Space Shuttle:

Human Capital and Safety Upgrade Challenges Require Continued Attention

NSIAD/GGD-00-186: Published: Aug 15, 2000. Publicly Released: Aug 29, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the workforce and safety issues facing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its shuttle program, focusing on the: (1) impact of workforce reductions on the shuttle program; (2) challenges NASA faces in addressing workforce issues; and (3) status of planned shuttle safety and supportability upgrades.

GAO noted that: (1) several internal NASA studies have shown that the shuttle program's workforce has been affected negatively by downsizing, much of which occurred after 1995; (2) since 1995, the shuttle workforce has decreased by more than one-third to about 1,800 full-time equivalent employees; (3) the shuttle program has identified many key areas that are not sufficiently staffed by qualified workers, and the remaining workforce shows signs of overwork and fatigue; (4) NASA has recognized the need to revitalize its workforce; (5) NASA and the Office of Management and Budget have begun an overall workforce review to examine personnel needs, barriers to achieving proper staffing levels and skill mixes, and potential reforms to help address the agency's long-term requirements; (6) in addition, the Government Performance and Results Act requires a performance plan that describes how an agency's goals and objectives are to be achieved; (7) these plans are to include a description of the: (a) operational processes, skills, and technology; and (b) human, capital, information, and other resources required to meet goals and objectives; (8) in reviewing NASA's fiscal year (FY) 2000 annual performance plan, GAO found that the plan does not adequately describe how the agency's strategies and human capital resources will help it achieve performance goals; (9) NASA's FY 2001 plan, however, addresses at least some human capital issues in that it includes an objective to improve workforce health monitoring; (10) in addition, in June 2000, the President directed the heads of all executive agencies to integrate human resource management into planning, budgeting, and mission evaluation processes; (11) concerning safety issues, over the next 5 years, NASA plans to develop and begin equipping the shuttle fleet with a variety of safety and supportability, upgrades, at an estimated cost of about $2.2 billion; (12) however, to implement the program successfully, NASA will have to overcome a number of programmatic and technical challenges, such as a demanding schedule and undefined design and workforce requirements; (13) while the President's June 2000 directive provides further emphasis on the need to integrate human capital requirements with the strategic planning process, continued management emphasis will be critical to the success of NASA's human capital planning; and (14) in addition, NASA will need to take steps to ensure it has the right people to manage the shuttle program.

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