- Press Release
- August 17, 2022
IFPTE Reponses to Questions for The Record: NASA Workforce Hearing
Responses to Questions for the Record – International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, AFL-CIO & CLC
Prepared For: House Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics
Hearing: The NASA Workforce: Does NASA Have the Right Strategy and Policies to Retain and Build the Workforce It Will Need?
Submitted by: Dr. Lee Stone, Legislative Representative NASA Council of IPFTE locals
August 7, 2006
The Honorable Congressman Ken Calvert, Chairman
The Honorable Congressman Mark Udall, Ranking Member
Sub-Committee on Space and Aeronautics
U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Science
2320 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington D.C. 20515
Dear Chairman Calvert and Ranking Member Udall:
Let me begin by thanking you once again for your gracious invitation to testify at the June 13th NASA workforce hearing. It was a distinct privilege and high honor for me to be able to speak on behalf of the thousands of NASA employees who are concerned about the direction the Agency has been taking for the last few years vis-à-vis its permanent civil-service workforce. IFPTE also recognizes that with our testimony comes the considerable responsibility of not only finding fault with the status quo but also of finding solutions so that the Agency can move forward with renewed vigor and promise. We respectfully hope that our detailed analysis and specific proposals prove helpful to you as you perform your critical oversight function.
IFPTE believes that most employees are pleased to see, once again, a bright, dedicated, and fully technically engaged Administrator at the helm. Unfortunately, despite his many talents, Dr. Griffin cannot turn straw into gold, nor can he make the Vision for Space Exploration a reality with the proposed budget. IFPTE is very grateful for the strong bi-partisan endorsement that NASA received from its Authorizers in their call in the Authorization Act of 2005 for sustained growth in NASA’s budget to match the sustained growth in NASA’s responsibilities. Unfortunately, neither the President nor House Appropriators seem to have listened. We urge your Sub-Committee and the full House Science Committee to use their considerable influence to convince the House Appropriations conferees to endorse the Hutchison-Mikulski budget increase so that NASA at least has a chance to complete its numerous and difficult assigned tasks.
The recent Government Accountability Office report makes it clear that, as IFPTE and others stated earlier, the Exploration Systems Architecture Study that is driving all current Agency decisions is not currently on sound fiscal footing. Thus, the proposed sacrificing of Science, Aeronautics, and Technology programs, along with the associated workforce cuts, to make ends meet is bad policy; this short-sighted approach is unwise, unsustainable, and ultimately cannot lead to mission success. The Administrator may feel compelled to focus nearly exclusively on the critical issues that he sees as dominating his tenure of only a few short years. However, career employees, many of whom have been here for decades and many of whom hope to be here when humans set foot on Mars, take the longer view. NASA must, of course, proceed forward with new ambitious plans for manned exploration, but it must do so in a way that does not compromise its intellectual infrastructure, meticulously built over decades, simply to solve short-term budgetary shortfalls. If NASA continues to spend millions in lay-off preparation, along with the associated harassment and intimation of older employees, in an attempt to drive them out in order to save only ~$50 million dollars (less than 1/3 of 1% of NASA’s budget), NASA will lose many of its best current employees and have difficulty recruiting similar talent for a considerable time to come. NASA will have sold its soul for 30 pieces of silver.
Below, please find IFPTE’s responses to your questions for the record. Again, I hope you find the information useful. Do not hesitate to contact me if you require further information or clarification. Thank you for your attention to the critical matter of how best to protect and preserve NASA’s skilled and dedicated public-service workforce and its unique capabilities and expertise from the current fiscal storm.
Lee Stone, Ph.D., M.S.E.
Legislative Representative, NASA Council of IPFTE locals
Question 1 from Chairman Calvert:
In your written testimony you recommend rejecting NASA’s efforts at full-cost accounting and suggest that those efforts have created the “uncovered capacity” problem. You state that NASA has “converted over to a full-cost recovery system that allows distant program managers to siphon salary and facilities money away from the Field Centers.”
1a. What distinguishes full-cost recovery from a full-cost accounting?
1b. Please explain what steps NASA must take to implement a complete full-cost accounting system that addresses these concerns.
1c. Do you think that the current accounting system has improved NASA’s understanding of the degree to which its employees are fully paid for by its programs?
Response to Question 1a:
Full-cost accounting is a process by which an Agency accounts for (i.e. records data documenting) how it has spent its money. This should be completely independent of how NASA manages its money, facilities, or workforce, or how it makes spending decisions. Unfortunately, NASA implemented a form of full-cost recovery that dramatically changed how it manages its funds and assigns work, and did so in a way that ironically further decreases the fidelity of NASA’s actual accounting of its expenditures to Congress and the American people.
Administrator Griffin himself described in detail the difference between full-cost accounting and full-cost recovery at an All-Hands meeting on December 6, 2005.
“…(T)he frustration I’ve experienced over full-cost accounting is not with full-cost accounting. That is merely a way of knowing where your money went… Full-cost accounting and full-cost recovery are not the same thing… (I)n our wish to demonstrate blind obedience by following full- cost accounting, we confused it with full-cost recovery. Now I’ve backed off of some of that and I promised you that I would and I have established what we are calling a capital asset management account to manage those assets, which are broader than a given program… (C)ore support for these is available from the institution like as in the old days of R&PM accounting, but again that was too far in one direction. Full-cost accounting with everything having a project charge number is too far in the other direction. We also need to price our assets such that program managers both within and outside NASA want to use those facilities. You know, pricing our assets such that Boeing goes to the Netherlands to do wind tunnel testing is really kind of stupid. In fact it’s not kind of stupid, it is stupid… (W)e are going to stop doing some stupid things and maybe do an experiment and do other new stupid things, but at least we would stop doing some of the things which were clearly damaging us… Full-cost accounting is not the problem. Full-cost accounting is just a way of saying I know what I spent my money on. Who is going to object to that? Ok, it’s a policy toward cost recovery that needs to actually be thought through as opposed to simply, you know, cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all.”
Administrator Michael Griffin
IPFTE couldn’t agree more (see IFPTE recommendation #3 in our testimony). However, although the Administrator laments above how the “stupid” misapplication of full-cost accounting has harmed NASA’s facilities infrastructure and lauds a new plan to cover facilities infrastructure through centralized non- programmatic institutional funding, he did not address the completely analogous threat to NASA’s intellectual infrastructure from the same misapplication of full-cost recovery. Indeed, just as Dr. Griffin pointed out above, if inefficient management and institutional costs coupled with a mandate for full-cost recovery cause NASA to price its intellectual assets (i.e., FTEs) such that NASA program managers choose to cut corners on manpower assignments or simply to abolish key projects when there is under-utilized internal expertise capable of performing valuable work, [or, in the case of external programs, they simply refuse to pay for NASA labor], that’s not kind of stupid. That is stupid. Until full-cost accounting stops being undermined by the inappropriate application of full-cost recovery, the crucial data needed to identify and correct this and other financial and workforce problems will remain beyond our reach.
1. Harmful full-cost recovery workforce policies implemented under the guise of full-cost accounting. Dr. Griffin’s predecessor terminated the age-old method of providing Civil Service salaries to Centers directly related to their complement. Instead, centers are now only provided with a fixed amount of civil-service salary money by programmatic fiat for all rank-and-file employees, but can raise somewhat arbitrary amounts of salary money by center management fiat to add to a center G&A account that can expand to meet any emerging management salary needs. In other words, scientist, engineers, and technicians were suddenly uncovered by the a priori decision to withhold salary money (not because of any requirement of full-cost accounting or any technical reason), yet there has always been enough money to hire yet another personal “special” assistant for a Center Director.
Instead of having program managers assign projects/tasks to Centers and allowing the work to be assigned by local experienced supervisors who have direct knowledge of the expertise residing in his/her workgroup and who can properly gauge both the specific skills needed for the task as well as the manpower needed to perform a particular technical task within a specified timeline, the manpower budget is arbitrarily assigned by distant program managers with little or no supervisory experience, little or no specific knowledge of the detailed expertise and experience available in the actual employees working at each Center, and little or no sensitivity to the long-term health of a Center’s core intellectual capabilities. As one might expect, these senior program managers could, did, and continue to set arbitrary workforce caps that limit the coverage of center employees. Furthermore, this top- down budgetary decision making is beholden to internal and external political constraints and thus often unresponsive to technical drivers. This problem has nothing to do with full-cost accounting; it is simply a top-down policy decision to create serious pressure to downsize the civil-service workforce at targeted Centers by shrinking the apparent demand for technical employees through arbitrary labor quotas. This has “worked” in that it is indeed driving away employees from NASA; this is failing because it is destroying morale, is driving away some of NASA’s best current talent, and is scaring away future talent.
The new work assignment policy has been particularly harmful to NASA Science, Aeronautics, and Technology Development programs, which have traditionally understood that the Agency’s smartest people are rank-and-file employees and that the best way to foster creative and productive research and development is through a largely self-generated bottom-up process (with peer-review and appropriate top-down oversight as is done at the National Institutes of Health, for example). This well proven bottom-up Principal Investigator model, which has allowed NASA Science to flourish in the past and which has allowed NASA to compete for the best and brightest young scientific minds, has been replaced by a top-down autocratic model, whereby employees have fewer and fewer opportunities to write competitive grant proposals and are instead expected to wait by the phone for orders (and FTEs) from bureaucrats telling them what to do next. This new Soviet-style workforce-management model driven by full-cost recovery of civil-servant salary is killing morale, stymieing creativity and entrepreneurship across the Agency, and is seriously harming NASA’s intellectual infrastructure just as it was harming our facilities infrastructure before the establishment of the Shared Capabilities Asset Program. IFPTE recommends that a similar account be established to preserve NASA’s most important asset, its highly skilled and uniquely experienced employees (IFPTE Recommendation # 3).
Finally, full-cost recovery has also undermined NASA’s line management and made program management all powerful. In a properly balanced matrixed management system, line management would control FTE dollars and program management would control WYE and other procurement dollars. This would make both jobs meaningful and would drive cooperation. Full-cost recovery has instead fostered a bitter conflict between line and program management and is driving desperate benevolent efforts by line managers to protect intellectual capabilities and to remain relevant, even if this means using “creative” accounting practices.
2. Improper accounting of work under NASA’s faux “full-cost” policy
Rather than making NASA’s financial and workforce accounting more transparent, which was the intent of congressional direction, full-cost recovery has fostered the emergence of even more Byzantine and opaque accounting practices (often times inconsistent across Centers). Whether performing workforce or financial accounting, rather than honestly measuring “actuals” and comparing them with “projecteds” in order to re-evaluate what actually happened and correct current planning deficiencies for the next budget cycle, management merely uses whatever accounting means necessary to make reported “actuals” match the “projected” numbers, irrespective of what actually happened. That way, the plan was perfect by design and no learning can or does occur. The lack of corrective feedback is particularly damaging because significant errors made during the initial conversion to “full-cost” remain perpetually uncorrected. The management culture of making the books look like they want them to without regard to the reality on the ground is also at the core of why the Agency has consistently failed to pass a clean financial audit. Some specifics:
a. A center is often given a certain number of FTEs but is asked to deliver work to schedules that required more than that number. If the Center or employee balks, programs can move FTEs elsewhere so employees all across the Agency are being pressured to work unremunerated overtime or are being assisted by “uncovered” employees or employees covered by other programs in order to meet milestones. If the milestone slips, nothing is done to analyze the root cause. If the milestone is met because of the hidden work, then the original low-balling of manpower is reinforced. The official manpower planning that assigns FTEs to perform work is budget driven and is completely detached from the technical work planning needed to get the work done. This problem harms both “rich” and “poor” Centers alike as “covered” employees find themselves under undue pressure to perform more than 1 FTE worth of work. The hours officially logged to a project by employees have little to do with the actual work performed: Work is performed for programs by “uncovereds” or employees covered by other programs; this work is NOT logged to the program that benefits from the work. Conversely, some large programs are systematically covering employees that are actually supporting other activities. The net effect is that manpower accounting for each program is consistent with the manpower plan for that program but not with the actual work performed. In sum, performed work is not being properly accounted for, which makes it impossible to assess whether initial manpower estimates were correct and to take appropriate corrective action either up or down. This process makes program managers look like they are meeting their metrics but it is simply generating false metrics to do so. The key problem with NASA’s Workforce Strategy is that these false metrics are being used to identify uncovered and motivate RIFs.
b. Employees are often assigned work but not given an account to charge it to. For example, employees working on the Smart Buyer program (a program to anticipate bids for CEV development in order to support the procurement process) were accorded Group Achievement awards but many were not afforded the opportunity to charge to that Program. In other words, award-winning work was performed for free at least as far as full-cost accounting is concerned. We can therefore RIF these employees next year and apparently suffer absolutely no impact because, as far as the accounting is concerned, these award- winning employees don’t exist and are not performing the award-winning work. A similar problem exists with Mishap Investigation Boards, where employees provide expertise and work that is not recorded under that Investigation. In sum, actual work is often not being accounted for, which again makes it impossible to determine what any program actually costs (the primary goal of full-cost accounting).
c. Training and administrative work by non-administrative staff is not accounted for. Technical and support employees are required to take generic training (e.g., IT security), to attend branch/division/directorate/center all-hands meetings, to fill out surveys, to reconcile credit cards and do other financial accounting, to fill out time cards and travel vouchers, and to perform other work assigned by their line management; this work is charged to unsuspecting programs [or to G&A (if uncovered)]. This completely violates the primary tenet of full-cost accounting as it improperly burdens programs with non-programmatic activities and makes it impossible to track how much of its manpower efforts are being devoted to training or diverted to cover administrative activities (contrary to popular myth, many of these are not statutorily mandated). In sum, one of the reasons that NASA can arbitrarily increase the administrative burdens on its employees is that the work time required to meet these burdens is not accounted for, in direct violation of full-cost accounting. The cost to the Agency of All-Hands meetings, surveys, etc… is simply not calculated so doubling or tripling them has no impact on the reported manpower metrics even though it is clearly reducing actual programmatic productivity.
d. Managers are improperly charging their FTEs to programs in order to lower reported center G&A costs. Although some lower-level managers do indeed perform some bone fide technical work for programs (and this time should indeed be charged to the appropriate program), full-cost accounting should account for management time as G&A. Some Centers are allowing their senior managers to charge their time to programs merely for supervising employees working on a program, which is doubly harmful as it improperly burdens a program with charges that are not specific to that program and deprives real engineers and scientists from the stolen FTEs, thereby increasing the uncovered while also making management look falsely efficient. Since IFPTE’s testimony in June, a move has been initiated by HQ to stop this practice and we applaud this. Another way true administrative costs are being underestimated is when “uncovered” employees perform critical administrative work, which is charged to a “transition” account indicating that they are uncovered capacity when they are actually performing valuable G&A activities. One of the most important benefits of full-cost accounting is that it can tell you how much NASA management is costing the Agency; unfortunately, because of the above misaccounting of work, the actual full-cost of NASA management (both programmatic and line) remain unknown. Thus, management inefficiencies cannot be properly identified and addressed in workforce planning.
e. No FTEs are provided for advance planning, proposals, or even successful grants and cooperative agreements. The hallmark of a cutting edge research and technology institution is the quality of its technical staff. That quality is maintained by the continuous engagement of technical staff in vigorous intellectual interactions and collaborations with academia and the private sector through grants and Space Act agreements and by attending conferences. As NASA’s internal R&D funds decrease, NASA should be encouraging its scientists to bring in funds from other Agencies by responding to external calls for proposals as has been done by NASA’s most productive scientists and engineers for years. Under full-cost recovery, however, there is no way to receive NASA salary funds for working on grant or program proposals or even for working on successful external grants which bring both direct tangible benefits and indirect prestige and credibility to the Agency. Furthermore, external funding institutions (e.g. NIH, NSF) have not been asked to adapt to the new internal NASA funding environment and/or cannot afford to pay “full-cost” for the inflated FTEs that NASA charges, so there is little chance to recoup one’s salary externally even with a successful external grant funding critically valuable work for the Agency and the nation (e.g. NIH funding of radiation research). Efforts to have NASA affirmatively cover the salary portion of such innovative, competitive, entrepreneurial research have not succeeded. Although Dr. Griffin understands that recovering partial-cost for facilities is smarter than nothing as the basis for the current plan to save NASA’s valuable facilities (see quote above), he remains unwilling to seek only partial recovery of civil servant salary from outside funding institutions in order to save NASA’s world-class Space, Earth, Life and Microgravity scientists. Under the current misapplication of full-cost accounting, many of our best and brightest scientists are “uncovered” even when their research is funded. Feeling insulted and betrayed, much of our scientific talent is leaving or is considering doing so, when only a few years ago that would have been unimaginable. This is not good for NASA’s long-term health or for the nation. We propose that NASA’s Science, Aeronautics, and Technology budgets be increased to reverse this trend before it gathers momentum so that NASA can retain its world-class scientists and research engineers (IFPTE recommendation # 5).
Response to Question 1b:
NASA should simply initiate a workforce accounting system that records the actual work performed (IFPTE recommendation #4). When in doubt, try the truth.
There should be a Work Breakdown System (WBS) number not only for all programs/projects (as is done currently) but also for all other assigned activities (training, administrative work performed by technical/support staff, etc…) with sufficient granularity to allow for meaningful future planning. All WBSs must be accessible from all Centers so that employees at Center X assigned to work on program run at Center Y can easily charge his/her time, as assigned and performed, without the hassle of transferring funds from one Center to another. Employees should be assigned work by their local line management (in response to task requests by program managers). Employees should then accurately record the hours they take to perform all tasks to the WBSs provided for each of their assigned tasks. If management assigns a task on Friday afternoon to be delivered Monday morning, then the employee should charge the time for all of the work they performed evenings and weekends even if it becomes overtime. Managers can make sure that employees are performing their assigned tasks but they cannot arbitrarily reject and rewrite the recorded hours in the employee’s timesheet unless they have compelling evidence that the hours were recorded inaccurately. Employees should report hours spent attending management meetings or performing routine accounting activities under the appropriate administrative WBS, should report all generic training under a training WBS, etc.. Principal Investigators on approved externally funded grants should also receive a WBS, whether or not their salary is reimbursed, to properly record the work hours devoted to that task. IFPTE is simply advocating for truth in NASA’s accounting practices so that if employees are spending too much time doing A and too little doing B, management, Congress, and the American people will know it and can then try to do something about it next time around. Most importantly, this is the only way Congress can find out what a program’s labor costs really were. Time cards should be considered data sets to be filled out by employees who have the only first-hand knowledge of the data (their work hours). Management should not be allowed to alter workforce data to come out “correctly” based on an a priori workforce spending plan.
Response to Question 1c:
Regrettably not. Because of the systematic misrepresentations of actual work performed to meet projected manpower plans (as outline above), NASA is hopelessly lost as far as identifying the true labor costs associated with any program or other activity. Until the Agency undertakes radical reforms that reject its current top-down “make it so” accounting culture and implements a bottom-up, honest, data-driven accounting process like the one proposed in the response to Question 1b above, Congress cannot trust NASA’s workforce numbers. Many of NASA management’s similarly flawed financial accounting practices have been identified by outside auditors and therefore are in the process of being corrected. NASA should be compelled to subject its workforce accounting policies and practices to a thorough audit by an outside auditor so that the weaknesses at the root of IFPTE’s concerns can be addressed and rectified.
Question 1 from Ranking Member Udall:
How responsive is NASA’s Workforce Strategy to the reporting requirements contained in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005?
Response to Question 1:
NASA management has shown a consistent pattern of providing only pro forma, content-deficient responses to congressional mandates for information about workforce planning. In a letter to General Counsel Wholley, Dr. Paul Davis and I described in detail how NASA’s recent Workforce Strategy failed to provide the specific information required as per the Authorization Act of 2005. The Strategy is statutorily required to describe, at a minimum—
(A) any categories of employees NASA intends to reduce, the expected size and timing of those reductions, the methods NASA intends to use to make the reductions, and the reasons NASA no longer needs those employees;
(B) any categories of employees NASA intends to increase, the expected size and timing of those increases, the methods NASA intends to use to recruit the additional employees, and the reasons NASA needs those employees;
(C) the steps NASA will use to retain needed employees; and
(D) the budget assumptions of the strategy, which for fiscal years 2007 and 2008 shall be consistent with the authorizations provided in title II of this Act, and any expected additional costs or savings from the strategy by fiscal year.
But unfortunately, it simply does not provide the above information nor does it abide by the above-required budgetary assumptions. Our letter describes the deficiencies in detail (see Appendix E of our testimony).
We received no reply from General Wholley in response to our enumerated legal concern that NASA management was not in compliance with the Authorization Act. Perhaps it would be useful for the House Science Committee to compel a response? From our reading of the Act, Congress simply asked NASA to provide the obvious information that would be needed to support intelligent long-term workforce planning in support of the Vision for Space Exploration. Unfortunately, without aggressive and sustained congressional follow-up, NASA will likely continue to provide mediocre documents that hamper congressional oversight. It is important to note that NASA still appears unprepared to release the requested information. In a NASA All-Hands in June 2006, NASA’s Administrator and Associate Administrator for Exploration announced the assignment of Exploration projects to each of the Centers as part of the 10 healthy Centers plan. However, two months after the Strategy was delivered to Congress, they explicitly stated that they still had not determined the full extent of the Exploration’s workforce needs, nor how the Center’s newly assigned roles would impact workforce “coverage”. It is hard to justify continuing NASA’s ongoing downsizing in the face of the admitted uncertainty NASA upper-level management has about the demand side of the workforce issue.
It is also important to point out that the superficiality of the Workforce Strategy is not an isolated incident but part of a series of evasive and uninformative workforce planning documents provided to Congress in recent years. In response to the NASA Flexibility Act of 2004, NASA provided a Workforce Plan in April 2004 and then a revision in 2005. These documents also did not have the information required by Congress (in this case, under the Flexibility Act). On June 5th 2005, Dr. Wes Darbro, President of the NASA Council of IPFTE locals, provided IFPTE’s comments on the proposed revised Workforce Plan and specifically informed NASA Human Resources of our legal concern that the Workforce Plan was not in compliance with the Flexibility Act:
In HR’s responses to IFPTE’s queries, it clearly considers its responsibility to IFPTE as a simple “consultation” as defined in the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute. This approach fails to recognize the legal fact that the Flexibility Act compels NASA management to release specific information to NASA’s Unions (as well as Congress) in order to establish the rationale for NASA’s determination of each “critical need” (and not simply the new list as would typically be required by the Labor Statute). As such, Congress has greatly expanded IFPTE’s consultation rights in this particular matter beyond our standard consultation rights, and HR must adjust its interaction with us accordingly. Our basic concern with Section I continues to be that it fails to fully comply with the Flexibility Act because it does not adhere to the details of § 9802 – Planning, notification, and reporting requirements. Most importantly, the Workforce Plan does not include an adequate “description of each critical need of the Administration and the criteria used in the identification of that need.” We brought this and other related issues up last year in our initial “consultation”, but HR did not adequately address our concerns. Although the readability of the revised Section I is improved over last year’s, our explicit request for the “criteria” used to determine which competencies are critical needs went largely unheeded. Instead, the Plan merely asserts that there were criteria and provides a description of the sequence of events that contributed to the decision making. The Flexibility Act demands more; it clearly states that the criteria themselves used in the identification of critical needs must be provided in the Plan…
A second major compliance issue is the fact that, in January, NASA authorized and offered buyouts to many employees whose primary competency is on the current Critical Needs list (e.g. dozens of Human Factors experts were offered a buyout and many took it). This troubling action shows disdain for NASA’s constitutional obligation not to mislead Congress. It is not right for NASA to tell Congress officially that it needs special authority to recruit new and retain current employees in certain areas, while using other authorities to push these employees out the door to achieve short-term financial objectives. This clearly violates the spirit if not the letter of the Flexibility Act and, whether deliberate or not, clearly misleads those Congressional committees responsible for NASA oversight.
We urge Congress to insist that NASA Human Resources provide more thoughtful and thorough responses to congressional requests for workforce information and, in particular, to ask NASA to provide a revised Workforce Strategy that is fully compliant with the Authorization Act of 2005. Proper oversight and policy making cannot be made without accurate and complete information.
Question 2 from Ranking Member Udall:
How do we balance the rights and capabilities of the current workforce against the need to bring younger scientists and engineers into the agency? How would you recommend NASA address the problem? Response to Question 2:
We believe the premise of any conflict between the older and younger generations of NASA scientists and engineers is false. Indeed, as former Administrator O’Keefe argued when requesting the NASA Flexibility Act, NASA needs to retain its aging technical workforce as it also hires the next generation so that the former can mentor the latter and provide for the effective transfer of institutional knowledge and experience from the Apollo and Shuttle generations to the Vision generation that will bring us back to the moon and on to Mars. This is even more true today as a new generation of engineers and scientists has been asked to go back to the future and re-enact Apollo for its first return to the moon. As far addressing the issue of NASA’s aging workforce and the need to recruit a new generation of employees, we believe the answer is two-fold:
- Categorically reject layoffs and start talking about how the Vision will provide sustained growth and career stability to the next generation of NASA employees so that we may attract our fair share of the engineering and science graduates of the world’s elite institutions (IFPTE recommendation #1). Start hiring young talent now. Reinstate a vigorous National Research Council postdoctoral program and other internship programs to attract fresh-out talented graduates into the Agency for a trial run, then hire the best of them as permanent tenured civil servants with the promise of a career as rewarding as anything academia or the private sector can possibly offer. The above philosophy has the added benefit of showing younger Americans that there is a good reason to get a degree in Engineering, Math, or Science; NASA is hiring and wants you to help America understand and protect our home planet, explore our solar system and the Universe, and send people to Mars and back.
- The law entitles NASA’s older employees to fair and equal treatment but, more importantly, these employees have earned our respect and gratitude for their service to the nation and should not be treated badly simply because of a turn in the political winds (as has been the case for the last two years). Any concern about the age distribution of NASA’s employees will take care of itself through natural attrition over the next 5 years together with the aggressive hiring of new talent as proposed above. Given, however, that there is a small population of employees who would like to leave the Agency now, but are staying on merely to increase their retirement benefits, NASA should offer enhanced buy-outs and early outs comparable to those offered by the private sector to encourage those who want to leave to do so sooner (IFPTE recommendation # 2). This approach is not only more ethical and respectful to both our older and younger employees than any possible RIF scenario; it is extremely cost-effective with costs recouped within about two years. NASA could solve its entire so-called “uncovered capacity problem” quickly and painlessly if it offered a year’s salary as a separation incentive (the high-tech industry standard). Any RIF process will take about a year, will cost millions to implement, will embitter much of the workforce, and will trigger costly and protracted litigation, so the wisdom of an enhanced buy-out approach becomes even more obvious, not to mention the morale and productivity advantages.