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IFPTE Letter Regarding NASA and 5 CFR S430.208

Status Report From:
Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hon. Katherine Archuleta 

Director, Office of Personnel Management 

1900 E Street, NW 

Washington, DC 20415 

Dear Director Archuleta, 

It is with great sadness that I must provide you with compelling evidence that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been systematically violating 5 CFR S430.208 as well as the 14th amendment rights of its employees for at least the past six years. Worse, even after Labor representatives on NASA's Labor-Management Forum informed them of the problem, NASA leadership has not only failed to take swift and appropriate action to remedy the situation, but instead has taken steps to preserve the status quo, absurdly arguing that any effort to prevent the observed discrimination would constitute discrimination. Behind this twisted argument is their view the observed hierarchy of ratings somehow reflects an ordering wholly based on merit that cannot and should not be tinkered with. This defense is wrong-headed and deeply offensive. 

The problem is that NASA's performance ratings are improperly influenced by demographic factors such that, on average, white employees are rated higher than minority employees. The bias is robust across centers and has been a persistent feature over time. The probability that the observed pattern and trend happened by chance is less than one in a trillion. The pattern is the same even if you examine only Scientists/Engineers or only GS13-15 employees, demonstrating that this is not merely the indirect result of disparate treatment based on job category, skill, or income level. 

While the Office of Human Capital Management has engaged with Labor to implement reforms that nibble around the edges, NASA maintains a complex multi-tiered system that is at the core of the problem. Among many factors, NASA has two levels of above-standard performance which invites supervisory mischief whereby the highest level often ends up preferentially allocated to friends-of-management, leaving the next tier for high-performing employees who are not plugged-in with management, including exceptional minority employees. NASA's decision to continue using a combersome rating system, despite amble evidence of its discriminatory consequences, shows an unacceptable level of comfort with the obvious disparate conditions for minority employees. 

Employee performance ratings have a profound impact on employee bonuses and promotions so one can be sure that the observed ratings discrepancy is promulgated into employee paychecks, leaving minority employees on the short end of that stick as well. Furthermore, seniority for any reduction-in-force is affected by ratings whereby employees can receive up to 8 years of added service credit. Thus, the racial bias in the ratings sustained over many years would seriously taint any reduction-in-force with minority employees with more actual service time being unfairly laid off earlier than equivalently situated white employees with less service time. 

We therefore ask that OPM perform an independent audit of NASA's Employee Performance and Communication System ratings for the past six years with laser focus on determining the root cause of the disparate treatment of minority employees. We also ask that OPM investigate why NASA has failed to reduce the bias despite being made fully aware of the issue more than three years ago. 

Sincerely, 

Lee Stone Vice President, Western Federal Area 

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