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Opening Statement By Chairman Mark Udall - Hearing on Building and Maintaining a Healthy and Strong NASA Workforce

Status Report From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Friday, May 18, 2007

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Good morning. I’d like to welcome all of our witnesses to today’s hearing.

We have a distinguished panel, and I look forward to getting your views on the important issue of how best to ensure that NASA will have the workforce it needs to accomplish its various challenging missions.

Before I say more, however, I’d like to take a moment to congratulate Mr. Feeney on his selection as the new Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, replacing my good friend and colleague Ken Calvert, who has moved over the appropriations committee. Welcome Mr. Feeney, I look forward to working with you in your new capacity in the days and weeks ahead.

Now it’s obvious that NASA’s workforce is critical to the success of NASA’s missions. Yet, it should be equally obvious that the continued health and strength of NASA’s workforce cannot be taken for granted.

It needs to be nurtured, supported, and given the tools and resources it will need to carry out the complex and challenging missions it has been asked to undertake in science, aeronautics, and human space flight and exploration. That is why I am keenly interested in hearing the findings and recommendations of the two recent independent assessments of NASA’s workforce needs, as well as NASA’s response to them.

However, I envision today’s hearing as only the first step in a continuing examination of the health of NASA’s workforce by this Subcommittee. In particular, I hope to have a follow-on hearing later this year to examine some of the particular civil service and contractor workforce challenges that are associated with the upcoming retirement of the Space Shuttle.

In addition, I would like the Subcommittee to review the proposed legislative provisions that have been provided to Congress by NASA to address some of those workforce challenges. Thus, I hope that this hearing will just be one in a series of hearings on this topic—we owe it both to the highly talented NASA employees as well as to the broader aerospace community to make sure NASA and Congress “get it right” in attempting to shape NASA’s future workforce.

As I have said in the past, NASA’s civil service workforce consists of some of this nation’s “best and brightest.” In most cases, they have made a long-term commitment to public service. I respect them for that commitment, and I think that whatever workforce strategy NASA develops should build on the strengths that those individuals bring to the agency.

If those skills are discarded, whether for short-term budgetary reasons or for some other reason, we could find out at a later date that it is difficult if not impossible to recapture skills that the nation discovers it needs. At the same time, NASA must work to attract and properly utilize the young men and women who will provide the scientific, engineering, and project management expertise required for NASA’s future missions.

Doing all that would be a tall order under the best of circumstances. It will be doubly difficult if NASA is not provided resources that are equal to the missions that it has been asked to undertake. Money alone will not ensure that NASA will have the strong and vital workforce that it needs, but insufficient funding will undercut whatever workforce initiatives are put in place.

Well, we have a lot to talk about today. I again want to welcome our witnesses, and I look forward to your testimony.

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