Union criticizes report backing NASA workforce flexibilities

A federal labor union has taken issue with some recommendations in a congressionally chartered organization's report on reshaping NASA's workforce to meet a new mission.

In a May 21 letter to National Academy of Public Administration Fellow John G. Stewart, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers highlighted a suggestion that lawmakers give NASA emergency authority to ask older employees to retire.

"It is the premise that openly discriminating against NASA's older employees is a necessary prerequisite for NASA building its future workforce that IFPTE finds both false and repugnant," wrote Lee Stone, legislative representative for the NASA council of IFPTE locals, in the letter.

The recommendation was contained in a NAPA report to Congress earlier this year that identified challenges that NASA could face in moving 18,000 civil servants and 40,000 contractors to the Bush administration's new Vision for Space Exploration program.

The organization suggested that lawmakers provide NASA with a new package of flexibilities that -- in addition to limited authority to modify retirement regulations in emergencies -- would include new reduction-in-force rules and blanket employee buyout authority with a high dollar-value incentive.

The panel focused in part on retirement-eligible employees because "it is not as much of a hardship for someone who is fully eligible for their annuity to retire from their job," the report stated.

But IFPTE has argued that NASA primarily is facing a budget crisis. Until the agency gets the funding it needs, its missions and workforce will remain at risk, according to the union.

In testimony earlier this month, IFPTE recommended that Congress fund NASA as close to its authorized level as possible and provide stability for employees by rejecting any reduction in force. The union also recommended that the agency enhance its voluntary buyout authority.

Stone said Thursday that NASA puts a $25,000 cap on buyouts for employees. But raising the cap to the level of an employee's annual salary and offering benefits for 18 months would make the offers more appealing, he said.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin sent legislation to Congress last month that would enhance the buyout authority by offering employees the additional 18 months of benefits Stone is pushing. The proposal also would offer certain permanent employees an incentive, calculated as a percentage of their basic rate of pay, for moving to temporary appointments.

But IFPTE opposes the temporary appointments, arguing they leave room for the agency to replace civil servants with contractors. The board charged with investigating the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster determined that an increase in the number of NASA's contractors relative to federal employees contributed to the disaster.

Stone argued that the most critical element of workforce reform is ensuring the recruitment and retention of quality employees and maintaining the agency's standing as a popular place to work. NASA came in fourth among large agencies in the latest rankings of the best places to work in government issued by the Partnership for Public Service and American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation.

Moving forward with many of NAPA's proposals and Griffin's temporary appointment proposal would hinder the agency's ability to attract a well-qualified workforce, Stone said.

"Employees like to think about their jobs and not worry about whether they're going to be laid off tomorrow," Stone said. IFPTE also has recommended that NASA begin an aggressive recruitment campaign while the current staff is still on board to transfer knowledge.

Stone said lawmakers plan to hold a hearing in late summer to discuss NASA's workforce issues in more depth and to consider the provisions included in Griffin's proposal.

NAPA did not return calls seeking comment.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.