NASA’s New Neighbor on the National Mall: Reflections on the Opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

Tomorrow, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opens its doors to the public.  Located on the National Mall, the museum is less than a mile away from NASA’s Washington Headquarters.  Recently I spoke to NASA TV about the significance of this occasion, and you can watch a few clips from our conversation below.

On a personal note, I think it’s critically important – and it’s really impressive — that at long last we’re going to have a museum on the Mall that’s dedicated to people of African decent here in the United States.  I never in my wildest dreams growing up in Columbia, South Carolina during segregation would have believed that I would be experiencing the opening of a museum dedicated to African American history and culture – let alone during the Administration of America’s first Black president, whom I have the privilege of serving under as NASA’s first African American Administrator.

Because I believe so strongly in its mission, I donated a few personal items to the museum, including my flight suit and mission patch from STS-60, my final space flight and a critical mission to what would become the International Space Station program; a model of the Hubble Space Telescope – what I believe to be the most incredible scientific instrument that humanity has created; rugby shirts from STS-45 and STS-31, among other items.

It’s my hope that young people who visit the museum will be encouraged to reach for new heights in their own lives, and use their dreams as inspiration to work hard, study hard, and refuse to be deterred by failure.  The reason that I applied for the Astronaut program many years ago, was that the late, great Dr. Ron McNair – himself a hallmark figure in both African American history and the history of America’s space program — encouraged me to go for it. It is my hope that the objects and displays in this museum will have the same sort of impact on a new generation of future astronauts, artists, engineers, educators, physicists, philosophers, physicians and so forth.

Being the first African American Administrator is all well and good, but I want to make sure I’m not the last.  Encouraging more young people from underserved communities to study the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math is one important way to make sure of this.  Reminding the next generation that even the sky is not the limit is another.

Best wishes to everyone involved in opening this important new museum.  I cannot wait to visit!

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses the flight jacket from mission STS-60 that he donated to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden talks about the advice he gives to young people,on the occasion of the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses the historic significance of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

NASA Uses Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to Improve Performance

NASA is proud to have been named the “Best Place to Work” in the Federal Government (among large agencies) for the past four consecutive years by the Partnership for Public Service. Using the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) as a focal point for guidance, over time we have developed a positive work culture with a high level of employee engagement through deliberate, proactive initiatives.

I’ve always told our employees that their voices matter.  At NASA, it’s especially critical, as much of our work is difficult and dangerous, and sometimes lives are in the balance.  We must have a culture where speaking up and providing feedback is encouraged.  I’ve made nurturing that culture a centerpiece of my leadership, and we created a Workforce Culture Strategy to communicate and codify these values.

With some 18,000 employees at NASA, getting feedback can be daunting, and the FEVS helps provide a vehicle where people feel they can be candid and offer constructive comments without putting themselves or their jobs at risk.  We use it to help offices within our organization to improve and to share their successes. At NASA, we consider ourselves a family and, like any family, there can be some bumps in the road.  The FEVS helps us get past them.

Based on last year’s employee feedback, we focused this year on second-level performance reviews to support and encourage fairness in ratings, and we created a Leader’s Handbook to guide supervisors and employees, and to foster organizational health.

I’m still listening – and feel privileged to be working with such a talented, creative workforce.  The best part of serving as NASA Administrator continues to be witnessing how open and honest opinions and ideas have changed NASA for the better.  Our entire NASA senior leadership team sincerely cares about our workforce’s opinions and is ready to take action.

I want to thank my colleagues and their teams for using the FEVS to make progress on employee engagement. I know agencies across government are using this important tool to make similar strides. All of us need to work each and every day to make sure the talented people who work for the Federal Government feel valued, included, and engaged in their jobs.