Labor unions tussle with NASA

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers has estimated that 20 percent of NASA's 18,000 civil servants would be affected by a change in management. The group says agency officials have consistently allocated 90 percent of NASA's budget to pay for contractors and only 10 percent for federal employees.

The agency is "a long way from actually doing it, but the devil's in the details," said Joseph Lopes, a legislative representative of the American Federation of Government Employees. "If this is a backdoor approach to suspending civil servant protections, then we will, very predictably and righteously, oppose it."

He added that "just because something calls itself a nonprofit or has a more benign characterization doesn't make us feel any better about losing civil servant protections and jobs."

Increasing privatization and use of Federally Funded Research and Development Centers "takes the responsibility for the space program off NASA's plate," said Matthew Biggs, the federation's legislative director. "If something goes wrong again, NASA isn't accountable."

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