NASA offers buyouts

NASA’s Ames Research Center is offering buyouts to all but 70 of its 1,400 federal employees, including many information technology experts.

Ames, in Mountain View, Calif., developed technology for the Mars rover, as well as one of the world’s top supercomputers. This week, IT workers will be offered a buyout package with a federally mandated cap of $25,000. Ames officials told employees that at least 400 civil servants and 400 contractors will be cut if they do not accept the offers, union officials said.

Chris Knight, vice president for negotiations at Ames Federal Employees Union and a Computational Sciences Division employee, said the buyouts apply to all IT workers, except for three people in visualization and robotics. This week’s buyout offer would be his second this year.

The buyout amounts will not be enough to convince most people to leave, Knight said. Union officials say they were told that if NASA cannot cut down the number of employees at Ames, future plans call for reassignments, followed by then reductions in force.

"A lot of the research centers are being basically bled dry," Knight said.

The impact on missions to Mars and the moon is unknown.

"We’re expecting the bulk of the losses of the center will be in aeronautics...but aeronautics and space [have] a lot of crossover," Knight said, adding that NASA has already laid off vertical motion simulator employees who could have worked to simulate moon landings.

Ames' Silicon Graphics Inc.-built Columbia supercomputer, which has hit processing speeds of 51.87 teraflops, is ranked second on the Top 500 list.

In a related issue, NASA officials have told scientists they may have to shut down the Voyager probe and other Earth-Sun System operations in October to help save $21 million. Officials do not know what will happen to IT specialists.

"The agency obviously will be assessing any specific impacts once a final decision on the fate of these missions is made,” NASA spokeswoman Gretchen Cook-Anderson said.

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