SP-4102 Managing NASA in the Apollo Era

Chapter 5

NASA Manpower Policy



[107] No matter how brilliant NASA planning might have been, it would have come to nought without the manpower to implement it. The success of NASA management in transforming a small research organization into one of the largest Federal agencies within five years of its creation depended on the assembly of scientists, engineers, and managers who made the transition possible. That NASA grew rapidly is undeniable. Starting its official life with the nucleus of engineers inherited from NACA, the new agency soon added personnel transferred from the Vanguard program and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. But after acquiring the von Braun team in July 1960, NASA had to recruit manpower directly, a problem made even more onerous by President Kennedy's commitment of the nation to a lunar landing before the end of the decade. The 1960s began with a tremendous increase in the agency's manpower, followed by a contraction as marked as the expansion that preceded it. The number of contractor employees alone doubled in 1961-1962 and again in the following year 1 to the point where 420 000 persons (contractor and civil service) were working directly or indirectly for NASA at the beginning of 1966.2 This marked the turning point; from a total of 396 000 employees at the end of June 1966, agency employment fell to 307 000 in 1967, to 268 000 in 1968, and to 218 000 in 1969.3

But these figures alone do not explain the mix of skills the agency needed, the reasons for using so high a proportion of contractor employees, or the problems created by Government-wide standards to which the agency must conform. NASA officials had to meet internal requirements while conforming to the policies of four other agencies: the Bureau of the Budget, which approved or took exception to NASA personnel ceilings; the U.S. Civil Service Commission, which established Federal standards for personnel management and position classification; the U.S. General Accounting Office, which, as the watchdog for Congress, was frequently to investigate NASA's use of support service contracts (and by extension, its [108] conduct of research and development programs) in the later 1960s; and the Department of Defense, which supplied NASA with military detailees experienced in managing complex development programs.

The questions addressed in this chapter include the following: How did the agency's manpower policies contribute to the success of NASA programs? What specific features of NASA manpower management would account for the success it had in building the agency's work force? Where and by whom was personnel policy made? Was NASA as successful in scaling down as it has been in "tooling up" ? Finally, were NASA installations aggregations of manpower and equipment that were to be dispersed once the mission for which they were assembled was completed, or were the centers organized to take on scientific work other than the kind for which they were created? Each of these questions is considered before arriving at more general conclusions.




How was NASA manpower policy made? Given the decentralized structure of the agency, there could be no uniform policy imposed from above. Instead, there were competing interest "nodes" with various conceptions of the problem and various preferred solutions. Below the level of top management, the Personnel Division was charged with developing and administering NASA's personnel program within the framework of civil service regulations. Established as a division of the Office of Administration following the 1961 reorganization, the Personnel Division had two Directors during the period under consideration: Robert J. Lacklen, who served from October 1958 to the end of 1964, and Grove Webster, who was Acting Director and then permanent Director from January 1965 until his death in 1972.* In line with Webb's concept of functional management, the Director of Personnel was authorized to "establish standards, procedures and operating guidelines . . . review and advise on proposed allocations of personnel . . . participate with Headquarters and Field officials in the selection of key personnel."4 But the Division's powers were sharply limited in several ways. It had relatively little visibility since it was only part of a larger functional office and lacked the quasi-autonomy of Procurement within the Office of Industry Affairs. In the gritty bureaucratic prose of one internal report; Personnel was not in a position


to participate in formulation of policy and high-level implementation in critical matters, such as salary, budgets [and] allocation of top positions.... the organizational placement of Personnel is too low in the NASA organization to deal with total personnel management problems on an agency-wide basis. The . . . Director of Personnel is apparently able to discuss personnel matters with a Deputy or Assistant Director at a Center level but not with the Center Director himself. 5

[109] Headquarters Personnel Division did not manage and had little control over personnel offices at the centers. In effect, each center worked out its own problems in its own way. Not the least of Personnel's problems was due to the program offices' practice of dealing directly with the centers rather than working through the functional offices. The great and evident success of NASA personnel management owed something to the fact that headquarters did not interfere with what the centers wanted to do.

To the extent that there were uniform personnel guidelines, they were due to the logic of NASA programs and to periodic investigations by the Civil Service Commission and the General Accounting Office. Policy was made at headquarters not only by the Personnel Division, but also by standing committees of which the Director was a member ex officio, by ad hoc task forces, by the NASA Management Committee, and by Webb's intervention from time to time. Webb's interest in recruiting executive managers was well known, and he was prepared to take exception to any policy proposal that went counter to his experience in private industry, at the State Department, and at the Bureau of the Budget. He disagreed, for example, with a 1964 report of the Committee for Economic Development recommending that the task of improving executive management in the Federal Government should be assigned to a separate office within the White House.6 Webb thought that management "must always find a way to marry substance and administration at each level and . . . the senior leaders in the departments and agencies are the focal points to which the President must look to get this done."

One example of Webb's interest in personnel management illustrates how policy at NASA was not made, and the example applies beyond the personnel issue. A recurring problem in most large organizations is how to select skilled executives: how to strike a balance between promotion from within and recruitment from without, how to determine the characteristics sought in executive managers, how to persuade prospects to join, and how to screen candidates for positions. This problem has arisen from time to time since NASA's establishment and has been resolved in several ways, ranging from informal recruitment by the first Administrator Glennan and later by Webb, to systems developed by the program offices and centers on the basis of their experience and needs. In 1965 NASA introduced a system for recruiting executives from outside the agency and later adapted it to cover internal selection. The system, regarded as comparable to the one used for selecting astronauts, was used to fill vacancies at the Electronics Research Center and at Goddard. In March 1965 Deputy Associate Administrator Jack Young, after clearing the matter with Associate Administrator Seamans and his deputy Hilburn, authorized a task force to study NASA executive personnel administration, and this group, headed by Young's executive assistant John Cole, issued a report on 29 November. The Cole report was an example of complete staff work down to the draft NASA Management Instructions provided to carry out its recommendations. But nothing came of the report, chiefly, it would seem, because Webb shot it down. The task force had neither sought his guidance nor solicited his views, and its principal recommendation-that the executive [110] personnel administration function be organized directly under the Associate Administrator-seemed to fly in the face of all that Webb believed. He was reported to have asked, "Where would this leave the Personnel Director? If he is be a high level official he needs this function. This tends to go against the concept of joining . . . substance and administration at each level." The report did not recognize what Webb and Seamans had done to bring talent into NASA: How could we have done more in . . . recruitment of George Mueller-where id his people come from? Who got Mueller? Newell? Bisplinghoff? Adams? 'Promoted Newell? What we want to do is teach them how to do what they do not now-change when a Goett or Holmes stops the kind of management responsiveness we want."7 Cole's recommendations would have placed more reliance on a system than on the judgment of senior management.

In short, the moral of this story seems to be that no important changes in personnel policy could be made without involving top management. No agencywide personnel policy could succeed without being a mixture of systematic and informal recruitment; and functional officials had to do their staff work and submit their findings without, as it were, presenting top management with accomplished facts.




Any account of the role of top management in making policy must examine excepted and supergrade positions because they were among the most potent means by which the Administrator shaped the agency.8 To understand the importance of the excepted position, one must consider NACA's position vis-a-vis private industry at the end of World War II. Along with other Government laboratories, NACA found that it could no longer compete with industry for the best engineers; the situation was such that it threatened NACA's ability to operate effectively, if at all. In 1947 and 1949, Congress enacted legislation of the utmost significance to NACA/NASA. The act of 1 August 1947 (Public Law 80-313) authorized the Secretary of Defense to fill forty-five scientific and professional positions at salaries from $10 000 to $13 000, a range equivalent to that of the highest ranking Government officials; this authority was extended to NACA in 949 when it was allotted ten "Public Law 313" positions. Congress intended the positions to be used for recruitment rather than retention. They were to be filled by the head of the agency with the concurrence of the Civil Service Commission CSC). Moreover, the agency head was empowered to determine the appropriate salary within the bounds set by legislation. In a word, the 1947 act was intended give certain agencies, especially those doing R&D, a flexibility within the bounds of the civil service system. Public Law 313 was in no way intended as a lank check, and such positions were not to be filled as a matter of course. Each expansion of Public Law 313 positions was the result of tough bargaining between NACA and CSC.

[111] The 1949 Classification Act served to bring civil service salaries in line with those in the private sector. As the first major reform in classification since 1923, it established the job classification system that prevailed until the civil service reorganization of 1978. Briefly, the 1949 act accomplished four things. It consolidated the old "professional and scientific" and "clerical-administrative-fiscal" categories into one common structure, added three new grades popularly known as "supergrades", (GS-16 through GS-18), established numerical limits on the number of supergrades that could be established by CSC (the so-called "general quota"), and authorized the Commission to set standards for supergrade positions as well as the right to withdraw allocations from agencies not conforming to those standards. The supergrades established in 1949 were an addition to, not a replacement of, the Public Law 313 positions created two years earlier. However, with each increase in salaries in the supergrade range, Public Law 313 positions have been more or less reduced to those in the GS-16 to GS-18 range.

These two measures alleviated but did not resolve the problem of competitive salaries. From 1950 to 1958 Director Dryden and Jerome Hunsaker, chairman of NACA's Main Committee, urged Congress to extend its allotment of Public Law 313 positions. In 1956 Congress authorized thirty such positions (NACA had requested sixty), and on 20 June 1958 it authorized a ceiling of ninety Public Law 313 positions in anticipation of the creation of the new space agency. But in a curious way, this legislation only accentuated the problem. In 1949-1950 Dryden, Hunsaker, and the members of the Main Committee had decided that these positions ought to be filled from within. They had reasoned that the persons they might recruit would probably not be as qualified as the branch chiefs in the research divisions of the laboratories, "and that to bring such men of lesser quality into the agency under P.L.-313 appointments, while leaving the deputy laboratory directors and chiefs of major research divisions at 'P-8' would be indefensible and would precipitate numerous resignations."9

But this consideration did not arise when NACA asked for further extensions of Public Law 313 authority. By 1956 "the salary crisis was so critical that NACA was seeking any measures to retain its key personnel . . . from 1951 through 1958 NACA fought steadily for higher grades, P.L. 313 authority-any measures by which it could retain its staff through recognition and the prestige that the new supergrades and the P.L.-313 positions afforded." 10 Yet none of this stemmed the inexorable leakage of top personnel to industry. Between January 1955 and early 1960, NACA/NASA lost more than 250 GS-11 through GS-16 personnel with a median service of 11 years, 73 of them to 3 companies. The median salary increase for NACA executives moving to industry was $1,000-$3,000. 11 Such losses made it more difficult for the agency to perform its mission. As one author, assessing the problem in 1961, observed, "the government [was] indirectly paying these people what it [would] not pay them directly." 12

Such was NASA's position from its establishment to mid-1961. Congress sought to give NASA a much greater flexibility in filling science and engineering positions. Section 203(b)(2) of the Space Act provided that the officers and employees of NASA


[112] shall be compensated in accordance with the civil-service laws and their compensation fixed in accordance with the Classification Act of 1949, except that (A) to the extent the Administrator deems such action necessary to the discharge of his responsibilities, he may appoint and fix the compensation (up to a limit of $19,000 a year, or up to a limit of 521,000 a year for a maximum of ten positions) of not more than two hundred and sixty of the scientific, engineering, and administrative personnel of the Administration without regard to such laws.

Unfortunately, the intent of this clause was partially nullified by a ruling of the U.S. Comptroller General on the day that NASA began its official life: NACA's Public Law 313 positions were included in, not an addition to, the 260 positions authorized by the Space Act. Nevertheless, NASA managed to have the ceiling raised twice within the next 3 years, from 260 to 290 in June 1960 and to 425 in October 1961. The first increase was needed to accommodate the top-level personnel transferred from the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to the new Marshall Space Flight Center. In addition, twelve Public Law 313 positions were transferred from DOD to NASA-the so-called "German positions"-and the number of all positions permitted above $19 000 was raised from ten to thirteen. The second increase, from 290 to 425, was in response to the imperatives of the manned lunar landing; included was a proviso that not more than 355 were to be established prior to 1 March 1962 and not more than 390 prior to 1 July 1962.

To understand how NASA used its supergrades and excepted positions, it is well to round out the picture with a brief account of the 1962 Salary Reform Act. Earlier it was shown that lack of comparability, or equal pay for equal work, had been one of the problems NASA inherited from its predecessor agency. By 1960 one of the major problems within the Federal structure was how to retain, let alone attract, executives who could make considerably more money for comparable work in the private sector. Over the next two years, pressure for change built up within the Government, beginning with a March 1961 CSC report showing just how large the discrepancies between the public and private sectors really were.** This was followed by a Bureau of Labor Statistics report in November 1961 to much the same effect. These reports, along with that of an Advisory Panel on Federal Pay Systems, were the bases for the legislation introduced by President Kennedy on 20 February 1962.*** The 1962 act further enhanced NASA's ability to get the job done; indeed, it was the one major piece of legislation during the 1960s to allow NASA the increases in executive positions that top management believed to be essential. The act increased the rate for GS-18 positions from $18 500 to $20 000; identified the earlier $19 000 limit for all but thirty excepted positions (the number having been raised) with "the highest rate for grade GS18"; and, while raising the quota of supergrade positions in the Government to [113] 2400, established a nonquota category of scientific and research positions to be filled by agencies with approval by CSC. The act did not remove all numerical limitations nor did it fully accomplish making Federal salaries above grade GS-15 really comparable to the private sector. But for NASA in particular, it afforded an opportunity to recruit executives in the face of the continued denial to NASA of higher excepted position ceilings. In October 1962, for example, Webb requested the Bureau of the Budget to increase the number of such positions from 425 to 750. In July 1963 the Bureau denied the request, suggesting that NASA meet its requirements through applying to CSC for nonquota positions. This is what NASA had perforce to do; thus by the beginning of FY 1967, NASA had just over 700 supergrade personnel on board.13

One of the difficulties in evaluating so complex and technical an area as NASA's use of supergrade and nonquota positions is the lack of precision with which these terms were used. A GS-16 position could be supergrade, excepted, nonquota, or Public Law 313, depending on the context. Another potential pitfall is to make too much of NASA's uniqueness. In seeking to attract the most highly qualified engineers and administrators, NASA was doing no more than any other R&D agency. When Webb and Dryden tried unsuccessfully to raise the excepted position ceiling to 750, they coordinated their program with the Director of Defense Research and Engineering and the Director of the National Institutes of Health.14

With these caveats, the question remains: What difference did the availability of excepted and nonquota positions make to NASA? The most important administrative result was the leverage gained by Glennan and then Webb for structuring the agency. Only the Administrator could "establish an Excepted Position, change the assignment of an incumbent, change his title, or his rate of compensation."15 Glennan and Webb thought of these positions as a resource personal to themselves, a resource that might be used to structure the agency at the higher levels without the need to seek congressional approval. But from about 1962, a number of constraints began to restrict the Administrator's ability to allot excepted positions. Within the agency there was pressure from the program offices and the centers to retain the excepted positions they already had. The centers and program directors would, as it were, "associate their 'total' . . . as a 'quota guaranteed to them, so that with loss of any one individual, they felt free to 'replace him' with some other position." 16 From being the Administrator's personal resource, the excepted position became a budgetary resource to be divided within the agency. In effect, every such position tended to be committed once CSC authorized it.

The real threat to NASA's use of excepted slots came from outside. First the number of excepted positions was frozen at 425; then the Administrator lost authority to place certain top-level positions in the excepted category; finally CSC began to approve fewer nonquota positions, even though the number of such positions was unrestricted by law. The Federal Executive Salary Act of 1964, for the first time, named those positions beyond the $21 000 limit (raised from [114] $19 000 in 1962) that the Administrator could fill; these were the positions just below the level of the Administrator and Deputy Administrator. In the view of one official,


The limit of $21,000 for "not more than 30" of the Excepted Positions had permitted the Administrator to re-establish the major program offices of NASA as he deemed necessary.... With the top positions in the Agency now set forth by precise title in the Executive Salary Act, he must seek prior approval of further major changes through formal legislative proposal and debate. The element of "flexibility" and quick response to new management concepts and structures was lost. 17


As NASA manpower and funding peaked, the agency was under much greater pressure from CSC to justify its nonquota positions. In October 1966, for example, CSC advised the heads of executive agencies that further requests for positions at grade GS-16 and above "must show how the needed positions are essential to the accomplishment of Great Society objectives. '' 18 It would not suffice for NASA to claim that it supported the "Great Society" in some general but undefinable way. Agency heads now had to cite specific legislative or executive authority for the programs for which they sought new positions. Nor were such positions, even if approved, to become in any sense the property of the agency requesting them; whenever a slot was no longer required for an approved position, the Commission would consider Government-wide needs in deciding what to do with it.

The more NASA sought an increased number of nonquota positions, the more chary the Commission became in granting them. In August 1966 CSC Chairman John W. Macy, Jr. wrote to Webb:


It is very difficult for us to rationalize the increase in the number of high-level positions in an agency when the program of the agency is not changing significantly.... it appears questionable that the increases since 1962 fully support the increase which has taken place in the number of high-level positions.... I am afraid that you and we will be subject to severe criticism from the Congress if the number of high-level positions continues to increase at the rate at which it has been increasing for the past several years. 19


Unfortunately for NASA, the dollar level of its programs was not a reliable index of its requirements. NASA spent comparatively little on salaries; the bulk of its funds went for contracted hardware systems. This meant that as NASA's capital equipment increased, the agency would continue to need highly trained personnel for the kinds of scientific programs that such equipment made possible. In 1966-1967 NASA programs continued to grow beyond the capabilities envisaged by CSC and the Bureau of the Budget in 1962-1963. The new Electronics Research Center was still only partially staffed, and planning for Voyager and Apollo Applications was under way, while in October 1965 the transfer to the Kennedy Space Center of responsibility for unmanned launches meant that a new block of positions would be needed there. The upshot of the matter was a compromise. NASA agreed not to seek more GS-16 personnel; instead it would use some [115] of its forty excepted slots on the understanding that they would be converted to grade GS-16 at the beginning of FY 1968. However, the majority of these excepted slots had not been utilized when Seamans, who had handled negotiations with CSC, left NASA at the end of 1967.

If this account of NASA's authority to fill excepted positions shows anything, it is the great importance that top management attached to them. Webb, Dryden, and Seamans fought hard to extend that authority by persuading Congress to raise the level of excepted positions, hiring nonquota personnel where excepted personnel were unavailable, reserving as far as possible a certain number of excepted positions for "quick hires" of executives from outside the agency, and doing what they could to keep the center directors and program associate administrators at the highest levels authorized by the various salary acts. In some ways, NASA's record in justifying its supergrade positions was outstanding. One ranking CSC staff member advised Macy that, of all the supergrade positions, those from NASA had "the least water in them, of any of the agencies and departments."20 Yet the success of NASA's use of excepted personnel mostly depended on a balance of forces outside the agency-principally the willingness of Congress to raise the salary structure in order to attract engineers and administrators on whose talents the future of NASA would depend.




Despite their significance for top management, excepted positions comprised a small fraction of the NASA work force, seldom more than 2 percent. One must turn elsewhere to derive some useful generalizations about NASA employees as a whole and to consider the more general features of agency personnel policy. Four features seem noteworthy: the generous allotment of supergrade and excepted positions for the agency's top managers; the unusually high proportion of scientists and engineers in relation to the total work force; the use of military detailees as project managers, support staff, and, of course, astronauts; and NASA's extensive use of support service contracts at its newer centers. The first and last features have already been discussed; the next section considers the ways in which centers like Marshall Space Flight Center and Manned Spacecraft Center (or program offices like Tracking and Data Acquisition) made use of support contract personnel. This section considers the makeup of in-house personnel.

A high proportion of NASA personnel were scientists and engineers, a higher proportion, perhaps, than in any other Federal agency doing research and development work.21 Between 1960 and 1968 their share of the total NASA work force was fairly constant, ranging between one-third in 1961 and two-fifths in 1967 (table 5-1). Moreover, if the figures for in-house and contractor scientists and engineers are combined, the total was a constant one-fourth throughout the period.

But these figures must be examined before their significance becomes apparent. First of all, who are scientists and engineers? Are statisticians and computer...



Table 5-1.-NASA scientists and engineers as a percentage of NASA employment, 1960-1968.

(30 June approximations)












Contractor scientists and engineers

7 300

12 600

25 000

48 200

68 800

72 600

77 400

64 800

51 350

Percentage of contractor employment










NASA scientists and engineers

3 500

5 800

8 200

11 000

12 400

13 500

14 300

14 500

13 715

Percentage of NASA employment










Total scientists and engineers

10 800

18 400

33 200

59 200

81 200

86 100

91 700

79 300

65 065

Percentage of total employment










Distribution of total scientists and engineers

By employer (100%)





















By appropriation (100%)

Administrative operations







Research and development






Construction of facilities






By program office (100%)

University affairs





0 5


Technology utilization






Tracking and data acquisition






Advanced research and technology






Space sciences and applications






Manned space flight






By sector (100%)














University and nonprofit






Other characteristics (100%)

Prime and subcontractors-A&D







Prime and subcontractors-COF






Service contractors-A&D






Service contractors-AO






Materials and supplies-A&D






University and nonprofit-R&D






NASA employees-AO






Source: NASA Data Book, table 3-27.


[117] ...programmers included in this category; are persons trained in science or engineering who were employed in positions that did not require such training included? The lack of widely accepted definitions may be one reason why statistical breakdowns that would compare NASA employment of scientists and engineers with other R&D agencies are so hard to come by. The matter is further complicated because scientists and engineers were grouped by NASA under three separate occupational codes. NASA defined scientists and engineers as "all persons primarily engaged in the performance or direction of scientific, engineering, mathematical, or other technical professional work requiring a 4-year college major . . . in engineering or in physical, life, or mathematical science."22 This would exclude persons trained in the social sciences, include statisticians, and leave open the occupational group to which computer programmers belong. Of the total, all but an insignificant number of scientists and engineers were grouped under occupational code 700 (scientific and engineering positions), a classification that included persons with aerospace technology qualifications. This qualification was important chiefly because of the special examination that CSC authorized NASA to employ, beginning in 1962. This examination was for NASA's use alone; and part C, "for work in Research and Development Administration," was hailed by NASA officials as an "advance in selective examination and recruitment." What made the examination, especially part C, unique, was that the applicant, in addition to the required educational background, had to demonstrate "understanding of research and development organizations and their specialized problems, organizational structures, functions, operations, and characteristics."23 The beauty of this requirement was its openendedness: NASA could add specialties, give the examiner discretion in interpreting requirements, and generally make use of a hiring freedom unmatched by any other agency. NASA personnel controlled the examination at the critical points: they administered it, they rated it, and they gave it much of its specific content. The aerospace technology examination "provided a means for NASA to fill almost all of what could be termed its 'professional' positions. This, combined with the power of the Administrator to make 'excepted' appointments, gave NASA almost complete control over whom it hired." 24

Where did NASA obtain its newly hired scientists and engineers? The major hiring campaigns occurred in 1961-1962 and 1962-1963; the results are shown in table 5-2. Approximately 70 percent of newly hired scientists and engineers came from either industry or Government. In 1963-1964 the source of new technical hires shifted significantly from Government to industry, while recruitment from colleges and universities stayed constant at 23 percent. All this was in marked contrast to contractor experience: Most of their new hires came from other industrial organizations or other plants and divisions of the same company, with an insignificant percentage recruited from Government.

Where were in-house and contractor scientists and engineers employed? Table 5-3, which gives the essential figures as of 30 June 1964, reveals that 85 percent of the scientists and engineers in the NASA work force were employed by....



Table 5-2.-Organizational sources of NASA in-house scientists and engineers.













+ 8.4

Federal Government

40.1 %


- 11.2

College or university 1



- 0.5

Other 2



+ 3.3

1 Graduating students account for 20.8% in 1963-64 and 22.1% in 1961-62.

2 Includes Nonprofit organizations, unemployed, and other.


Source: Reply to Sen. Gaylord Nelson, table III-A. NASA Staff Study of Recruitment Sources and Selected Characteristics of Scientists and Engineers Hired by NASA (1 Oct. 1962-30 Sept. 1964).


....private industry, including JPL; 83 percent were working on NASA programs funded by the research and development appropriation; 62 percent were employed under the direct supervision of OMSF and that, of these, 10.8 percent (5450) were NASA employees. These figures also show that while 38.2 percent of total NASA civil service employees were scientists and engineers, only 19.8 percent of contractor employees were.25 Contractors performed a major share of NASA work, and NASA required qualified persons to direct and monitor these activities. At the same time, each NASA scientist or engineer had more contractor employees to supervise: where there was 1 NASA scientist or engineer for 1.5 contractor scientists and engineers in 1960, there was only 1 for every 5 in 1964, and 1 for every 5.5 in 1966.26

How did NASA requirements for scientists and engineers compare with national requirements in the same categories? Table 5-4 shows that NASA manpower requirements were 4.6 percent of national requirements in 1964, rising to only 5.4 percent in 1965. The issue of national manpower requirements for specialists was a source of some confusion during the mid-1960s. Journalists, scientists, and Congressmen who criticized the space program accused NASA, among other things, of siphoning off scientific manpower from areas with greater need, of possessing a disproportionate share of the nation's scientific manpower, and of attracting to itself a greater number of scientists and engineers than its programs warranted. But such criticisms simply ignored the lack of a national policy to coordinate the distribution of scientists and engineers. To be sure, the NASA Administrator was a member of the Federal Council for Science and Technology, established in 1959 to act as such a coordinating body. There were also congressional committees in abundance, ad hoc panels of the National Academy of Sciences, and various coordinating mechanisms involving NASA and DOD. Nevertheless, there was no formal agency to coordinate or to make a unified national science policy; therefore, each agency was free to recruit personnel to meet its own needs, subject only to budgetary restrictions. In the absence of....



Table 5-3.-Total scientists and engineers on NASA work by program office, 30 June 1964.


Program Office


Research and Development

Construction of Facilities

Administrative Operations

Prime and Sub

University and Nonprofit


Prime and Sub


Service Contractor

NASA Employees



81 200

58 300

2 .300

6 600

1 400



12 400

Office of Manned Space Flight

50 350

39 100


4 570

1 040



5 450

Office of Advanced Research and Technology

11 600

5 560






4 430

Office of Space Science and Applications

15 420

10 800

1 620





2 000

Office of Tracking and Data Acquisition

3 720

2 800







Office of Technology Utilization and Policy Planning









Source: NASA Management Information Systems Division (Office of Administration), Scientists and Engineers and Total Employment on NASA Programs as of June 30, 1964, table IV. 15 Dec. 1964.


Table 5-4.-NASA requirements for scientists and engineers compared with national requirements, 1960-1970.

Year (1 Jan.)

National Requirements 1

NASA Requirements 2

NASA Requirements as a Percent of National Requirements



1 185 000

8 400



1 260 000

14 700



1 340 000

22 000



1 415 000

43 500



1 495 000

68 600



1 570 000

84 500



1 645 000

87 900



1 725 000

87 900



1 800 000

87 900



1 880 000

87 900



1 955 000

87 900


1 The data on national requirements are from preliminary estimates prepared by the Department of Labor, published in The Manpower Report of the President (Mar.1963),pp.100, 125, as follows: total scientists, 1960, 335 000; total engineers, 1960, 850 000; total scientists, 1970, 580 000; total engineers, 1970, 1 375 000 This table presents a linear interpolation between the key dates of 1960 and 1970. For 1960 through 1964, these data are estimates of persons employed in existing positions. For 1965 through 1970, the data are projections of requirements, not supply.

2 The estimates of NASA requirements for 1967 through 1970 are projected at a constant level assuming a budget program of approximately $5.2 billion annually.


Source: NASA Management Information Systems Division (Office of Administration) Scientists and Engineers and total Employment on NASA Programs as of June 30, 19b4, table IV. 15 Dec. 1964.


....yardsticks to determine "how much is enough," no one could say that a certain percentage of scientists in an R&D agency was enough or too much. Projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics or by NASA had to reckon on the existence of variables external to the system. For what they are worth, the figures in table 5-4 show that NASA requirements were neither as great as its critics feared nor as small as its defenders anticipated.

One feature that the tables do not indicate is that in the 1960s the NASA work force was mostly white and male, especially at the higher levels. The issue of equal employment opportunity (EEO) was not yet the source of difficulty it would later become, when the imperative (for NASA) of recruiting and retaining highly trained personnel collided with the demands of blacks and women for a greater share of Federal jobs. EEO, as a challenge and as a battle cry, originated with President Johnson's Executive Order 11246 (24 September 1965).**** This [121] declared the policy of prohibiting discrimination in Federal employment, and it enjoined the head of each executive agency to "establish and maintain a positive program of equal employment opportunity for all civilian employees and applicants for employment within his jurisdiction."27 In addition, each agency became responsible for ensuring that its contractors took "affirmative action" to promote equal employment opportunity.

This and subsequent executive orders were ambiguous in a crucial sense.28 It was not enough for NASA to show that it did not discriminate against its employees nor that it permitted its contractors to do so. The burden of proof was now on the agency to show that minorities and women were adequately represented as a percentage of full-time employees. But there was no basis for arguing that one group was or was not represented adequately until one answered the question, "compared to what?" In 1973, 3.4 percent of all NASA scientists and engineers were black, while the Government-wide average for black employees was about 20 percent. On the other hand, since 3.5 percent of scientists and engineers in the United States were of minority groups, the NASA figure was very close to the average. Many of the difficulties faced by NASA in implementing EEO were not, of course, of the agency's making. The procedures could not be worked all at once but only on the basis of accrued experience. Moreover, NASA faced the problem of comparable pay in hiring the relatively few black scientists and engineers who were coming on the market in the early 1970s; most of them could go into industry at salaries considerably higher than NASA was authorized to pay. In any case, NASA had all it could do to keep the engineers it already had, much less hire new ones.

In a sense, NASA's problem was how to give EEO proper organizational location and visibility. Until 1971, EEO was handled by two separate divisions on a part-time basis. The Director of Personnel was responsible for handling internal EEO policy, while the Office of Procurement enforced compliance of contractors operating at or near NASA centers. Since both offices had many other responsibilities, EEO was relatively low on their list of priorities. Furthermore, there were genuine difficulties in coordinating these programs on a Government-wide basis. On the one hand, CSC was charged with implementing EEO in the Federal Government, and the Labor Department was charged with establishing rules for contractor compliance. On the other hand, each agency was responsible for establishing and maintaining its own program. Thus the potential overlap between NASA, CSC and the Labor Department created a zone of uncertainty. In September 1971 NASA consolidated its EEO activities by establishing an Equal Employment Opportunity Office that reported to the Associate Administrator for Organization and Management.

NASA policy has always been to make the maximum use of DOD capabilities. Thus NASA used DOD support in contract administration, procurement of launch vehicles like the Titan II, and tracking and capsule recovery in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. One of the more important of these services was the detailing of military officers to NASA for extended tours of duty-usually [122] for three years with a one-year renewal option. When NASA was established, the only persons with experience in the kinds of projects the agency was expected to implement were officers involved in weapon systems development. A short list of military detailees form the Air Force makes its own point: Lt. Gen. Samuel Phillips, Apollo Program Manager from 1964 to 1969; Maj. Gen. James W. Humphreys, Jr., Director of Space Medicine, Office of Manned Space Flight; Brig. Gen. Edmund O'Connor, Director of Industrial Operations at Marshall; and Brig. Gen. C. H. Bolender, Program Director for the lunar module. An incidental advantage of using detailees was that they did not count against the numerical ceiling imposed by the Bureau of the Budget on personnel.29

The detailee system was governed by agreements between NASA and DOD, especially the agreement approved by President Eisenhower in April 1959. This established a procedure for coordinating NASA requests with what DOD was prepared to furnish; set the tour of duty at three years, although either agency could terminate an assignment earlier; stipulated that NASA supervisors prepare military effectiveness reports; and required that NASA reimburse the military departments for pay and allowances. The increase in the number of detailees assigned to NASA coincided closely with changes in the scope of NASA's manned spaceflight programs. There were 77 detailees with NASA at the end of 1960,161 at the end of 1962, and 323 at the end of 1966, after which the number gradually leveled off.30 The number declined after NASA had developed a pool of experienced managers capable of taking over many of the jobs to which officers had been assigned. Many detailees resigned their commissions after completing their tours of duty to take jobs with industry, and it was considered common knowledge in the services that "when they detail an outstanding [flag] officer to NASA, that is the last they see of him."31 Not the least of NASA's worries was that there might be a sudden withdrawal of officers for urgent military needs, as in Southeast Asia. While NASA continued to call on the services for manpower, from 1966 on positions were not filled with detailees until a reasonable effort had been made to obtain a civilian.

The selection of the astronauts deserves fuller treatment than the brief summary offered here, but a paragraph must suffice.32 Millions who could not have identified the NASA Administrator or the Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight knew who John Glenn and Neil Armstrong were. Between 1959 and 1969 NASA selected seven groups for astronautic training. Over the decade, there was a trend from military detailees to civilian recruits and a shift toward the utilization of scientists in addition to test pilots. In this sense, the history of astronaut selection reflects the changing nature of the manned spaceflight program. In the beginning what counted was the physical and mental stamina of the candidates, as well as their coordination and reaction time. Manned spaceflight first had to be shown to be feasible before the later Apollo missions, whose main purpose was scientific investigation, could proceed. Astronauts were also expected to assist in developing future spacecraft and advanced flight simulators, and their experience and judgment were essential in changing or freezing [123] the design of existing flight equipment. The recruitment and training of the astronauts was, without doubt, the most taxing and successful of NASA's personnel development programs.




The reader might suppose that since NASA was committed to contracting out for most of its operations, all the centers (and program offices) used contractor personnel in the same way and to the same degree. This was not the way support contracting worked. In 1968 Langley, with 4200 civil service personnel, had only 450 support contractors actually working at the center. Lewis, with 4600 civil service employees, had about 350 support contractors, almost all of whom were at the center's Plum Brook Station.33 In general, the newer centers made the most extensive use of support services, but even they followed no set policy from above, save for the vague formulas of the NASA circular (NPC 401), "Contracting for Nonpersonal Services." The three Office of Manned Space Flight (OMSF) centers, for example, had individual contracting patterns.34 Following the August 1963 reorganization, Marshall consolidated its contracts into two groups. In the first were the "mission support" contracts negotiated for each of the center's nine laboratories; these were in research, test, design, and "special maintenance and operation." Marshall then planned two master contracts-one for technical services and one for management services-each of which was designed to support the center across all organizational lines. At Marshall (and also at Goddard) there was one prime contractor for each laboratory or division for which support was provided, each contract covered one or two years with an option for renewal, and the contract was normally cost-plus-award-fee. A noteworthy point, and one that distinguished Marshall from the older centers, was that most contract personnel were stationed on-site in such a way that they were not always segregated from civil service employees.

The contracting patterns at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) were slightly different. At Kennedy there were five master contracts that supported the center across the board: (1) launch support (including advance storage, shop operations, and Complex 39); (2) instrumentation support; (3) base communications (operation and maintenance of all communications except administrative telephones); (4) administrative service (including printing, photographic support, and automatic data equipment operation); and (5) base operations (including guard, janitorial, and motor pool services), which, under a consolidated contract, was provided by Trans-World Airlines. Incidentally, NASA's multicontractor approach was the opposite of that used by the Air Force at the Eastern Test Range, where Pan American World Airways was prime contractor for operation and maintenance. As a congressional study noted,


[124] NASA deliberately avoided the single-contractor approach used on the Eastern Test Range because it did not want to get "locked" into a situation where it had to rely on one contractor. The agency was convinced that several contractors . . . would provide more competition and thus lower costs.... NASA also contended that a multicontractor pattern minimizes labor problems by not risking the totality of the operation to a single contractor who might be struck.35


At MSC the pattern was midway between Marshall's "one contract per laboratory" approach and Kennedy's five master contracts. MSC used six master contracts for the same number of functions; within the mission support contract there were subsidiary contracts, one per laboratory.

Since the policy issues in contracting for support services are fully discussed in chapter 4, only the main points need be summarized here. NASA defended contracts for nonpersonal services for the following reasons: (1) the rapid buildup of the Gemini and Apollo programs precluded reliance on civil servants alone, (2) it was NASA policy not to develop in-house capabilities that were already available in the private sector, (3) NASA employees were needed for technical direction rather than for hardware fabrication or routine chores, (4) NASA had developed safeguards for policing its contractors, (5) it was better to let the up-and-down swings in manpower take place in the contractor, rather than the civil service, work force, and (6) the practice of using support service contractors had been fully disclosed to Congress and the Bureau of the Budget. However, these contracts were not in the same category as the Bellcomm and Boeing TIE contracts. Support service contracts were for functions that were repetitive, continuous, and routine, such as computer programming, data processing, and general maintenance. The Bellcomm and Boeing TIE contracts were for engineering support that, some Congressmen held, NASA had no right to contract out. But relying so heavily on the private sector for maintenance services laid NASA open to all sorts of criticism. First, there were no cost studies to prove that contracting for services was less expensive than doing the work in-house. Second, because many contractor employees were located on-site, there was the danger that they would be intermingled with the civil service work force and that NASA employees might find themselves supervising contract labor, which was illegal. Third, some Government labor union officials suspected that NASA was using support contracts to circumvent personnel ceilings imposed by the Bureau of the Budget. And this suspicion might have drawn support from Webb's correspondence with Budget Director Kermit Gordon, in which Webb protested manpower restrictions imposed by Gordon. Webb flatly stated that NASA was using support contracts because NASA, with its limited manpower, had to turn outside for certain kinds of work.36

Outside the Federal Government, most of the opposition to support contracts came from organized labor, especially the American Federation of Government Employees. Within the Government, NASA manpower and contracting policies were closely watched by several agencies, notably the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO). Established by the 1921 Budget and Accounting Act, and headed by the U.S. Comptroller General, GAO is an independent agency of the legislative [125] branch. Its principal function and the reason for its importance is the authority vested in it "to examine the manner in which Government agencies discharge their financial responsibilities and to make reports to the Congress on the financial operations of the Federal agencies."37 The reports are normally of two kinds: survey reports, which serve as the basis either for a draft report or a decision not to proceed further; and draft reports, which are submitted to the whole Congress, individual members or committees (especially the congressional Government Operations committees), or officials of the agency being reviewed.38 Much of GAO's influence rests on its authority to approve agencywide accounting systems, to audit and settle the accounts of executive officers, and to make comprehensive reviews, in which "emphasis is not on the individual transactions but on the soundness of the agency's accounting and financial management system and the efficiency of its operations generally. "39 In other words, the Comptroller General has construed GAO's authority to inspect an agency's records as one of general oversight, comparable to that enjoyed by the legislative committees of Congress.

NASA's relations with GAO have followed a well-defined pattern. During NASA's early years GAO paid it comparatively little attention, save for the "production of documents" controversy in 1959. As late as FY 1964, when GAO made 147 audit reports to Congress on DOD management, it made only 3 on NASA.40 But inevitably GAO would turn more of its attention to NASA; the agency was simply too visible, and its contracting practices were too much like those of DOD. When Elmer Staats became Comptroller General in March 1966, the processes of audit and comprehensive review were intensified. Moreover, GAO has two specific powers that were bound to affect its relations with NASA. It is authorized to consider protests by unsuccessful bidders on Government contracts, and it has the right to audit the records of contractors having Government contracts negotiated without advertising, an authority whose significance for NASA is obvious.41 GAO interpreted these powers broadly as authorization to review R&D activities, including complete programs. Thus GAO reviewed supposed cost overruns on the development of scientific instruments for Surveyor, the management of the S-II program by North American Aviation, and the same company's management of its Apollo command and service module contract (drawing on excerpts from the Phillips report); undertook to examine the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory program at the request of the chairman of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics; and reviewed scheduling practices related to the development of the Nimbus spacecraft. 42

The effects of GAO audit reports varied. In some cases Congress took no action; in others GAO terminated a report, either because of inadequate manpower to handle the study or because the study itself did not seem worth pursuing. And in a surprising number of cases, GAO canceled or modified draft reports because of NASA comments. 43 This probably owes less to the innate reasonableness of NASA's position than to the experience gained by officials in constant touch with GAO. It has been NASA policy since the early 1960s not to invoke executive privilege in response to GAO requests for documents; this had been the [126] issue between Glennan and the Comptroller General when the latter reviewed the negotiations leading to the Rocketdyne contract for the F-1 engine (see p. 73). It was consistent with NASA policy that relations with GAO should not degenerate into adversary proceedings. More important, NASA took steps to coordinate its replies to GAO draft reports. Prior to 1967 agency replies were normally prepared and dispatched by the "cognizant" official or program office; a report on Surveyor would be answered by the Associate Administrator for Space Science and Applications or his deputy. Under the 1967 reorganization, all replies had to go through the Office of Organization and Management, which coordinated the facts and memorandums comprising NASA's position. In this way, the agency could speak with one voice.

Yet it is undeniable that, starting in the mid-1960s, GAO began to take a close, hard look at NASA. By 1975 it was reviewing NASA activities like the space shuttle almost on a "real time" basis. The review of R&D programs was by no means the only area to which GAO's audit powers extended. It intensified its review of NASA financial management systems, including the planning-programming-budgeting system mandated for executive agencies in 1965. It continued to review Government-wide use of automatic data processing equipment, especially the rental versus purchase issue. It began to address more of its audit reports to agency officials than to Congress. Finally-and this is where the discussion began-it turned to NASA's use of contracts for nonpersonal services, from bid proposal expenses to contracts for base support at NASA laboratories and installations. 44 Basically, GAO found such contracts suspect, either because they set up what appeared to be an employer-employee relation or were costing the Government more money than the use of civil service personnel would have. And here NASA was vulnerable because it could not readily show that such contracts were less expensive and because NASA had few criteria to determine whether certain kinds of work should be done in-house or contracted out.

One such GAO report on contracts at Marshall and Goddard in June 1967 helped to touch off an evaluation and overhaul of NASA personnel policies. To be precise, the GAO report was the first in a chain of events that included reductions in the NASA budget, which led to program cancelations and concomitant layoffs of personnel; a Civil Service Commission "Evaluation of Personnel Management," which criticized the ways in which NASA used its manpower; and a decision in October by a CSC administrative judge that most NASA support contracts were illegal. All these factors led to a NASA-wide review. This combination of budget cuts, reductions in force (RIFs, or dismissing personnel) and across-the-board reviews had an effect on top management that may be called tonic by some and purgative by others. The next section examines the changes that review, reduction, and RIFs forced on NASA.




Review, reduction, and RIFs must be understood in terms of a broad context. NASA had its interests to defend, but so did GAO, CSC, and the Executive Office.

[127] For the reasons given above, GAO eventually was bound to pay more attention to NASA contracting and manpower practices. CSC had to mediate between an agency that needed (but could not easily request) more nonquota positions and a Congress that was inclined to question the number already on hand. As for relations with the Executive Office, Webb summed them up with his usual frankness at a meeting with center directors in September 1966. Referring to President Johnson, he said that


we are not dealing with the guy who said, I am your champion, I will go out there and fight your battles, I will get Kennedy and his Congress to give you the money. He is saying, by God, I have got problems and you fellows are not cooperating with me. You could have reduced your expenditures last year and helped me out, you didn't do it.


At the Bureau of the Budget,


Elmer Staats is gone, even Kermit Gordon is gone and the guys that are there now are interested in this cost-effectiveness program.... It is the byword over there.... I must say that all I get is a cold, stony demand that we act like the Post Office when I go over there.45


Webb and the others conceded that there would have to be changes, but the meeting broke up without consensus on the nature of the changes.

In the area of manpower management the agency already had begun a blueprint for the future. Three weeks before Webb's meeting with his center directors, a NASA task force submitted its "Considerations in the Management of Manpower in NASA." This task force, established by Seamans and chaired by Wesley Hjornevik, the Director for Administration at MSC, included representatives from other NASA centers; its report provided a penetrating analysis of the agency's manpower problems and some recommendations for resolving them.+ The task force gave special attention to "possible methods by which Center complements could be adjusted by management to meet the needs of changing roles and missions."46 This adjustment problem existed in two forms. One was the relation between space sciences and manned spaceflight and the changes in center roles that this relation would bring about. The other was the so-called "Marshall problem," the belief throughout NASA that Marshall "was the source for manpower needed elsewhere and the place where surplus manpower would occur as the Apollo Program phased down." 47 The Marshall problem extended beyond the future of Marshall itself to embrace a host of other questions: What should be done with centers whose primary role and mission (in Marshall's case, booster development) was changing or disappearing? How could headquarters mediate between two centers reporting to the same program office-like Marshall and MSC-with different attitudes toward this problem? Was manpower a resource available to the entire agency, one that could be shifted freely between centers? And was there any method by which NASA could determine how its work force [128] was utilized, the nature of that work force, and its availability as programs were terminated and others were begun? The last question is logically anterior to the others since, without accurate figures, no agency manpower plan could be realistic.

The Hjornevik task force found that existing techniques for tracking manpower were inadequate, whether because headquarters ignored them, or because the program offices only presented their needs one year at a time, or because the various manpower reports did not match excess manpower with new programs. The task force report emphasized that this was not enough and that "a continuing effort should be made . . . to formalize and . . . standardize methods of justifying and validating manpower requirements at all levels."48 This could be done by making three-to-five-year projections based on actual and proposed future programs and the requirements for new starts being considered at each center. Such a system might tell NASA management how manpower was really used. More to the point, such a system could be effective only in proportion as it related each center and program to the other centers and programs comprising the total NASA effort.

To use such information, the agency needed techniques for matching manpower with program requirements. In turn, their usefulness involved two assumptions: that each center's manpower complement would remain stable and that contractor manpower would remain available to free civil service employees for more important tasks. Granted these assumptions (both of which were overtaken by events), the task force identified seven ways to match manpower with programs: functional transfer of groups (e.g., the transfer of the Space Task Group from Langley to Houston); individual transfers; RIFs in one area coupled with increased hiring in another; attrition either among organizations or skill groups; retraining personnel; reassigning work from an overloaded to an underloaded area; and use of the vacant-position "float," that is, the gap between authorized and filled positions.49 These options were available to NASA but not all to the same degree. The task force dismissed out of hand the possibility of mass transfers; the conditions that had led to the transfer of the Space Task Group to Houston or the Naval Research Laboratory scientists to Goddard no longer existed. Transfers of individuals were even less likely to succeed because of the morale problems such moves usually created. Reductions in force were to be viewed as a last resort, "where a function, office, or discrete facility is being eliminated . . . its results are usually unsatisfactory." 50 Retraining personnel was valuable as a means of "changing the skill mix or enabling a Center to move from one step in technology to the next." But the task force rejected retraining as a way of redistributing manpower for the same reason that it viewed personnel transfers as impractical. In the end, the Hjornevik report endorsed three methods of matching personnel to programs. It very cautiously approved the concept of assigning tasks where the manpower was available. Such endorsement had to be cautious because each center had developed its own special capability and because '`the prime interest of a center can properly change only very gradually." 51 The task force also approved [129] of using attrition to move slots between centers and the "float" of unfilled positions to handle emergency requirements.

In sum, the Hjornevik report provided NASA with three things. First, it diagnosed the agency's manpower problems: the lack of reporting systems to determine the agency's needs as related to present and future planning, the absence of tradeoff studies to establish how far personnel at one center were available to another, and the failure of officials to coordinate manpower information with the budget and programming cycle. Second, it made specific recommendations for the short term; recommendations that on the one hand called for the assembly of information needed by management for an agencywide view of civil service manpower, and on the other hand, for the centers' participation in the kind of planning that would have to cross institutional and program office lines. Third, the report attempted to demonstrate that attrition and reassignment of work between centers were the two basic methods for matching civil service manpower to program changes. All these recommendations assumed that NASA could maintain its in-house work force at a fairly stable level.

The Hjornevik report was a warning that NASA would have to prepare for major changes within the near future. Yet the events of 1967 seem to have taken the agency almost unawares. The GAO report of June 1967 on support contracts at Goddard and Marshall concluded that NASA could have achieved additional savings by using civil service employees.52 At Marshall, GAO auditors reviewed three contracts at three laboratories and concluded that NASA could have realized savings of 19 percent; at Goddard, of 7.4 percent.++ The thrust of this and other GAO reports of 1967-1968 was that NASA had not developed adequate costing standards to justify contracting for support services, whether for engineering support at Goddard or guard and fire protection services at KSC. Besides GAO's failure to recognize the pressure from Congress to maintain personnel strength below authorized levels, what especially troubled NASA officials was the report's conclusion that the principal rationale for such contracts no longer applied: "in contrast to its past rate of growth, NASA has now achieved a relative degree of stability and should be able to better consider relative costs in assessing the extent to which it should continue to rely on the use of support service contracts."53

The GAO reports did not go the whole route and conclude that support contracts as such were illegal. But following its review of six Goddard contracts, GAO turned them over to CSC for further study. And it was the CSC decision, based on a study of two of these contracts, that NASA's use of contractor personnel was illegal. This decision, handed down in October 1967 by General Counsel Leo Pellerzi, threatened NASA with serious disruption at a time when it was already reducing its own work force. Pellerzi ruled that the contracts were illegal because they involved on-site performance by contractors, because they set up an employer-employee relation between Government and contractor personnel, and [130] because "contract personnel are performing the regular work of the agency.... It seems clear that what Goddard has done in this situation is to create federal positions."54 The question then was not whether NASA would have to lay off contractor personnel, only how soon.

Coming on the heels of the GAO report, the Pellerzi decision was enormously troubling to NASA officials. Yet neither had any dramatic effect-not immediately, anyway. On the eve of the Pellerzi decision, NASA employment was down more than 100 000 from what it had been at the beginning of 1966. Furthermore, the practice of support contracting was so widespread, in DOD as in NASA, that it was unrealistic to suppose that it could have been eliminated. In any case, neither CSC, GAO, nor the Bureau of the Budget wanted to force a showdown. Rather, they began to work with the Office of Organization and Management, which became NASA's liaison with these agencies, to hammer out a uniform policy on support contracts. Between the announcement of the Pellerzi decision and the spring of 1968, Finger issued guidelines that, taken together, signaled a move to bring such contracts under much tighter central control. No function then performed by civil servants could be converted to contract, all new support contracts and extensions of old ones over $100 000 had to be approved in advance by Finger, requests for contract approval would have to include cost comparisons for all functions where cost was a consideration in contracting for services, and service contracts were to be limited to one year. Also, support contract manpower was to be reduced at a rate at least twice as great as that for Government employees. These guidelines were in addition to a joint study that NASA conducted with CSC, GAO, and the Bureau of the Budget to develop a mutually acceptable cost model for support services. The issue was so fraught with uncertainty that NASA had perforce to remain in a holding pattern until clear Government-wide standards could be brought into play.55

In fact, it is surprising that so much sound and fury should have led to such inconclusive, short-term results. NASA developed tighter central control and took steps to provide for periodic recompetition of such contracts. As for the reviews that led to the GAO reports and the Pellerzi decision, the outcome was neither simple nor final. After more than a year of negotiations, NASA announced at the end of 1968 that it would convert 810 contractor positions at Goddard to civil service status.56 At KSC, NASA modified certain practices in contracting for fire protection and photographic support, as recommended by GAO.57 The center consolidated its photographic work with that done at the Air Force Eastern Test Range, reduced the expenses involved (Trans-World Airlines) subcontract for in having its prime support contractor guard and fire protection service, and (at KSC and Marshall) consolidated many engineering support contracts into large master contracts. The result of all the pressure from GAO and CSC was that NASA developed more rigorous costing standards and, in general, used such contracts much more selectively. But as long as NASA was committed to spending most of its procurement dollars in the private sector, support contracts would remain essential to the conduct of its operations.

[131] In the long run, NASA's view of its authority to enter into support service contracts prevailed in the Federal courts. When NASA ordered a reduction in force at Marshall in 1967 (see p. 134), a Federal district court found twenty-two support service contracts invalid and declared the RIF null and void. This led to an eleven-year legal battle between NASA and the American Federation of Government Employees, which ended in October 1978 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversing the 1967 decision. In its decision the court of appeals construed the Space Act broadly to give the agency maximum flexibility in contracting for and administering support services. The implications, not only for NASA but for other Government agencies, are immense. NASA's position, that Federal agencies have open-ended authority to contract for services, has been sustained; and it now seems that these agencies will use their contract authority to circumvent any hiring freezes imposed by the White House.

However, in the summer of 1967 this outcome was more than a decade away. NASA officials faced the immediate prospect of defending the agency on two fronts. Not only did they have to justify support contracts to a Congress that was increasingly sceptical about their current use and future necessity, they had to justify their in-house personnel management as well. The Hjornevik report had made several recommendations, but it had been an in-house report. Although management authorized follow-up studies and began to implement some recommendations in piecemeal fashion, there was not the same urgency that would have resulted from a review by an outside body. This was precisely what befell NASA when CSC submitted its "Evaluation of Personnel Management" to Webb in October 1967. The Commission's earlier review of NASA in 1962 had disclosed certain deficiencies-in merit promotion, position classification, and lack of definite agencywide policies-but that report itself had not been made public. The Commission, it seems, was prepared to make allowances for a new agency assigned an enormously demanding mission. Consequently, CSC seems to have given NASA the benefit of the doubt.58

The 1967 report went further in identifying the successes and failures of NASA personnel management. It gave NASA credit for progress in many areas since 1962, notably in recruiting outstanding research and engineering personnel. But the report pointed to four problem areas that NASA would have to set in order. The first problem was that many supervisors did not understand their personnel management responsibilities in areas such as merit promotion and employee-management cooperation. The second problem was that "employees are uninformed about and lack confidence in . . . personnel practices such as merit promotion, career development, and position classification that operate differently than described in NASA publications and include criteria which have never been called to their attention."59 The third problem was the lack of management support for equal opportunity programs or for increased hiring of women; the fourth problem was the lack of headquarters leadership in areas such as supervisory training and promotions.

[132] This kind of outside review placed NASA in an awkward position. While NASA officials criticized the conclusions as too sweeping, they conceded privately that the report was correct in many details. As head of the agency, Webb had to hold a middle ground-accepting the thrust of the report without alienating center directors and program managers. CSC, he argued, did not "wish to be punitive in their reports unless it is absolutely essential." If NASA could develop an effective personnel management program during the next five years, CSC "will gladly forget the sins of the past." What bothered him more than the report itself was the role that CSC was assuming. Instead of "detailed policing of agency personnel matters," CSC's role should have been one of "promulgating broad policies and then auditing the agencies to assure that these policies are properly carried out."60 NASA had to convince CSC-and Congress-that it took its problems seriously and was doing something to correct them.

The first and principal step was Webb's establishment of a Personnel Management Review Committee on 21 November 1967.+++ There is good reason to stress the importance of this step. Unlike a flight program, which usually has a definite beginning and end, personnel management is a continuing function. To be effective, a review panel must be a standing committee whose members have a stake in the matters they are inspecting. Through the Committee NASA management tried to shift from "policies" to "policy" and to end the lack of coordination between headquarters and the centers. In 1968, for example, there were installations with high separation and low accession rates (Ames, MSC), high separation and high accession rates (Electronics Research Center, headquarters), and low accession and low separation rates (Langley, Lewis).61 The problem was to create an agencywide personnel management policy without imposing a spurious uniformity.

The Personnel Management Review Committee was charged to review NASA's personnel management process, identify problems, and "recommend to the Administrator any changes considered appropriate . . . and provide feedback to the Administrator as to the efficiency of . . . policies and practices throughout NASA."62 Authority of the standing committee cut across the normal program and functional lines. Its immediate business was to respond to the CSC report, but over the next two years it carried out a very thorough survey of the agency's personnel structure. To Webb, the Committee was something more. It was of a piece with the other management changes he made to bring problems to his attention: the creation of the NASA Management Council, the revival of the Office of Management Development to prepare agency management issuances, and the establishment of a group to develop a catalogue of agency policies. Webb was [133] especially anxious to bring in R&D managers from the centers for a tour of duty with the Committee to give them an overall view of the agency.

What did the Committee accomplish? Merely by its establishment, Webb advertised the importance he attached to personnel management. And by recruiting managers from the centers to serve on the Committee, he hoped to bring about a consensus in favor of uniform policy-a consensus not to be achieved by executive fiat. The Committee began its work by visiting six centers and talking to key functional and program officials, discussions that were to be the basis of the Committee's April 1968 report. In the report the Committee agreed with CSC's analysis to the extent that "its conclusions can . . . be supported by a careful and sometimes isolated selection of substandard performance cited in one . . . of the individual NASA installation reports."63 But the Committee denied that what might hold for one center in one area could be extended to the whole of NASA. Instead, the report recommended certain steps that, applied over the long term, would tend to bring NASA more into line with CSC demands. The Committee found that personnel management needed to be made visible at the headquarters level, and it recommended that the function "be elevated organizationally" within Finger's office.64 It also recommended that NASA continue to review its use of support service contracts and to define precisely what such a contract was; that NASA adopt a ranking system, which would enable the agency to retain the top 25 percent of its professional staff in the event of a reduction in force; that NASA lower entrance-level standards in certain cases to recruit minority employees; and that more attention be given to improving employee-management relations."65 Finally, the members recommended that the Committee be continued in order to effect "greater involvement of top officials in personnel management."66

This last phrase explains why the Committee was relatively successful. It was not a panel of outside consultants with no responsibility for the problems on its agenda. By bringing in officials from the centers and by staggering Committee appointments, a nice balance was struck between the two bureaucratic concepts of flexibility and continuity. The Committee worked closely with Finger and Webster, the latter of whom was a member ex officio. It established subcommittees to tackle such problems as career trainee programs and reductions in force. Its blend of line and functional officials was in keeping with the agency's way of getting things done; that is, it provided for maximum delegation of powers to officials who would have to carry out the policies they helped to make.




Ultimately, the issues of personnel management were those of long-range planning. But in 1967 NASA had no formal agencywide long-range plan. Without it, NASA could produce no justification for keeping agency manpower at the 30 000-plus level, where it had been since 1963. Webb believed that an agency had to be able to phase down as well as to "tool up." One week before he left NASA in 1968, he delivered the Diebold Lecture at Harvard and said that


[134] in the project-type endeavor, acceleration would have to be followed by deceleration and that many operations involving both governmental and non-governmental manpower and facilities would have only a limited usefulness. We have accepted the need to end these after their purposes have been met....
We have already . . . reduced the scale of our total activities to about one-half the peak level, which was attained three years ago.... We are in a position to operate at this level or to increase or decrease as decisions generate either trend.67


But the phasedown was neither as orderly nor as well planned as this statement would indicate. The dismissals and hiring freezes that began in FY 1968 signaled a reduction in manpower that continued well into the 1970s. The reductions shaped and were shaped by the absence of some long-range plan for NASA to place before Congress. The initial reductions did not merely have a ripple effect on the NASA work force; they also set the terms on which future programs, if approved, would have to be carried out.

The reductions in permanent civil service employees (FY 1968-1970) are shown in table 5-5. However, the figures conceal the variations between centers, where there was no single pattern of accessions and separations. Rather than discuss them all, it is more useful to concentrate on one center to understand what a reduction in force is, how it worked at NASA in the late 1960s, how the center adjusted to its losses, and how skills lost in one area might (or might not) be replaced in another.

Except for the Electronics Research Center, which closed on 30 June 1970, no center was more severely affected by manpower reductions than Marshall. Mention was made earlier of the "Marshall problem"-the widely held conviction that there was a manpower surplus at Huntsville that might be tapped by the rest of NASA. By 1966 Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight Mueller was reducing manpower at Marshall in order to increase it at MSC and KSC and still remain within his personnel ceiling.68 At the same time a debate was going on within OMSF on the future of Marshall, a debate hinted at in the Hjornevik report.69 Basically, MSC officials wanted Marshall to develop the new booster systems that they believed would be needed for manned missions in the 1970s. Marshall officials disagreed, feeling constrained by their lack of manpower in advanced research, compared with that for hardware development and testing. Further, Lewis had already staked out a role in advanced propulsion technology that Marshall could not expect to emulate. In short, Marshall had to cope with three closely related problems: commitment to a program that was about to taper off, a high proportion of facilities designed to serve specific programs rather than institutional needs, and what was perceived at Houston, the Cape, and headquarters as an excess of manpower in relation to future assignments.

At the end of October 1967 it became apparent that Marshall would have to reduce its manpower considerably. Congress passed and the President signed an appropriations bill that eliminated the Voyager and Advanced Missions programs, reduced most other non-Apollo programs, and cut back the administrative operations appropriations request by $43.3 million. This meant that Marshall....



Table 5-5. - Reductions in permanent civil service employees, 31 July 1967-30 June 1970.



Peak Employment


Change in

FY 1968



Change in

FY 1969



Planned Change in FY 1970






Headquarters (including NASA Pasadena Office)

2 332


2 154

- 61

2 093



2 130


2 739


2 917

- 40

2 877



2 881


4 862

- 258

4 604

- 220

4 384


- 77

4 303


7 272

- 832

6 440

- 291

6 149


- 298

5 851


14 873

- 912

13 961

- 551

13 410



13 035


2 176

- 93

2 083

- 91

1 992



1 956












- 32


- 27






4 251

- 214

4 037

- 125

3 912



3 849


4 703

- 251

4 452

- 184

4 268



4 197



- 7


- 4






12 581

- 541

12 040

- 423

11 617


- 180

11 535



3 828

- 133

3 695

- 166

3 529


- 82

3 447

Contractor conversion


+ 127









- 18


- 10






4 340

- 24

4 316


4 613


- 82

4 900

Undistributed reduction








- 100


34 126

- 1 655

32 471

- 738



- 741

31 500



34 126

- 1 782

32 344

- 1 211

31 133



30 535

Contractor conversion 2









1 Space Nuclear Propulsion Office.

2 Contractor conversions are treated as decreases in NASA employment.

Source: Thomas O. Paine to Robert P. Mayo, Director, U.S. Bureau of the Budget, 18 Aug. 1969, table 1.


[136] .....would have to reduce its personnel by 700, a move that was successfully challenged in the Federal courts by the American Federation of Government Employees.++++ When the injunction against the RIF was lifted in April 1968, the careful phasedown planned by center officials was no longer possible. The RIF procedures led to an extremely high turnover of personnel, even of those who were not affected directly. The turnover of R&D personnel was three times higher than it had been at the same time in 1967. And those losses were especially heavy among the younger scientists and engineers, possibly because there were job opportunities at the Huntsville Arsenal nearby. The worst effect of the RIF, as it appeared to von Braun, was that it disrupted work teams that had taken years to develop.70 The damage wrought by such procedures reached beyond their short-term effects to more profound second- and third-order consequences. Managers and supervisors were "bumped" into nonsupervisory positions and found themselves "relegated to the ranks of the workers they [had] been supervising."71 The average age of employees rose as younger people were dismissed or left to seek work elsewhere. And as the average age of scientists and engineers rose, it became much less likely that the advanced research then taught at the universities would be reflected in NASA laboratories.72

In sum, RIFs and hiring freezes affected the NASA centers in many ways; some were obvious and immediate, and others were more subtle, although in the long run even more devastating. On the whole, NASA was unable to implement the orderly phasedown that Webb described in the Diebold Lecture. It was too much to ask NASA or any other agency to make unilateral reductions in funding and manpower. But in the name of economy, the Great Society, and the war in Vietnam, the Bureau of the Budget turned what might have been an orderly retreat into something resembling a rout. Between NASA's peak (in-house) employment in July 1967 and the end of FY 1969, NASA abolished 2850 permanent positions. In the FY 1970 budget cycle alone, the agency sustained four separate reductions: initially 370 positions were abolished; under pressure from the Bureau of the Budget that number escalated to 452, then to 552, and finally to 1052 positions.73 These gross figures only hint at the consequences of continued largescale reductions. First, NASA was given very limited authority to replace personnel who had been separated. In FY 1968 NASA replaced only one out of two separated and in 1969 about two out of five. At some centers the replacement ratios were much smaller: one in five at Langley, one in fourteen at Marshall.74 By 1969 the "critical mass" at these centers was getting dangerously low. At Ames there was no longer "any remaining flexibility to take reductions in manpower.... Any pro rata share of manpower reduction at Ames appears improper in view of the small size of that installation."75

[137] Second, the effects of mass separations went far beyond the number of those actually dismissed. The long-range consequences included the departure of many younger professionals to look for greater job security and the concomitant rise in the average age of those who remained; a sharp drop in the number of college students hired from 925 in FY 1966 to less than 200 four years later;76 and a rise in Federal employee union membership, especially at Marshall and MSC. The success of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) in temporarily blocking the RIF imposed on Marshall convinced many employees that AFGE might be able in 1969 to repeat what it had done in 1968. In the long term, center officials had to deal with unions that were a good deal larger, more militant, and better organized than in the halcyon days of the space program. The actual number of persons separated might be only a fraction of the work force, but the ripple effect touched every center employee. As an internal MSC report observed,


A RIF is a symbol to all employees that the Center or the Agency have serious problems.... Although by far the vast majority of employees ... were not in any way touched by the proposed RIF, many of them viewed it as another symptom of an uncertain future. It should be pointed out, however, that the RIF did not create uncertainties, it merely reinforced them.77

Finally, this pattern of reductions and low replacement rates seems to have convinced top management that agency manpower must be defended and justified as a national asset. If all these skills had been assembled simply to get a job done, there was no cause for complaint if they were to be dispersed once that job was completed. Obviously, this was not how Webb, Paine, or Finger viewed the agency. In principle, they conceded that a "less-than-best" laboratory might be closed if it had served its initial purpose, if there was no likelihood that a new role for the laboratory could be found, or if closing the laboratory would not leave a significant gap in the national capability to perform R&D. But, they maintained, there was no reason why a center with a capacity for research in aeronautics or propulsion systems could not expand to cross-service other Government agencies, as NASA had been doing for DOD for many years. Furthermore, the centers were more flexible than was generally realized. At Lewis, for example, the altitude wind tunnel used to test the B-29 during World War II had been converted into a space environmental test facility during the 1960s. The same center shifted emphasis and manpower from propulsion systems to aeronautics following the cutbacks of 1967- 1968. Even Marshall had been able to make the transition from one kind of development work to another; the Apollo Telescope Mount, assigned to the center in the summer of 1966, was very different from the launch vehicle development work for which Marshall was known.78

With no coordinating agency or advisory body to establish national priorities for the use of scientific manpower, the issue of which agencies were allocated such manpower had to be fought out in the political arena. This had been the case even during the relatively prosperous days of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, when Presidential advisors like Killian and Wiesner had the power to make [138] science policy rather than serve as more-or-less neutral umpires among competing agencies. By 1970 research priorities were established almost exclusively by the President working through the Bureau of the Budget. NASA priorities had to compete not only with other scientific priorities but with the priorities of other Federal programs generally. And such a process could only be inimical to the long-term interests of NASA R&D programs.




This chapter has examined some of the reasons for NASA's successes-as well as its problems-in attracting the mixture of scientific, engineering, and managerial talent that it needed. NASA's success was neither complete nor permanent, but it was adequate to the need. NASA in the 1960s had the kind of mission that attracted some of the best engineers in the country; it had a large block of excepted and nonquota positions, which the Administrator consciously used to structure the agency; and it was given an initial period of grace by CSC to work out its manpower policies to fit its programs. But none of these things would have availed much without the continued interest of top management to recruit the best talent from outside, ensure rapid promotion for those within, and involve the most capable engineers and project managers in running the agency. Management's interest in personnel matters can be illustrated by the history of the NASA Management Committee from October 1963, when it was established, to November 1965, when Seamans dissolved it. Of the sixty-six meetings held by the Committee, two-thirds had at least one personnel item on the agenda, ranging from the use of military detailees, to a consideration of employee-management relations at the centers, to security waivers for summer employees.79

This interest in personnel policy revealed itself differently at the level of top management, at the program offices, and at the centers. Webb's interest centered on selecting the best men for executive training. During the early 1960s he had perforce to find executives on the outside, and there was always a need to fill certain positions with men who had not come up within the agency. It was the practice to appoint a retired military officer to head the Office of Defense Affairs and a former aerospace executive to direct Industry Affairs; also, Webb had a self-imposed rule that appointments to "sensitive" positions, such as Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, were to be cleared with DOD.80 But by 1965 NASA employment had stabilized and was not likely to increase. It was no longer necessary to go outside for the scarce talent the NASA mission required. For Webb the problem, rather, was to find and train the managers who would run the agency in the post-Apollo period. The problem had to be approached from a number of angles: by assigning project managers to headquarters for a tour of duty; by establishing in 1965 an executive recruiting service or talent bank for selecting NASA personnel to fill key positions; and by moving top officials from [139] headquarters to the centers, as when Edgar Cortright, then Deputy Associate Administrator (OMSF), became the Director of Langley in May 1968.

The program offices and centers had the same interest in personnel management but a different focus. At OSSA, for instance, program officials singled out three problems as critical: How could OSSA eliminate people who were not performing as they should? How could program officials recruit an adequate number of scientists who could stay in touch with their fields while working for NASA, particularly in headquarters? What should be the relation of the headquarters program manager to the field project manager, and by what standards should the performance of the former be measured?81 The same issues applied to the other program offices and the centers that reported to them. They had their own problems, their own management and reporting systems, and their own ideas as to what successful personnel management involved. Webb and Seamans looked to uniform agencywide standards; the program associate administrators and center directors were sceptical of them. In effect, this is what the history of NASA personnel policy reveals: The agency was too decentralized for tight headquarters control of personnel management; such consensus as there was-for example, regarding personnel data banks or shifting manpower between centers-was arrived at through standing committees like the Personnel Management Review Committee or the task force that wrote the Hjornevik report; and major shifts of work or manpower from one center to another could only occur gradually, if indeed they could occur at all. Finally, personnel management was not, nor could it be, a discrete, isolated area apart from the broad policy issues that NASA management faced. How to recruit and train engineers, how to determine the mix of skills at each center, how to turn engineers and scientists into administrators- these were the essence of NASA program planning.


* Before the 1961 reorganization, Personnel was a division of the Office of Business Administration headed by Albert Siepert.

** The results were so startling "that the White House established a special committee of consultants to review the 'matches' made, to assure that the findings were valid." Among the consultants was James Webb, then a member of the board of several companies, including McDonnell Aircraft. Braithwaite, "The Executive Personnel Program, 1958-1962" (Jan. 1967), p. 48.

*** Note also that the Bell report (pp. 75-78) appeared at the right time in May 1962.

**** Extended by Executive Order 11375 (13 October 1967) to cover women.

+ The Hjornevik report was submitted on 8 September 1966. Besides Hjornevik, the task force included Henry Barnett (Lewis), r. Melvin Butler (Langley), Harry Gorman (Marshall), Samuel Keller (Goddard), and Merrill Mead (Ames).

++ These were aggregate percentages. On Marshall's contract for servicing its Computation Laboratory, the report estimated savings of up to 27 percent.

+++ It was formally established by NMI 1152.26 (3 Jan. 1968). The chairman was Harry Gorman (Deputy Director, Administrative, at Marshall), who had served on the Hjornevik Committee. Other members were Grove Webster, NASA Director of Personnel; Bernard Moritz, Assistant Administrator for Special Contracts Negotiation and Review; and John Townsend, Deputy Director of Goddard.

++++ A former NASA official observed that Marshall officials "carried out a rather extensive modeling exercise by means of computers in which they attempted to take into account the bumping rights of the Civil Service personnel. In this way they hoped to carry out their reductions in force at the designated levels and at the same time separate those individuals who were felt to he the least qualified. Since a shift of one individual usually involves three or four job changes in an organization, this effort was complex indeed."