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NASA Needs to Sharpen Its Focus on Diversity to Boost Representation: Audit Finds

NASA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has found that despite a decade of efforts to increase representation, NASA's diversity statistics are staying much the same. The OIG report stated that NASA has made little progress in increasing the representation of women and minorities in its civilian workforce or leadership ranks.

History of NASA’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

NASA has been striving to correct decades of discrimination against certain groups, including the Lavender Scare of the 1950s and 1960s against LGBTQ+ people, failing to fly women astronauts until 1983, or initially not acknowledging the role of African-American mathematicians and engineers in the early space program. The OIG traced NASA's efforts to foster diversity and inclusion back to at least 2010, when it was included in strategic decision-making. In 2011, then-President Barack Obama issued an executive order for all government agencies to develop specific diversity and inclusion plans, which NASA performed.

Current State of NASA’s Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

Despite a decade of efforts, the OIG found that NASA has only made at most a 2% increase in representation in groups such as women, African-Americans, and Hispanics. The agency has 18,000 civil service employees, with 35% being women and 30% African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic or "multiethnic." The report found that few gains in diversity have been made at the senior-official level as well.

Recommendations for Improvement

The OIG issued seven recommendations for improvement, including initiatives to target hiring and promotion, professional development, mentoring, a "barrier analysis" to see why certain groups are facing issues, creating trackable metrics to see how well diversity initiatives are performing, tracking hiring trends, and including an "official or organization" to coordinate stakeholders in diversity work.

Recent Steps Taken by NASA

NASA has been taking additional steps to address diversity, including creating two new high-ranking positions in March to boost representation. The agency has also released a policy statement on diversity, stating that it aims to "enable all NASA organizations and individuals to maintain a transcendent focus on our common goals." NASA Administrator Bill Nelson signed the action plan in January 2022, which stated that diversity initiatives are "a strategic enabler of our safety and mission assurance."

Artemis 2 Moon Crew

NASA's Artemis 2 moon crew, which was announced earlier this month, includes Christina Hammock Koch, who will be the first woman astronaut to fly around the moon, and Victor Glover, who will be the first African-American to do so. This crew boosts representation considerably compared to the 24 white males who flew on the Apollo moon missions of the 1960s and 1970s.


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