KARC Radio: The Hubbard Report 31 October 2005

Status Report From: Ames Research Center
Posted: Sunday, November 20, 2005

Recorded on October 31, 2005


Hi, [Scott Hubbard], here. Another edition of KARC, this time focusing on urban myths and legends and hall talk. In the urban legend territory is something that I've been hearing that the new badges you're being issued contain a mysterious electronic tracker that allows building 200 to know when you're in your office, when you're at your desk. This is silly. It's not only untrue, it's ridiculous. I assume that you are all adult professionals charging your web tads properly, and there is no reason to do something as ridiculous as having an electronic tracker even if it were possible.

Let me move though, onto the more substantive hall talk that I've been hearing, a lot of questions about the buyout, about a RIF. Let me address those right now. We have requested, as I said in my last All Hands meeting, a approval for a buyout, and we expected to hear in mid-November whether or not that has been approved. It will be $25,000 just as before. The administrator has stated that this is the last buyout before a possible RIF. There would be a very short application window. So, for example, if we know mid-November that this has been approved, you would have to declare your intention by mid-December to take the buyout and then be off the rolls by January 3. In exceptional cases, there could be extensions up to March 31 of 2006, but these would require headquarters approval, so most employees that sign up for the buyout would have to be gone by January 3.

Now, what's the connection between this and a RIF? There are three elements that are affecting the number of uncovered capacity that we have. Those are, first of all, moving work from the contractor workforce to civil servants. That is to improve our engineering, our institutional competency, and the numbers there are relatively small. But each person is important. Second, we have the new work that we're pursuing. This is potentially work from Kennedy Space Center or Johnson Space Center. It's potentially new business from other agencies. It's potentially winning competitions within NASA. And finally we have the buyout. Those three things -- bringing work in-house, the buyout, and getting other new work -- are what will determine whether or not we have a RIF.

Now, if we have a RIF, this is the worst of all possible outcomes. Every time we've looked at where other agencies have done a reduction in force, we have found problems. It is a terrible outcome. It is, in many ways, a lose/lose situation. It's not possible to be surgical about selecting only specific individuals like you can in industry. It's not possible to even be focused on a certain area. The RIF with all its different arcane and antiquated machinery has many, many unexpected and unanticipated results. Nevertheless, if we cannot move enough work in-house, if we can't acquire enough new business, and in particular if we can't get a large enough buyout, we do face the awful possibility of having a reduction in force. It is the court of last resort. It's not something that I want. It's not something that the agency wants. But the fact of the matter is that at this point we have 229 individuals on the transition workforce. That represents about 170 fulltime equivalents. Those people right now do not have any identified work.

Let me take a minute and deal with one question that I have heard several times. People have noticed that the vast majority of those on the transition workforce are from the R&D directorates. They've said, "Why aren't there people from the institutional codes on the transition workforce?" Well, the fact of the matter is that the people in the institutional side of the house are largely on overhead, anyway, and so the issue, there, is either working more efficiently or reducing services because the only way we can cut the cost of overhead is by doing one of those two things. Now, this year we have reduced the cost of the institution here at Ames by more than 17 percent.

This is not an overnight effort. We started on this several years ago. We have achieved a number of efficiencies, but now we're at the point where we can reduce cost only by cutting services. It's unfortunate, as I said in my All Hands awhile back, but it's what we must do in order to keep our overhead rate, our so called G&A rate in the 77k or so per-work-year area. This is what I've committed to all of the proposers around the center as a stable rate that's competitive with the other R&D centers.

So our institutional people are taking their fair share of load from the center. They are reducing the number of people. They are reengineering services wherever possible. They're still trying to provide the rest of the center with the critical elements, but anything that's nice to have or discretionary is being reduced or even going away altogether. That's why we have the makeup of the transition workforce the way it is today.

We have split those people into three different groups: center tasks, a small investment in internal research and development, and business development. If you're in the business development group, we're saying take this opportunity using center overhead money derived from taxing the programs and go after whatever new business you can, whether it's through competitions, writing proposals, whether it's through advocating a new idea to a program manager, go after that as hard and as fast as you can. If you're in that small group where we're making an investment in you, we're saying that the work, to pick one example, radiation biology, is so important to the future of this center, and we think it has such possibilities for funding, either inside or outside, the agency, that we're willing to invest in it. Take full advantage of that, realizing that you're being funded from taxes on other programs. Finally, if you're in the center task category, you may be part of the group where we are improving our competencies by moving work from the contractor group to the civil servant group. You may be in a group that doesn't have any forecast program opportunities in the future.

Whatever group you're in, you're part of a transition workforce that does not have identified programs. This is what creates the pressure on the center for a possible RIF. So let me just reemphasize how I began this discussion; if you can afford it, if you're eligible and you can take the buyout, please do so. We have targeted a number of 150. If we can reach this target or close to it, we will create enough breathing space that with the new work we're forecasting and with the work that we are moving from institutional contractors, mainly in house, we will be able to balance the books and avoid a RIF. A RIF does no one any good in the end, but it is the last resort in order to balance our income with our expenses.

So let me conclude, now, by just talking about what we are doing. We have 1,300, almost 1,400 people here at the center in the civil servant workforce, a little over 1,300 in our contractor workforce. As I said in my All Hands talk awhile back, we're going to have to reduce the contractor workforce. We know that. We don't know exactly by how many, but those numbers will need to come down. We also need to reduce our civil service workforce, and how many we reduce there is contingent on those three areas I talked about. Every single individual helps in balancing the books.

So we've got great things going, we've got work for the crew exploration vehicle that's squarely in the middle of the administrator's objectives and priorities. We're the home for the robotic lunar exploration program, which is at the pointy end of the spear for space exploration in the future. We're still very competitive and we will remain so in the areas of science. We have reduced the cost of doing business here by 17 percent. That's allowed us to keep our G&A rate competitive with the other R&D centers. This is my commitment to the science community to allow them to continue to be competitive in their grants and proposals.

All of this taken together says that we do have a bright future, but we have a difficult time that we need to get through. Getting through that difficult time means we all need to pull together. If you're on the transition workforce, you need to pursue new business or help the center or take advantage of those investments. If you can take the buyout, if you can possibly afford it, you should do that. And by pursuing new business, by working together, by being proud of what we all have accomplished thus far, and what we will accomplish in the future, we can guarantee that this center will not only emerge, but will emerge healthy and will emerge with a bright and promising future.



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