workforce also may not be adequate to meet national security needs. At SMC, the percentage of space acquisition officers with the highest acquisition certification level dropped from 28 percent in 1996 to 15 percent in 2005. Reasons for the lower certification levels include NRO priority in selecting personnel, the lack of a space acquisition specialty, limited training, and the decline of personnel coming into the Air Force with technical degrees. Although required by law, the Air Force has not developed a career field for officers to develop space systems. Without a specialty to identify these personnel and increased space acquisition-related education and training, the Air Force may not be able to strategically manage its workforce and ensure personnel can effectively develop space systems.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with our recommendation. Although it highlighted the hiring of at least one additional space acquisition specialist for the NSSI faculty in September 2009, it has taken no further action on enhancing the NSSI curricula, which was the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to improve training by providing greater acquisition-specific content in the Air Force's National Security Space Institute's curricula in order to broaden the pool of personnel who are qualified to fill space acquisition positions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with our recommendation and highlighted the responsibilities of the Space Professional Functionality Advisory Council and Space Assignment Advisory Board. The advisory board oversees assignments for Air Force Credentialled Professionals. However, DOD indicated that these bodies do not actually review space-related professional assignments and influence the process through other means. DOD has taken no further action to address the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to institutionalize and manage a space-specific specialty within the Air Force's acquisition manager career field in order to ensure that all incumbents in the space acquisition workforce, including personnel at SMC and NRO, have strong technical backgrounds and to better manage the career paths and retention of technical personnel in accordance with strategic workforce management principles.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although DOD partially concurred with our recommendation, it stated only that a needs assessment of space acquisition personnel must be integrated as part of the component's force planning and process improvement initiatives. DOD has taken no further action to address the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to direct that an integrated, zero-based needs assessment of space acquisition personnel be performed and then incorporated into the Air Force's force reduction planning and process improvement efforts in order to ensure that the resulting force structure is optimally balanced among workforce segments--that is, military, civilian, contractor, those who work on classified and unclassified programs, and Federally Funded Research and Development Center support personnel--and functional areas, such as classified and unclassified space systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation and listed some of the ways in which DAU has expanded its support of the space acquisition community. We acknowledge these efforts but continue to believe that additional space-specific content is needed in DAU's curricula in order to increase the pool of personnel who are qualified to fill space acquisition positions. Adding such space-specific content would allow more acquisition officers to receive a baseline level of training in space acquisition through DAU. This baseline level of training would help ensure that acquisition officers do not arrive in space acquisition assignments with little or no knowledge of space-specific acquisitions, such as is currently often the case. DOD has initiated new senior-level workshops, but these are not aimed at the personnel levels emphasized in our finding. DOD has taken no further action to address the intent of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to improve training by bolstering space-specific content in Defense Acquisition University's curricula in order to broaden the pool of personnel who are qualified to fill space acquisition positions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Jul 23, 2014

Jul 16, 2014

Jun 20, 2014

May 15, 2014

May 8, 2014

Apr 15, 2014

Mar 12, 2014

Feb 4, 2014

Jan 13, 2014

Jan 8, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here