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IFPTE Letter to Rep. Frank Regarding Defunding of NASA Mars Exploration

Press Release From: International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. AFL-CIO
Posted: Wednesday, July 5, 2006

June 30, 2006

The Honorable Congressman Barney Frank
2252 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515-2104

Dear Representative Frank:

As Vice President for Legislative Affairs for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (local 30), I was dismayed by your effort last Wednesday to defund NASA's program to send humans to Mars and back. Your attempt was misguided for at least two reasons.

First, one should not argue against the scientific and technical progress engendered by humankind's curiosity and desire to explore. Columbus, Lewis and Clark, Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong are all recognized for the enduring accomplishments they achieved for humankind. Your amendment would have worked against the natural course of human history and against one of humankind's greatest qualities, our insatiable yearning to discover what is currently beyond our reach.

Second, regrettably, NASA is currently spending next to nothing on actual preparations for a manned trip to Mars. Your effort to defund a much touted, but as yet unfunded, program suggests a misunderstanding of what is happening at NASA today.

If you are looking for a bone fide boondoggle at NASA, you need not look far. NASA has been spending millions of tax dollars to perform a series of empty Human Capital planning exercises (Workforce Plan 2004, Workforce Plan rev 1 2005, Workforce Strategy 2006) pre-determined to justify a downsizing of NASA's independent technical civil-service staff. The NASA FY2007 budget calls for an additional $41 million for workforce planning centered on driving senior technical staff into premature retirement and ultimately to lay-off those who dare stay on. NASA, which lost 1,900 skilled civil servants over the last year and a half, is down 30% from 1994 levels and stands to lose up to another thousand technical employees over the next year. Along with those civil servants, thousands of NASA contractor jobs have also been eliminated. All of this downsizing is seriously harming our intellectual capabilities and institutional knowledge.

Instead of attacking a currently unfunded component of NASA's "Vision", your energy and noble intent would better serve the dedicated men and women at NASA, as well as the American people, if it were directed at stopping the counter-productive "reshaping" of NASA's technical workforce, a process that will harm the Agency for years to come. In addition, the $41 million of real FY07 funds currently allocated for "center workforce planning" could be reprogrammed to pay for critical scientific research, or ice-frost ramp redesigns, or cops on the streets, or prenatal healthcare for the poor, or even to pay down the federal debt. Indeed, to put all this in another context, for about a year and a half of the Iraq war, all of NASA's missions could be funded for an entire decade.

Before the end of this century, humans will set foot on Mars and reap as yet unknown benefits from the wealth of technical and scientific knowledge gained. I sincerely hope America will be leading the way. If the U.S. falters, it will fall behind as others take the lead.

Respectfully,

Lee Stone
Vice President, Legislative Affairs
Ames Federal Employees Union
IFPTE local 30, AFL-CIO

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