Space Shuttle:

Human Capital Challenges Require Management Attention

T-NSIAD-00-133: Published: Mar 22, 2000. Publicly Released: Mar 22, 2000.

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Louis J. Rodrigues
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the human capital challenges facing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) space shuttle program, focusing on: (1) the results of studies on the impact of workforce reductions; (2) NASA's actions following these workforce assessments; (3) challenges NASA faces in the anticipated heavy workload imposed by the International Space Station; and (4) a structured approach NASA can take to analyze human capital challenges.

GAO noted that: (1) several studies, one as recent as March 2000, have reported that the shuttle program's workforce has been affected negatively by the downsizing; (2) the studies concluded that the existing workforce is stretched thin to the point where there is just one qualified person in many critical areas; (3) NASA has identified 30 critical areas at Kennedy Space Center that do not have sufficient backup coverage; (4) these areas include shuttle range safety systems and solid rocket booster and external tank electrical systems; (5) the studies found that the workforce is showing signs of overwork and fatigue; (6) the program's workforce age distribution and skill mix now limit opportunities for mentoring newer staff; (7) this jeopardizes the program's ability to hand off leadership roles to the next generation; (8) NASA has responded to the workforce problems in a number of ways; (9) it has terminated its downsizing program and is increasing its budget to provide an additional 95 full time equivalent employees for the shuttle program in fiscal year (FY) 2000; (10) NASA has also increased its FY 2001 budget request to provide an additional 278 full time equivalent employees for the shuttle program; (11) the administrator has directed the agency's managers to consider ways to reduce workforce stress; (12) NASA faces a number of challenges in addressing the shuttle workforce imbalance--especially given the anticipated increased workload; (13) this includes accommodating increased training needs, ensuring adequate staffing levels for its safety upgrade program, attracting and retaining technical skills, dealing with uncertainties related to the future of shuttle privatization and commercialization plans, and achieving a higher projected flight rate; (14) the challenge of ensuring NASA has the proper mix and number of staff to meet shuttle objectives safely will require a structured approach; (15) GAO's internal control standards for the federal government discuss the importance of human capital management in achieving program results; (16) GAO recently issued a checklist for agency leaders to use, in order to help them develop human capital strategies; (17) the checklist helps to establish linkage between human capital programs and the agency's mission, goals, and strategies; (18) GAO has provided copies of the checklist to NASA; and (19) GAO believes NASA's attention to human capital issues will be essential to ensuring the agency's ability to achieve the goals of the shuttle program.

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