Space Transformation

House approval moves a NASA personnel reform bill to the launch pad.

It would not have seemed possible given the vehement union opposition to last year's Defense Department personnel reform legislation, but on Wednesday Congress managed to pass another major personnel bill with lots of union support.

The bill, the NASA Workforce Flexibility Act, will allow NASA to boost its employee recruiting efforts by offering scholarships to students who agree to work for agency; paying relocation costs; and providing recruitment bonuses and more vacation time to incoming hires. Managers also would be able to offer higher starting salaries.

The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, passed in November 2003. The House followed suit Wednesday, and President Bush is expected to sign the bill shortly.

"Given what has happened over the past two years with regard to both the [Defense] and [Homeland Security Department] overhauls, it certainly is refreshing to see that the NASA human resources bill includes concrete protections for the agency's workers," said Greg Junemann, president of NASA's largest union, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

Junemann credited House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., with striking the right balance in the legislation. While including provisions in the bill that will enable the agency to entice promising young engineers and scientists to join it, Boehlert excluded other provisions that NASA management had requested and union advocates opposed, such as authority to implement unlimited demonstration projects and an employee exchange program with the private sector. The bill also requires the agency to distribute bonus money among all levels of the organization, a provision that Junemann touted as a victory for NASA workers.

Let A Thousand Job Sites Bloom

An amendment to the fiscal 2004 omnibus spending bill passed by Congress last week will allow federal agencies to maintain their own Web sites listing job openings and taking online applications.

The Office of Personnel Management had planned to consolidate all federal job listings on its new USAJobs site. But the OPM initiative met strong opposition from several human resources management firms that currently contract with federal agencies to maintain job sites. The group was led by Tacoma, Wash.-based Avue Technologies, and on Wednesday a company official said that Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Ted Stevens, R-Alaska; and Richard Shelby, R-Ala.; championed the amendment to bar OPM from implementing its plan.

Avue argued that individual agencies should maintain the option of keeping their own Web sites, which could then be tailored to attract the most appropriate applicants, to ask specific questions relevant to the job application, and to analyze the responses.

OPM officials, meanwhile, have touted the USAJobs site as a way of streamlining the federal job application process, making it easier to find federal jobs. According to OPM, more than 31 million visitors have visited the site since its August 2003 launch.