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Organizational Culture at NASA

The success of an organization depends largely on the tenor set by its leadership through a clarity of goals, mission and vision. This shapes what is known as a company’s organizational culture. Such is the general tone in which communication, production and innovation are fostered, either to the achievement or failure of desired outcomes. But where some aspect of this organizational culture is deficient, the experience of employment suffers. So is this demonstrated in the case of NASA, where the positive elements of the organization are tempered by an array of circumstances which have genuinely impacted the overall working experience.

NASA is a unique organization, both fabled for the important role it has played in shattering scientific barriers and reflecting a desirable image of American pride and simultaneously subjected to widespread criticism for its costs, its purpose and the manner in which it operates. Within the scope of this complex dichotomy is an organization that today is struggling to find its identity and, with it, the proper personnel to carry out its missions.

Today, the working experience at NASA might best be characterized as strained, with a shortage of qualified personnel and a lack of clarity about mission and purpose overcoming morale, dedication and recruitment. In many ways, this reflects a conflict in the culture which can be corrected. It is not, many indicators demonstrate, a quality of occupation issue, per se. Indeed, “according to a newly published government survey, NASA employees enjoy a greater level of job satisfaction than most other federal workers.

The National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) Employee Survey showed NASA employees gave the agency the highest favorable ratings in 14 out of 32 categories. ” (Caruso, 1) This is an indication that from the perspective of many within the organization, NASA itself offers excellent motives for achievement. Benefits are extensive and working conditions are described as generally positive. Likewise, it is without question that the agency offers its personnel sufficient opportunities both to be challenged and to experience advancement.

In addition, all indications are that the leadership in place at NASA is properly trained and oriented toward yielding a high level of discipline from personnel. According to the same report, published by NASA’s own public relations department, “NASA also finished with the highest favorable ratings on questions about managers communicating the organization’s missions, vision, and values; employee participation in cross functional teams; and supervisors/team leaders understanding and supporting employees’ family and personal responsibilities.

” (Caruso, 1) Again, all indicators are driven to the suggestion that NASA is an excellent place to work and that the environment is favorable to personal and professional growth. The prompts a question as to exactly why NASA is so deeply conflicted with respect to its personnel orientation. However, an anecdotal incident described in a 2003 article published by the Christian Science Monitor captures the perspective of some on the organizational culture at NASA. Indeed, it seems to be impacted by many of the same complexities that negatively effect quality of employment in many other government-affiliated working contexts.

The article remarks that “Ron Theis still remembers sitting in his boss’s office explaining why he was leaving NASA after just two years: Excessive bureaucracy, low pay, and unmotivated co-workers were among his many frustrations. His boss, well aware of NASA’s need to recruit and keep young engineers, pleaded with the recent college grad to stay – even offering to help him find work anywhere in the space agency. ” (Axtman, 1) For many, the experience of working for the equally important and embattled space exploration and science agency is disappointing at best.

In the midst of a changed culture, NASA has come to be seen by many as an organization of diminished relevance. According to the article by Axtman, this is a perspective which can be confirmed by a consideration of its recruitment failures in the face of an aging engineer faculty. The article notes that “a General Accounting Office report last year found that NASA has three times as many engineers aged 60 and over as it has 30 and under – and a quarter of its nearly 19,000 employees will be eligible for retirement in five years.

” (Axtman, 1) The article contends that during the age of internet proliferation, the appeal of NASA for the young graduate was undermined by the glamorous and far more lucrative calling of computer technology development. The reputation of NASA had changed significantly since the end of the Cold War, with its heroic public image subsiding to larger and more tangible questions concerning its lumbering structure and the massive taxpayer burden thereby represented. This juxtaposition in periods would be too fast and dramatic for NASA to absorb.

As the article denotes, “following a major hiring spree during the Apollo moon missions, new openings were severely limited by budget cuts during the late 1980s and early ’90s. Add to that the dotcom boom, which pulled many young engineers away from space exploration and into the lucrative world of cyberspace. ” (Axtman, 2) In light of its declining political cachet, NASA would gradually experience declining resources, with questions of its purpose driving many public officials to take a less interest in its promotion.

Fundamentally, NASA’s ability to remain fresh and relevant has entered into a vicious cycle, with its personnel aging and its approach to its organizational structure doing exactly the same. This is not to suggest that NASA should be considered an extinct agency. Instead, it is one due for a dramatic overhaul in both leadership and approach. Today, “Americans’ support for NASA remains strong. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken last weekend found that 57% said the agency does a good or excellent job.

One-third of respondents said NASA’s budget should be cut or eliminated. ” (Watson, 1) An appropriate measure, which is recommended here, is to compromise on this point and begin the privatization of space exploration. Indeed, as a governmental agency, NASA is deeply complex and its purpose often hard to justify for the common tax contributor. And truly, “that’s partly why its harshest critics see NASA as a moribund program that is underfunded and sorely in need of direction.

These space analysts say that after operating two decades without a clear goal that excites Americans, NASA for the most part has slipped from the public consciousness. ” (Ritter, 1) There do remain countless private organizations whose interest in space exploration is extensive and whose capacity for flexibility and innovation is far greater than that of the government. This will require strong leadership on the federal and international level of course, as such an approach must not be taken without the proper regulatory oversights and precautions.

However, the organizational orientation of NASA is today suffering from the flight of promising young talent to private organizations. The government has neither the resources nor the focus to help sustain a space program with a principally scientific agenda. As NASA struggles to find its way, its identity and its goals, it is clear that it would significantly benefit from the vision and contributions of those outside of its long maintained bubble. Works Cited: Axtman, K. (2003). NASA faces looming engineer shortage.

The Christian Science Monitor. Online at http://www. csmonitor. com/2003/0218/p17s02-lehl. html Caruso, G. (2000). Survey shows NASA employees among most satisfied federal workers. NASA News. Online at http://spaceflight. nasa. gov/spacenews/releases/2000/h00-52. html Ritter, J. (2003). Where will NASA go next? USA Today. Watson, T. (2006). Questions orbit around future of NASA. USA Today. Online at http://www. usatoday. com/tech/science/space/2006-06-29-shuttle-nasa-future_x. htm

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