Mission Critical HR

By Interview by Desda Moss Sep 1, 2010
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September coverAs director of human resources for NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, Tracy Anania may be facing the toughest challenge of her career: winding down a major human space program and helping 7,800 displaced aerospace workers find jobs in a difficult economy.

It requires tapping her considerable skills. In her current role, Anania is responsible for developing, leading and managing human resources policy and services—such as workforce planning, training and career development—for the center’s 15,200 workers, including 2,200 civil servants and 13,000 contract workers.

To ease workers’ transitions, President Barack Obama has proposed a $100 million multi-agency initiative to transform Florida’s Space Coast economy and prepare workers for new opportunities. Anania serves as the space center’s representative on the federal inter-agency task force.

Tracy Anania

Education: 1989, Bachelor of Science degree, industrial and organizational sociology and personnel management, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh.

Current job: 2006-present, director of human resources, John F. Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Career: 2002-2006, director of human resources, U.S. Department of the Army Communications- Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Command, Fort Monmouth, N.J.; 1989-2002, supervisory management planning specialist, lead personnel management specialist, and personnel management intern, U.S. Department of the Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Command, Fort Monmouth, N.J.; 1995-2004, adjunct faculty member, Department of the Army Center for Civilian Human Resources Management, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Aberdeen, Md.

Personal: Age 42. Born in Madison, Wis.

Diversions: Rollerblading, exercising, yoga.

Connections: www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy, (321) 867-3494.


Before joining NASA in 2006, Anania worked for the U.S. Army for 17 years, beginning as an HR generalist and progressing to director of human resources for the Army’s Communications- Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center at Fort Monmouth, N.J. One of her proudest achievements was designing, developing and managing a comprehensive human resource information system, the first of its kind in the Army. She became an expert on a demonstration project for an alternate personnel system to improve recruitment, retention and compensation of the center’s high-tech workers.

Recently, Anania spoke to HR Magazine about the space center’s workforce transition and her HR career.

What is NASA doing to help regular and contract workers find new jobs after the shuttle program ends?

Under the NASA Authorization Act of 2008, we are working on several initiatives. We hosted a virtual job fair in May with 48 employers offering more than 600 positions. We hosted multiple job showcases for individual employers and two live job fairs with 180 representatives from 47 employers and 3,100 space center employees participating. Partnering efforts are underway to encourage businesses to start in or relocate to the Brevard County, Fla., area. They will have unprecedented access to this talented workforce as well as Kennedy’s developed technology, infrastructure, and other high-tech industry partners.

Businesses can help by participating in one of our virtual or live job fairs, by offering one or two or 100 employment opportunities; or starting or relocating a business here. Another option is to invest venture capital in the area’s entrepreneurs and take advantage of the supplemental investment by the federal, state and local governments. You can do so by visiting www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/business/, calling (321) 867-3494 or visiting www.EmployFlorida.com to see employee resumes.

How are HR professionals helping longtime employees address the emotional and personal issues that accompany job loss?

Many of our employees have spent their entire careers at Kennedy Space Center in the private and civil servant sectors. My staff provides one-on-one service to employees in four workforce transition offices, as well as formal classroom training in federal job searches, resume writing and interviewing. These efforts supplement the comprehensive services provided by the Brevard County aerospace workforce transition team and our employee assistance program. Those services include: career counseling, job-search and resume-writing training, skills assessment, financial planning, real estate planning, stress management, and job-loss counseling. Because communication is so critical, we have created a one-stop web site where employees can register for services and find the latest information about the transition.

What is your HR strategy for keeping highly skilled people in your workforce through the end of the shuttle program and in place until the Constellation program starts flying?

Many contractors at the center have comprehensive retention packages designed to retain their employees to ensure the safe fly out of the shuttle program. These packages include critical skills retention pay, completion bonuses and severance pay. Since the future of the Constellation [human space flight] program will remain uncertain until Congress and the president make a decision about the 2011 budget, we are working to transition employees to related work in the surrounding area so they remain an integral part of the aerospace community. Key to this retention is our business development office, which was created to provide private industry the maximum opportunity to do business with the space center.

What are the biggest challenges facing HR leaders in large technical organizations?

Long-term sustainability: NASA’s mission has long been to go where no man has gone before and to inspire the next generation to pursue science, technology, engineering and math. We have many more generations of people to push the envelope in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research. We are now on the verge of closing another chapter in the history of space exploration, ending the program that made many of NASA’s accomplishments in space exploration possible.

The future looks bright. In the president’s proposed 2011 budget, NASA’s budget for space exploration will increase by $6 billion during the next five years. A significant portion of the budget will be invested in new missions and infrastructure upgrades.

Still, the question remains: How will we retain the workforce so critical to our long-term sustainability, particularly in light of the changing mission and resulting workforce reduction? Companies that cannot sustain their talent base in the near term generally prefer that the employees keep the skills that would allow them to re-enter the workforce in that market segment in the future, and we are working hard to make this possible.

You started your HR career as an intern. Does the HR department at Kennedy Space Center have internship programs?

NASA has two intern programs: one managed by the NASA Office of Education and the other by HR. The education intern program sponsors approximately 100 interns per year and was designed to attract and retain students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The intern program managed by HR hires approximately 100 interns per year and has a track for high school and college students and one for early-career college graduates. The HR interns are rotated through all of our business areas (HR Operations, Workforce Planning and Human Resource Information Systems, Employee/Organizational Development and Recognition, and Employee Morale/Welfare and Recreation.) They are exposed to experts in procurement, finance and legal to maximize learning. Our goal is to attract, develop and retain diverse talent. We complement both intern programs with our NASA mentoring program.

The interviewer is managing editor of HR Magazine.

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