NASA employees try to halt workforce, R&D cuts

NASA employees are urging the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee not to downsize the NASA workforce as the committee considers the president’s proposed fiscal 2007 budget cuts.

“How can NASA attract and retain a workforce with engineering and scientific skills and capabilities second to none if it continues to threaten its scientists and engineers with layoffs in order to meet arbitrary downsizing quotas?” asked Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, in a letter to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the subcommittee’s chairman, and ranking Democrat Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.).

The letter was sent before yesterday afternoon’s budget hearing with NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

An analysis of future skill needs or current employee capabilities does not substantiate a recently released mandate to downsize NASA’s technical workforce, Junemann said.

He appealed to the subcommittee to require NASA to deliver a more detailed workforce strategy that contains the number of employees in each technical and administrative area, justifications, a retraining plan, a hiring plan for responding to the expected attrition in NASA’s aging workforce and a recruiting plan for meeting the Vision for Space Exploration’s technical challenges.

“In the meantime, we ask that Congress forbid NASA from implementing layoffs of nonmanagers during the next fiscal year,” Junemann added.

The employees propose that the subcommittee adopt a measure that would streamline administrative costs by reducing the proposed $41 million in expenses associated with reduction-in-force activities.

In March 2005, NASA’s Ames Research Center offered buyouts to all but 70 of its 1,400 federal employees, including many information technology experts. Ames officials told employees that at least 400 civil servants and 400 contractors would be laid off if they did not accept the offers, union officials said.

Junemann wrote that the government could save $695 million by adopting House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert’s recent recommendation to stop the plan to move the launch of a new manned spacecraft from 2014 to 2012.

NASA is not part of the president's new innovation agenda, the American Competitiveness Initiative, which presses for investments in research and development, Griffin said.

“Many have asked why NASA is not a part of the ACI,” he testified earlier this week, at a hearing before the Senate Science and Space Subcommittee. “My response is that it is the mission of NASA to pioneer the future of space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research, while the ACI is focused on bolstering the nation’s economic competitiveness in areas such as information technology and nanotechnology.”

However, federation union leaders argue that workforce and R&D funding cuts at NASA will affect U.S. competitiveness.

“The large cuts to NASA's Aeronautics, Exploration Systems Research and Technology, and Human Systems Research and Technology programs have decimated NASA's R&D efforts,” said Lee Stone, vice president of the federation’s NASA Ames local union. “This hurts U.S. competitiveness because American private-sector interests were ultimately the primary beneficiaries of NASA R&D efforts. In particular, the proposed abandonment of NASA's aeronautics and space R&D in the face of growing European and Chinese competition in aerospace technology would appear unwise."

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