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IFPTE Comments on NASA Management's Draft Workforce Strategy

Status Report From: IFPTE
Posted: Sunday, March 12, 2006

INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF PROFESSIONAL AND TECHNICAL ENGINEERS AFL-CIO & CLC

NASA Council of IFPTE Locals

Comments on NASA management's Draft Workforce Strategy (Dated 2/6/06; Delivered by Management on 2/7/06)

As required by the NASA Authorization Act of 2005

March 9, 2006

1. Overview

The draft workforce plan delivered to the NASA Council of IFPTE Locals on February 6th appears not to meet the requirements set forth in the 2006 NASA Authorization Act. However the following does not address that concern directly (that legalistic issue will be addressed by a separate letter from IFPTE International) but instead looks at the plan in hopes that our comments will be used to improve the plan.

The NASA Council feels that this plan leaves multiple of questions unanswered and contains compromises that may not be necessary. We hope the comments and questions below can be answered by the Administration so that Congress and the American people can better understand the vision that Administrator Griffin brings to our Agency.

We do not believe the Agency can move forward with this workforce strategy, which does not provide a clear overview of the existing skills of its workforce. Indeed, this workforce strategy illustrates a lack of understanding of the capabilities of the employees at the Agency. Since this document has been written, an attempt has been initiated to improve the CMS system in an effort to remedy this situation and the Union is looking forward to these changes. It remains unclear how the current draft strategy can have any validity value given that this precursor activity is as yet incomplete.

Three troubling philosophical issues run through this draft strategy plan:

  • The misapplication of full-cost accounting has generated an artificial crisis that is driving an arbitrary unfocused downsizing of NASA technical civil service staff.
  • The astonishing abandonment of a internal workforce system successful for decades consisting primarily of dedicated tenured permanent employees with absolute loyalty to the agency and long-term engagement in mission success for a supposedly cheaper short-term job-shop system that will generate little loyalty or interest in the long-term success of programs, limit employees experience to single projects, and undermine NASA's ability to compete with elite academic institutions for the best and brightest young talent.
  • The reckless use of a flawed and incomplete competency management system that supports the current workforce planning with no solid link to actual technical skills.

The misapplication of "full-cost accounting" is the primary driver for the current workforce faux crisis and remains embodied in the ad hoc numbers of the Table on p. 9. Any thorough workforce strategy would have devoted considerable space to exactly how these numbers were derived rather than simply stating them as immutable facts. When NASA converted to full-cost, rather than simply accounting for the FTEs working on each program, program managers were simply given the salary funds to do with as they pleased. Many managers took advantage of the apparent new found wealth in their program budgets to divert civil servant salaries to increase procurement and outsource program activities. Civil servants, unfairly shackled by run-away overhead costs resulting from poor center management of institutional costs, were made to appear artificially expensive. This fact then in turn drove programs to shed FTEs to reduce the institutional burden that was being shifted from Centers to Programs. However, shedding civil servant FTEs did not actually reduce overall agency costs because the center overhead charges that would have been assigned to the rejected FTE were merely redistributed over the remaining workforce at a given center. Full-cost accounting should merely have kept track of how NASA FTEs were being assigned to the various programs or institutional activities. It should not have been used to drive FTE assignment decisions as is made clear by the statement "These FTE projections are based on mission requirements and anticipated funding (p. 9)" and the emphasis is on the latter factor as illustrated by the awkward turn of phrase on p. 5 "when programs are resourced to require fewer personnel". Programs are given overall budgets but their personnel requirements should be driven by mission milestones and not predetermined salary limits. Program technical and administrative needs should drive the number of FTEs assigned to a program; FTEs should not be arbitrarily limited as in the Table to free up funds for other uses.

It seems that "full-cost" is invoked whenever an excuse is needed to kill something technical but self-motivated, full cost seems to say if we have a big program sanctioned with certain dollar and time constraints, employees' time can be charged to this program but they must only work on that program and not some other or do research for the future or do things which follow up on a technical idea that has not been officially sanctioned. Yet many times we are indeed called upon to support non-technical work that has no official support and this raises no red flag. Those things do not seem to bring down the "full cost wrath", yet they have no charge code that management expects us to use. In a (not too unusual) day, a supervisor may spent 3 hours with a high school student shadowing him, an employee may be asked to attend two safety meetings this week or to attend a telecom on how to deal with unruly employees, or to attend a Center Staff meeting. Employees are often sent Center Directives to review each with many, many pages or must take some "computer" training which lasts an hour or more. We have been encouraged to do proposals so that we have work in the future. Who pays for all this? Which program, which project? What is OK to do, what is not? Who pays for all the non-program tasks we are asked to do? Hours and hours of bureaucratic busy work is supported in secret under direct violation of the core principle of full-cost but following up on an original technical thought is a crime. So NASA's workforce strategy should seek to better define "full cost" as it is now working and "full cost" as envisioned in the future. The new "simplified full-cost" effort is promising but once again the current workforce document and its key numbers do not reflect this ongoing full-cost reform process.

HR tools available to the Agency give us some hope, yet give us concern. Of concern is the proposed wide use of "term employees" and other temporary employees. More than half the hires since 2004 have been terms. This is a dangerous trend that will do irreversible harm to NASA's ability to compete in the future for its fair share of the absolutely smartest engineers and scientists. Tenure is good enough for Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Cal Tech, Berkeley, Stanford etc... Furthermore, Boeing, Lockheed etc... will always be able to offer greater financial incentives. The scientists and engineers that NASA hopes to attract will choose these other options, if NASA becomes a mere soft-money temporary employment agency that pays civil-service wages. Using surveys performed prior to NASA's conversion to a philosophy of full-cost recovery to make claims that morale remains high and that NASA jobs remain as desirable is overtly misleading.

There should be hard rules defining when hiring of "term employees" is appropriate and permissible. Technical supervisors say that they hire terms, not because they desire a term, but because "perm hires" are simply not authorized. That is not a mission-driven "workforce" reason, but rather reflects an ad hoc anti-civil-servant philosophy against long-term commitment to allow for easier budgetary planning at an Agency level at the expense of productivity and technical excellence. For freshouts, this is less of a problem, as post-docs and internships are a way of life for some early in their careers. But for high-quality technical people of experience, they don't want short-term employment, they need stability in their lives . . . and the best and the brightest are looking for "tenure". If you only analyze responses from those you hire as terms, you will never learn the real affect of this flexibility. If you ask the current "perms" what they think of being converted to a term, then the real answer will be obvious. Furthermore, the term appointment flexibility granted the Agency through the NASA Flexibility Act was not intended to create a revolving door practice at NASA, which is where the Agency seems to be headed. Instead Congress intended that legislation to be the catalyst in retaining and recruiting talented personnel willing to make NASA their careers, versus the term appointments who come in one day, and are gone the next.

There is also the opposite situation where a "perm" offers more flexibility than a "term". Terms are hired to do a specific job and they cannot always, by law, be moved to something else that is more pressing. That is not the case for permanent employees, they are not constrained, management has the flexibility to move them to any work that the Agency needs. So again, terms play a role but a very limited role, when the best interest of NASA is at heart. The workforce strategy should very carefully define when a "term" is appropriate.

NASA is only in the beginning phase of setting up a Competency Management System to support workforce planning despite the fact that they have been at it for more than 3 years and have spent considerable money on it. The workforce strategy draft document clearly shows that the only "competencies" considered were those of the employee's current position, not the employee's full capabilities. Indeed even these position competencies have been further trimmed down to just one primary position competency. This will clearly create an absolutely false representation of the true capabilities of the present workforce, and make "capitalizing on the potential of this workforce" impossible. Although focusing on the primary competency "makes workforce forecasting and data analysis more manageable (p. 12)", it certainly makes it less accurate and less informative.

NASA has yet to validate the CMS data base that describes actual employee skills although they have been talking about this for years (perhaps if the RIF preparation funds had been used to implement this task, HR would be further along). This is the key database that would theoretically help guide decision making as the Agency seeks to re-deploy intelligently. The CMS database that has been used to generate the draft strategy is associated with "positions" not employees and thus does not actually contain information about NASA workforce. In addition, its "dictionary" employs ridiculously vague terms like "program management". A program manager in Astrophysics requires very different technical skills and knowledge than one in Astrobiology, so it is simply meaningless to say that such skills will need to trend up or down. HR is applying a shoe factory model to NASA workforce planning; its plans assume that all program managers are interchangeable within a content-free management world. This is dangerous and is a key manifestation of NASA's culture problem identified by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board as a primary cause of the disaster. In an Agency that needs to maintain a complex technical and scientific skills mix, the simple-minded human capital tools that NASA has applied to generate the draft strategy are inadequate and the results cannot be trusted.

2. NASA's (un-auditable) Budget

With the considerable, un-auditable budgetary issues of the Agency over the past 5 years, and with the concerted current effort by the CFO of the Agency to balance the budget and audit the books, it is critical that the financial picture be clarified before a workforce reshaping driven to recoup funds is implemented, especially such drastic measures as a Reduction in Force (RIF). The current financial justification for the downsizing NASA by about 1,000 civil service jobs is premature and all of the associated repertoire of possible hostile HR actions remain ill-advised given the effect of such actions on employee morale and Agency effectiveness. A careful cost-benefit analysis of the effects of using blunt instruments such as RIFs must first be performed with a credible level of accuracy.

Under "Change to Full Cost Management" (p. 5) it is stated, "When programs are resourced to require fewer personnel, the mission directorates cannot immediately reduce personnel costs. They must continue to fund employees until redeployment or reduction can be effected." While Civil Service staff cannot be quickly reduced, they are in fact quickly re-deployable. A CMS system that is more detailed, involving competencies beyond the primary one, would be an effective tool for redeploying the workforce.

There is no shortage of work that needs to be done to support the VSE and most of the currently "uncovered" workforce could be directly redeployed to support NASA's current missions if there is a will to do so. If anything, a dramatic wave of hirings should be contemplated in the current strategy to bring in the next generation needed to get this ambitious job done, especially given that a huge portion of the civil-service workforce will retire over the next decade. The primary rationale for the NASA Flexibility Act given by then-Administrator O'Keefe in his congressional testimony was to keep old timers on board as mentors, while expediting the hiring of young engineers and scientists. In direct opposition to that public argument, NASA has engaged over the last two years in budgetary machinations, a series of broad buyouts, and RIF-mongering that was used to drive 950 employees out, many of whom were on the critical needs list of the Flexibility Workforce Plan or had other key skills needed for to support the VSE. We are now facing the CEV era with fewer Apollo era experts and support staff just as we critically need their knowledge and skills. This is not a good thing unless simple downsizing targets are the goal.

3. Looking Forward and the Needs of NASA's Missions

As required by the Authorization Act of 2005, the draft plan must include (specific) categories and numbers of employees to be reduced or increased in the coming years including justifications. While this plan does identify specific competencies (e.g., 10-50, p. 17) to be reduced, it is not clear whether these are reductions are per competency or total, or at which Centers and within which organizations these reductions are expected. Most importantly, the plan fails to make a connection between the competency targets listed and the actual categories and numbers of employees affected or to provide the required mission-based rationale. Indeed, the strategy confesses that although it is monitoring and planning based on competencies, these numbers do not correspond to categories and numbers of actual employees (p. 13). Thus, a pool of 100 employees who are 95% covered is indistinguishable from 5 fully uncovered employees yet it is obvious that for any real workforce reshaping these two scenarios are quite different and require different approaches. No solution to this glaring flaw in the CMS approach to workforce reshaping is provided but no intelligent planning can occur unless this problem is solved.

In addition, the plan seems to contain significant contradictions in identifying needed and uncovered competencies. For example, Section 3-C (p. 15), "systems engineering and integration engineering" is the second category identified under "Increased Need Through FY 2009," and is estimated to increase 100-150 FTE's. However, the previous section (Section 3-B, p. 14, bottom) states, "the principal competencies associated with the current uncovered FTEs include the following: ... various engineering of systems competencies". Perhaps the document should explain how "systems engineering" should be differentiated from "engineering of systems"? Are we to RIF 100 to 150 "engineers of systems" so that we can hire 100 to 150 "systems engineers"?

Also, is the Agency really going to hire up to 600 new accounting/finance/business people above and beyond the NSSC (p. 16) while it cuts Science projects Aeronautics R&D, and its science and engineering staff? Do the downward overall FTEs trends proposed on p. 9 include these 600 new bean-counting positions? What analysis supports the contention that NASA's accounting problems have been due to a shortage of manpower as opposed to lousy SAP software and needlessly arcane and inefficient accounting practices (e.g. head taxes and square footage calculations for G&A as opposed to simple percentage of direct costs like every University in the country)?

At the beginning of Section 2 (p. 9) we are presented with a Table containing the bulk of the quantitative information in the entire document. The caption calls it a "trend", but the workforce document under review is supposed to be a "strategy" that states clearly the Administration's goals over the coming years. Do the numbers in this Table reflect the outcome of buyouts and retirement and RIFs to meet arbitrary budget-driven downsizing targets or do they reflect appropriate workforce estimates based on technical project managers' analyses of what manpower is needed to support high-quality, on-time deliverables for the VSE and NASA's other missions? No specifics are provided as to how these numbers were obtained from the data developed by "all levels" of management as part of the creation of this document. Can NASA provide the source data (and acquisition and analysis methods) from which these numbers were calculated? We cannot fully comment on this Table without such information.

Section 5-B of the Workforce Strategy states that the Agency's natural attrition rate is about 4%. Analyzing the Table in Section 2, and starting with 18,624 employees in FY2005 and applying a straight 4%-per-year attrition rate yields the following:

The trend stated in the Workforce Strategy calls for a reduction of 1,875 FTE from FY 2005 to FY2011. However, as shown in the chart above, with a 4% natural attrition, the workforce will be reduced by about 4,046. Thus, given the NASA's natural attrition rate, the Agency will have to hire 2,171 FTE over the next 5 years to overcome natural attrition and meet the Agency's overall workforce strategy goals as well as achieve the new skills mix needed to support the VSE. Where is that hiring plan? It is also quite likely that the 4% natural attrition rate over the next 6 years is a conservative estimate based on the fact that the retirement eligible workforce is growing (see Section 1). Given the magnitude of these trends, any reasonable NASA workforce strategy must contain a more detailed analysis and estimate of natural attrition and of expected retirements for the NASA workforce. Much greater emphasis should be placed on training, mentoring (and retention of senior mentors who would otherwise retire), and hiring of new needed skills than on workforce reductions.

In analyzing the trends as they are projected to FY2011, it is apparent that each Center individually will also be at the expected levels or below due simply to this 4% attrition rate, as illustrated in the chart below.

Is it expected that the Agency will hire new employees at a rate high enough to account for attrition in order to meet the staffing levels as stated in the trend chart? What percentage of these new hires is expected to be Term appointments? How many FTE's are expected to be hired under the various authorities (SES, GS, NEX, etc.)?

In the second paragraph of Section 1-C (p. 7, bottom), we read, "All levels of management are involved", yet this is immediately followed by a list, "(Agency, Mission Directorates, Program Managers, Center management)", which refers only to upper management. From our own experience at the Centers, the immediate managers of the workforce and the hands-on human resource specialists have not been adequately involved. How were inputs from the division chiefs, branch chiefs, project managers and group leads included in the workforce planning activity? These are the people most in touch with actual manpower requirements for the various activities.

A couple paragraphs later we read that, "Civil service labor supports five principal work areas. ... Each of the five components is spread across multiple Centers, though they are not distributed equally among Centers." How are these five components distributed across the Centers and what process created the disparate ratios?

The first paragraph of the Introduction (p. 2) states that the "strategy is based on objectives that contribute to accomplishing the President's Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), while also recognizing the Agency's financial responsibilities and limitations" without any mention of NASA's science or aeronautics missions, or NASA's facilities and capabilities that are and could be useful to other agencies and industries. While the VSE is currently the major driver of new workforce needs, how are NASA's other missions and functions included in the objectives?

The strategy claims that it "is predicated on the Agency's commitment to building a stronger, healthier NASA, one that fully utilizes - and even expands - the capabilities of its Centers and its current workforce", yet the Table on page 9 shows consistent down trends in FTEs at all eight of the large Centers. Only the two smallest Centers, DFRC and SSC, are shown with stable workforces into the next decade. Why? What is the justification for the phrase "and even expands"?

One of the five main contributors to "uncovered capacity" is stated to be "Restructuring of the science program and subsequent redirection of funds to higher priority missions in science." Elsewhere, this document says of the science program that, "There will be evolution in the schedule and mix of programs and projects, but the work and competencies needed remain the same overall." We don't believe "the work remains the same", the work has changed, contributing to the number of "uncovereds", e.g. scores of life, micro-gravity and biotech scientists were left uncovered. To be covered, they were moved out of science to engineering jobs. Many "competencies" such as engineering and support are relevant regardless of the science supported, and are applicable to all of NASA's missions. So there really are changes in the science program that result in restructuring the workforce, are there others?

4. The Competency Management System (CMS)

Under the heading of "MAXIMIZE USE OF NASA'S CURRENT HUMAN CAPITAL CAPABILITIES", it is stated that "Throughout the reshaping process, NASA is committed to capitalizing on the potential of this workforce by using existing skills - expanding, rebalancing, and realigning them where necessary", however the remainder of the document shows that, to accomplish this, NASA is relying on a computerized "competency management system". The document clearly shows that the only "competencies" considered are those of the employee's current position, not the employee's full capabilities. Indeed even the position competencies have been trimmed down to just one primary competency. This will clearly create an absolutely false representation of the true capabilities of the present workforce, and make "capitalizing on the potential of this workforce" impossible. We know from direct experience and from listening to both workers and managers, that the categories in the "Competency Management System" (CMS) are vaguely defined, vaguely delineated, and have many gaps in coverage. This system should have been tested, then fixed, then fully validated before any realistic workforce planning was attempted. It is admitted that some of our employees are working in areas of their weakest competencies and they have stronger competencies that are not recognized because they are not the "primary" one. How will management ensure that an employee's personal competencies are taken into account, when matching the skills of the workers with the needs of NASA's missions? It is stated that, "the designation of a primary competency makes workforce forecasting and data analysis more manageable" (Section 3-A, p. 12). However, it does not make the forecasting better, but worse. By implementing the CMS as a computer database, why does the Agency not utilize the power of its multiple databases to take into account all position competencies when determining mission needs and all personal competencies when identifying the workforce capabilities? An immediate impact of using only primary competencies is failure to deal with systems or other integeration positions, in which the products of more than one discipline must be coordinated. These are, in fact, the categories that can be expected to have the greatest need as we move into designing and implementing a new space transportation system. It also will lead to failure to account not just for all the skills in the workforce, but also for all the skills currently being used in the workforce. The workforce strategy is fraught with serious errors caused, in large part, by solely relying upon "primary" competency.

The use by the Agency of CMS for buyouts was the only experience that NASA has with this system and no analysis was done to see how well it actually worked. Indeed, because of the discrepancy between the critical needs and competencies nomenclature, it appears that critical needs were indeed bought out. Although the system shows promise, continual improvements will be necessary before CMS can be used for bone fide planning. How does management intend to make the Competency Management System an accurate tool for workforce planning and how does management intend to use it in determining what new positions are needed and what old ones should be abolished?

5. Employee Performance Communications System and Position Descriptions

There have been recent extensive changes in the Agency's Employee Performance Communications System. In addition, in preparation for a RIF, there has been greatly increased effort to revise and update Position Descriptions to bring them up to date and have them accurately reflect the work being performed at the Centers. HR organizations have repeatedly stated that this is an effort to have the records accurate in order to perform a RIF that will withstand scrutiny if a RIF becomes necessary. NASA has started to maintain CLs (Competitive Levels) so that a RIF can be carried out yet there is no mention of this in the strategy. Indeed, over the last year, extensive RIF planning has been a dominant factor in HR activities yet this is downplayed in the official strategy.

Position descriptions, the official documents identifying the needs of the agencies, have long languished at the Centers and are now, in a flurry of activity, being updated in a mad rush. How are these updates to position descriptions being incorporated into the CMS system so that decisions made based upon CMS yield consistent results with the position descriptions?

6. Hiring and Maintaining a Workforce of the Best and Brightest

It is encouraging that this plan includes tracking the employee's ratings of NASA as presented in the report, "The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government." On the face of it, this information appears to be an indicator of the state of the Agency and an important factor when a scientist or engineer considers taking positions in the federal government. However, the workforce strategy states, after enthusiastically highlighting the positive elements in this report (p. 28) that "Some of the NASA data shows declines in satisfaction levels, much of which is reasonably attributable to uncertainty created by the initial 2004 announcement of the Vision for Space Exploration and by the first transformation activities."

On the contrary, it is more reasonable that the VSE should have generated even more satisfaction and enthusiasm. What data shows these declines? How is the drastic decline in perception at two Centers (NASA Headquarters and NASA Ames, declines of over 8.5% and 10%, respectively) explained by this claim? It is clear that the "health of the Center" correlates closely with the rankings in this survey (JSC: 5th, KSC: 7th, GSFC: 11th, SSC: 33rd, GRC: 47th, LRC: 76th, ARC: 106th, DFRC: 121st, HQ: 143rd.) It is likely that the threat of a RIF is a significant contributing factor to the low morale at these low-ranking Centers. What is the Agency strategy for dealing with retaining its best employees during the current round of buyouts, looming RIF, and even furlough threats that NASA employees have been subjected to over the last year and a half at the poor Centers? Has NASA HR seriously studied the impact of these falling rankings on hiring the best and brightest scientists and engineers from academia and industry? How is the refusal to take RIF off the table (p. 23) consistent with the recent emphasis on Ten Healthy Centers? There is no way a RIF will lead to anything resembling health at any targeted center as the bitterness and associated productivity losses (and litigation) will persist for many years; this is common knowledge among senior HR professionals. Given the attrition analysis provided above, it is truly inexplicable as well as unwise for NASA to even be talking about RIFs.

The "Best Places to Work" report states, under the heading of "Top Movers", that:

Six of the 30 largest agencies experienced double digit increases since 2003. Two leaders of this pack are the Department of State and the Agency for International Development, with increases of 14.7 percent and 13.0 percent respectively. In both cases, the sharp upswing in employee engagement was assisted by large gains in the Training and Development workplace dimension, which increased by 14 percent at AID and 25 percent at State in just two years.

This is of great significance, when the total amount of money spent in FY05 for training at Ames Research Center (the Center that declined over 10% in rating) totaled less than $300K spent on technical academic courses (less than $300 per employee, or $1,000 per employee if that total expenditure was focused exclusively on the uncovered workforce). The Ames Local has reported hearing, from top management, that investment such as funding advanced degrees are no longer being considered and that NO money was set aside for training of uncovered employees in transition. This Local raised this serious concern in October of 2005 and continues to raise this concern with their local management and management at HQ. This significant lack of funding for educational and other training investment seems counter-intuitive for an Agency and a Center intending retooling, retraining, and retaining the best and brightest it already has and at odds with the multiple assertions about "aggressive retraining" being a core feature of the strategy.

It is encouraging that the plan states a commitment to "retrain employees whose competencies are in areas of reduced need" and is "devoting funding to support retraining to meet these [mission] needs." However, with less than a year until the Agency can execute a planned RIF, the time for retraining is at hand and quickly passing, yet little tangible action has been taken. How much money has the Agency spent in previous fiscal years on technical coursework in order to retrain employees, particularly those employees considered uncovered and lacking specific experience and skills that are necessary to meet NASA's mission needs in the future? How much money does the Agency intend to spend on retraining employees in FY06/07, particularly for these uncovered employees? Are the employees being trained immune from a RIF? It makes sense to the NCIL to train employees in areas of need and then keep them.

The "Strategy for Leadership and Career Development", as presented on p. 29 of the workforce plan presents an encouraging proposal for realigning the employees of the Agency using a variety of tools. It is stated that NASA will be adopting this plan "during the current fiscal year". With around 7 months to the fiscal year remaining, and a RIF possible in the near future, when will this plan be put into effect? What is the budget of this plan, including a breakdown by Center? What percentage will go to the uncovered employees? What percentage will go to each of the elements listed on pp. 29-30? What percentage will go to scientific, engineering, and other technical areas of development? What percentage will go towards non-management employees?

Later, under the heading of "Targeted Retention Tools" (p. 31), authorities given to NASA under the NASA Flexibility Act and other retention incentives are identified. How have these tools been used in the past fiscal years? Particularly, how have these tools been used to retain scientists and engineers in the technical workforce? Please provide specific numbers (number and nature of IPA assignments to other agencies, money spent on qualifications pay, relocations incentives, critical position pay authority). Please decompose expenditures by Center, by organization, and the amount of the expenditure for the scientific and engineering workforce versus program/project/line management and employees in administrative roles.

Under the heading of "Knowledge Management", the plan states that, "Most Centers have active mentoring programs." Mentorship is a critical tool not only to retain knowledge currently residing in the workforce but also for retraining employees in the specialized fields and in the unique experience of the NASA workforce. What is the nature of the mentoring programs at the Centers that have them? How are mentorships arranged? Are mentorships being considered now or in the future for retraining uncovered employees in skills they are currently lacking?

7. Leveraging the Existing Workforce

Under "Aeronautics" (p. 10) it is stated, "Requirements for human factors research and engineering, avionics, network systems and technology, and skilled mechanics and technicians will trend downward." There seems to be no recognition of the fact that several of these fields (along with a lengthy list of other fields of scientific research and development maintained at NASA's Centers such as propulsion research, materials sciences, life sciences, astrophysics, etc.) will have an increased contribution in efforts contributing to the Exploration Vision. Is it implicit here that there should be no transfer of workforce among the mission directorates? This is highly inefficient, and contrary to the very concept of workforce strategy. A key goal of this effort is to avoid laying off and then soon hiring the same skills. This document has apparently missed accomplishing this goal in regard to transfers of skills from one mission directorate to another. The workforce strategy should more specifically describe how to leverage the skilled employees who work currently primarily for the Aeronautics and Science mission directorates to support the Exploration Vision.

It has been stated that there will be significant increases in the number of positions in certain competencies and reductions in others. However, it has not become apparent that those positions requiring those competencies have been or will be advertised to the workforce so that employees currently uncovered can apply and compete for these new positions. When will HR announce these new positions? How long will they be limited to NASA CS applicants and will the work be mobile or are employees expected to move to other Centers in order to perform these roles?

Under "Science" (p. 11, Section 2) the sole problem identified is the need to hire new personnel to replace those who retire. This would be welcome news but there is more to this than that; at more than one Center, scientists and scientific support personnel have been ordered off of scientific projects in a wholesale fashion and assigned to every conceivable support function. Will remaining employees be reassigned to scientific projects as older scientists and technicians retire? Are these unfunded science directorate employees already categorized as nonscientific personnel?

Stated in Section 3-C (p. 16), "Fabrication work previously done by in-house technicians is now available outside of NASA at better terms for the Government." Upon what financial basis is this statement true, particularly for the one-of nature of most of NASA's fabrication needs? Can management provide a specific cost-benefit analysis of fabrication inside versus outside of NASA to support this bold assertion that is being used to argue for reductions in the competencies? The engineering and development activities, including fabrication, manufacture, and maintenance of specialized models, instruments, and other components (often times flight hardware) requires specialized skills, experience, and a strong understanding of the unique nature of NASA requirements. Many corporate contractors have been able to provide services in a cost-effective and productive manner, but NASA has certainly had its experiences with cost increases, schedule slips, manufacturing flaws, and other significant problems that affect the ability to be an effective agency. The bankruptcy of the corporation in charge of the SOFIA main cavity door, and the subsequent manufacture by the civil service and in-house contractor support staff is a specific example of the importance of maintaining an in-house capability and leveraging that capability in cases where the mission is at risk. Additionally, an in-house capability is critical to provide smart buyer know-how, quality and safety oversight, construction planning and cost analysis, and other activities that require deep knowledge of the technical work needed to be performed to build the hardware critical to meeting NASA's mission needs.

8. Concluding remarks

With the announcement of the Vision of Space Exploration and the appointment of Dr. Griffin as Administrator, it is apparent to the Nation that there has been a significant change to the portfolio of goals of the Agency that will impact its workforce needs. However, Administrator Griffin properly recognized the technical missteps of his predecessor and has worked diligently to reverse the O'Keefe-Steidle outsource-everything-spaceship plan with a more intelligent and cost-effective primarily in-house ESAS plan. Unfortunately, only recently have the concepts of work package transfers, 10 healthy centers, and full-cost simplification come to the fore to allow NASA to begin the process of reversing the flawed Jennings Human Capital Management plan (2/14/05) as well. We urge a wholesale and overt rejection of the failed workforce policies of Dr. Griffin's predecessor, including the ludicrous idea that NASA needs to RIF (or even to threaten to RIF) its technical employees while it ratchets up its technical needs. One should not over-estimate the time necessary to train or re-train enthusiastic and willing employees of the caliber that NASA currently employs. To many of our people, Space is almost a religion and their dedication says that we owe it to them and to the taxpayers to give a little extra to see that all of our employees are properly valued and that we do not betray our people because they are old or because we have a short-term budgetary shortfall or because management erred in the past. The principles of "One NASA" and of "10 Healthy Centers" are certainly consistent with IFPTE's ideals and we hope these slogans become the new workforce reality. To reach that desirable reality, NASA however needs a more thoughtful and thorough workforce strategy that recognizes that we need not destroy to create.

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