NASA HR is Everywhere

January 1, 1997
In 1915, when aviation was still in its infancy, Congress created an organization that would supervise the scientific study of flight. That organization evolved into NASA four decades later when Congress formed a civilian agency to continue the work. Today, virtually every aircraft in use utilizes technology pioneered by NASA. And new industries have been built on the technology that made space exploration possible, including personal computers, advanced medical equipment and communications satellites.

How did you end up with this particular job in this industry?
I've worked in some aspect of HR at NASA since I came here in 1979. I got into government work initially on a tip from an employment counselor who told me the government hires college graduates who take a civil service exam.

What is your background?
I graduated from the University of Michigan in 1970 with a bachelor's degree in zoology. Then I got out of the army in 1971 and began working for what's now called the office of personnel management. It's the federal government's central personnel office.

What are the biggest challenges of your industry?
Working in a government agency is perhaps different than the business world because we have a set of customers that's pretty varied. We have the higher level management, plus Congress. Congress asks questions about the agency's workforce, about the budget and so forth. And then we've got the administration which has two outside entities-the office of management and budget, and the office of personnel management -- both of which we have to answer to in one way or another.

What challenges do you feel are universal for HR?
Finding automated systems to both help us with our jobs and help the managers with their jobs.

How is HR viewed at your organization?
The NASA HR function is playing a key role in managing our workforce restructuring. The top HR official at NASA (the associate administrator for HR and education) is at the table when strategic decisions are made. This includes serving as a member of the NASA Senior Management Council that develops the strategic plan and advises the administrator and as a member of the new Capital Investment Council which addresses, long-term investments in agency capabilities and infrastructure.

What about your job and/or your organization makes you most proud?
I'm proud of the agency I work for and the work it does. We have a mission that's unique and everybody who works for NASA feels proud of that and part of the team. So when there's a shuttle up in orbit, somehow you know that you did something -- even if it's two times or three times removed -- that allowed that to happen. I'm also pleased about the quality of people here. And I guess to some extent, the HR function has to take some credit for that.

What is "special" about HR at NASA?
We get thousands of job applications and what we have are hundreds of openings. We're blessed with choices because there's a lot of interest in working for NASA.

Workforce, January 1997, Vol. 76, No. 1, p. 93.