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Letter from IFPTE President to Rep. Wolf Regarding NASA's FY 2007 Budget

Status Report From: International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. AFL-CIO
Posted: Thursday, June 29, 2006

June 23, 2006

Hon. Frank Wolf, Chairman
Appropriations Subcommittee
on Science/State/Justice/Commerce
U.S. House of Representatives
Room H-309 The Capitol
Washington, DC 20515-6017

Dear Chairman Wolf,

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), NASA's largest Union representing thousands of employees at Headquarters and four Field Centers, is deeply disappointed by the NASA Appropriations language that was recently reported out of both the Subcommittee and full Committee. The proposed appropriation will send NASA down a precarious path with its scientific and technological capabilities compromised and its intellectual capital and institutional knowledge at risk.

Only last December, a unanimous House and Senate passed the NASA Authorization Act of 2005, which not only endorsed the Vision for Space Exploration but provided a thoughtful, bi-partisan budget blueprint and plan to guide NASA towards mission success for the Vision for Space Exploration. While we at IFPTE are well aware that the appropriators rarely follow the exact recommendation of the authorizers, we are troubled by the Sub-Committee's all but comprehensive rejection of the Authorizers sound advice.

While IFPTE applauds the Sub-Committee's decision to increase NASA's Aeronautics and Science appropriation over that proposed by the President, these half-measures still leave NASA's scientific and technological missions at risk. The proposed Aeronautics budget of $824.4 million is 14.3% below that determined appropriate by the Authorizers and 9.6% less than last year's appropriation of $912.3 million. The proposed Science budget of $5,404.8 million is still 3.4% below that appropriated last year and 7.2% below that spent in FY2005. Indeed, the Sub-Committee's proposal to further decrease NASA's overall budget below the already inadequate budget proposed by the President is a mistake. With little additional funding, the Agency has been directed to return the Shuttle to safe flight and keep it flying until 2010, to complete the International Space Station, while also designing and building a new fleet of spacecraft so that we may return to the moon and go on to Mars. Above and beyond the President's ambitious mandate, the Administrator has now piled on a delivery date of 2012, instead of 2014, for the first crewed flight test of the new Crew Exploration Vehicle. The widening gap between NASA's awesome responsibilities and its meager resources is a formula for disaster.

Most troubling is the Sub-Committee's implicit endorsement of NASA's current workforce planning activities. On June 13th 2006, IFPTE testified to the House Space and Aeronautics Sub-Committee and presented irrefuted evidence that NASA's Human Resources workforce projections and estimates of so-called "uncovered capacity" are deeply flawed and cannot be used to support intelligent workforce planning decisions. NASA Human Resources merely reiterated vague and superficial statements of intent while providing absolutely no clear, defendable numbers for what the future labor demand will be and what technical skills will be needed. As such, the only rational course of action is to extend the current moratorium on layoffs until NASA submits a thorough and complete workforce strategy that complies with the Authorization Act. The proposed Appropriations language expressing concern with uncovered capacity and urging a correction (p. 95) should therefore be removed as it invites NASA to begin laying off its civil-service experts in Fiscal Year 2007 based on overtly flawed data. Make no mistake about it, whether intentional or not, if this language is permitted to remain in this bill, it would give the green light for NASA to start RIFs, thereby undermining the technical excellence and independence of NASA’s workforce for years to come. It will also further reinforce NASA’s autocratic management culture that the Columbia Accident Investigation Board found shared primary responsibility for the Columbia disaster.

While IPFTE understands how tight the current fiscal situation is and the difficulty in reconciling conflicting legitimate interests across your Sub-Committee's broad portfolio, we can see no reason to support irreversible personnel actions at NASA at this juncture. The dedicated public-servant technical experts at Langley, Glenn, Ames, and even Marshall and Goddard, are facing continuing programmatic instability and threats of layoff, which are driving talent out of the Agency and telling future talent that there is no secure career to be had as an engineer or scientist at NASA. IFPTE will be seeking to work with our friends in Congress in an effort to correct this problem through an amendment on the House floor to prevent any expenditure of NASA's Fiscal Year 2007 funds in support of harmful Reduction-In-Force (RIF) activities. We will also seek to remedy to the fullest extent possible NASA's budgetary shortfalls in areas that are critical to the nation’s pre-eminence in aerospace technology and space-related science, lest NASA lose even more of its best and brightest scientists, engineers, and technical support staff.

Nearly fifty years ago, President Kennedy announced his new Vision for NASA and tasked NASA with putting humans on the moon and getting them back safely before the decade was out. Congress backed this bold statement with a funding commitment equivalent to 4% of the nation's GDP. NASA delivered and John Kennedy's Vision became enduring reality. The U.S. simply did whatever it took not to let itself be surpassed by the Soviet Union.

Nearly fifty years later, NASA's employees stand once again prepared to deliver, but if President Bush's Vision is going to have any reality to it, Congress and the Bush Administration must put its money where its mouth is. It cannot expect NASA to defy the laws of arithmetic, in part by firing on its own troops. Congress needs to take the critical national interest of maintaining our leadership in aerospace more seriously, because Europe and China stand ready to take our place, if the U.S. falters. Fifty years from now, I hope that history will show that Congress did not blink and, once again, the U.S. triumphed.

In closing, I ask you to take the opportunity during debate on Appropriations on the House floor to repudiate NASA’s ongoing RIF planning and to commit to clarifying the objectionable language in conference so that NASA is compelled to perform any workforce reshaping without RIFs. We also ask you to support a RIF de-funding amendment should it come before the full House for consideration and to urge your colleagues to do so as well.

Thank you. Should you have any questions, please feel free to call me, or IFPTE Legislative Director Matt Biggs, at (301) 565-9016.

Sincerely,

Gregory J. Junemann,
President

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