Ready for Post-Shuttle Retirements

By Bridget Testa

Sep. 18, 2009

Although NASA doesn’t expect a big spike in retirements when the space shuttle program ends, the Government Accountability Office doesn’t necessarily agree.

“Our expectation, based on anecdotal evidence, is that there will be a lot of retirement as the last shuttle flight comes down,” says Jose Ramos, a senior analyst at the Government Accountability Office.

What will happen if retirements do spike after the shuttle program ends?

At the moment, NASA’s budget appears stable, so there would be funds for recruiting. But competition is stiff.

“We don’t compete well at the top and the bottom, but we do well at the midrange,” says Toni Dawsey, NASA’s associate administrator for human capital management. “We don’t focus on really competing for top-level people,” she says, “We can hire at the midlevel and grow our own.”

NASA can hire from other federal agencies and traditionally also hires from its contractors. For new recruits, the 10 NASA centers have established relationships with national and regional schools where they’ve had good hiring results. “We look at attrition rates and age groups from the different schools,” Dawsey says. “You go where you have the best success.”

The NASA Flexibility Act of 2004 lets the agency use certain incentives and term appointments for recruitment and retention. One incentive is offering additional leave to prospective employees from other federal agencies to come to NASA. Term appointments can be offered to people for up to six years when no permanent positions are open. This lets the agency hire people with special skills for short-term needs, but it also lets them keep highly skilled individuals until a job opens up.

Term appointments for up to two years are also available for senior executive service positions, making it possible “to hire temporarily while the position is subject to open competition,” Dawsey says. “So we can temporarily fill the highest-level positions instead of leaving them open.”

Whether there’s a tiny blip or a big spike in retirements and resignations at the end of the shuttle program, it doesn’t seem to matter. “Our mission is a big incentive,” Dawsey says. “We often get thousands of applications for an open engineering job.”

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