Space is an issue at NASA

Some NASA employees today are concerned about the same space issues that bothered them in 1992. Office space issues, that is.

Since NASA relocated its headquarters in 1992 from seven buildings in and around L'Enfant Plaza in Washington to its current location in southwest D.C., most of the agency's employees at the GS-15 and lower levels have been working in Dilbert-style cubicles instead of the offices they were accustomed to.

NASA labor union members have been fighting management's decision to eliminate offices for everyone but supervisors and Senior Executive Service members since the day that they moved to the new office, said Don Teague, president of the NASA Headquarters Professional Association.

"GS-15s get a 100-square-foot space and hope it doesn't have a column in the middle of it," Teague said. "Employees at the GS-14 level and lower have 75-square-foot cubes while secretaries' cubes are 56 square feet."

Lack of privacy is a bone of contention for many employees. With the low-sided cubicles, Teague said, "if someone next to you is having a party and you weren't invited, you still get to enjoy the noise."

"We'd like some recognition of what our job really is," he added, noting that most NASA employees work on individual projects. Open space offices, he said, are better suited for team-oriented work.

Despite a ruling by the Federal Service Impasses Panel that dismissed NASA employees' protest for better accommodations, GS-15s will continue to fight to get offices. Unhappy NASA managers are now in the midst of discussing their next step, although, according to Teague, it is unlikely that they will take legal action.

NASA has undergone significant downsizing since moving into its new downtown location. NASA headquarters now operates with less than half the staff it had in 1992.

Chris Christensen, associate administrator for NASA headquarters operations, said that office space was assigned based on guidelines negotiated with the General Services Administration.

"Office space is a mighty big investment, especially in downtown D.C.," Christensen said. "We have to maximize the space we've got."

Although Christensen recognizes that the culture change GS-15s and others went through during downsizing and moving was difficult, he says NASA still has to abide by the standards negotiated with GSA. These standards require 65 percent of NASA's headquarters space to be open.

Keith Cowing, a former NASA employee who operates NASA Watch, an Internet Web site that monitors NASA events, called the office space situation a "spitting match," adding, "if you downsize people and heap more work on them, the least humane thing you could do is to give them another filing cabinet. That, however, is not NASA's policy."

Not everyone at NASA views the office space dilemma as a raging issue, Christensen said. Still, management and labor are currently discussing ways to reach a compromise. Even so, the building's infrastructure and other cost issues make it "unlikely that we will modify the space significantly," he said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.