(Washington, DC) House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin, and Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Jay Obernolte, sent a letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson requesting information about when and how the organization plans to transition its workforce back to in-person status.
As of January 2023, only 31% of NASA employees reported for in-person work at headquarters in Washington, DC, despite the fact that President Biden called for all federal agencies to return to work in-person more than a year ago. As the vast majority of NASA headquarters employees remain on a mostly telework or remote working schedule, Lucas, Babin, and Obernolte wrote, “We are concerned with the impact this is having on mission readiness as well as the costs associated with paying for buildings and other facilities that are not being used to their full potential.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, most federal agencies, including NASA, adopted remote work-from-home policies to help slow the spread of the virus. Since then, medical advancements have resulted in the availability of three vaccines and several medical therapeutics available to treat COVID-19.
As further investigation shows, the absence of in-person communications has affected NASA projects, leading to errors and delays. “A recently published report attributed the one-year delay of NASA’s Psyche asteroid mission to, among other things, a lack of informal and impromptu communication among staff caused largely by remote work,” the members noted. NASA agreed with these findings, writing that, “[t]he completion of Psyche requires increased simultaneous on-site presence to facilitate informal communications and mission success.”
“While the need for in-person work differs between roles, the report highlights, and NASA agrees, that there is an intrinsic value to face-to-face communications,” the members wrote.
Given President Biden’s declaration last September that the COVID-19 pandemic is over, ongoing mission delays, and taxpayer-funded office buildings remaining mostly vacant, the Committee members requested that NASA explain why employees remain on a mostly remote work basis and information on plans to transition back to in-person work.