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Letter From Reps. Kucinich and Davis Regarding Workforce Provisions Within H.R. 6063, the NASA Authorization Act of 2008

Status Report From: U.S. House of Representatives
Posted: Wednesday, June 4, 2008

June 3, 2008

The Honorable Bart Gordon
Chairman
House Committee on Science and Technology
2320 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0001

The Honorable Ralph M. Hall
Ranking Member
House Committee on Science and Technology
H2-389 Ford House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0001

Dear Chairman Gordon and Ranking Member Hall:

We applaud your efforts and those of Chairman Udall to revitalize NASA by authorizing a budget that will allow NASA to succeed in all of its critical missions. We also support your goal of securing new workforce provisions within H.R. 6063, the NASA Authorization Act of 2008, to preserve and re-invigorate NASA's workforce. Over the last 7 years, NASA's workforce has experienced turmoil and uncertainty, leading to a decrease in morale as indicated by the results of NASA's recent "Culture Survey." Last year, the National Research Council reported that NASA was facing a workforce crisis caused by a sustained failure to recruit and train the next generation of technical employees.

Unfortunately, the Administration refuses to acknowledge its failures and is instead staying the destructive course dictated by the Administration's Management Agenda. This anti-civil-service agenda has undermined NASA's core in-house capabilities by outsourcing critical decision influencing technical jobs, by eroding employees' rights, and by driving away independent, career federal employees who can speak freely if necessary. This trend must be reversed so that NASA can build its next generation of workers while the current experienced workforce is still there to mentor and train them.

Therefore, in addition to outlining the funds necessary for mission success, NASA must recreate the supportive and creative workforce environment in which dedicated employees seek a lifetime career of technical challenges linked to a lifetime commitment to and by the Agency. Toward this end, we have reviewed the proposed language sent by the House Committee on Science and Technology to the Federal Workforce Subcommittee and offer the following recommendations:

First, we support a moratorium on any Reduction-In-Force (RIF) at NASA prior to December 31St 2010. Chairman Boehlert secured this initial protection in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 and thus prevented nearly 3,000 NASA employees from losing their jobs. That protection has expired but has since been renewed several times by House and Senate Appropriators. The Administration's RIF plan has already been drafted and is ready to be implemented should Congress fail to extend the ban on RIFs again.

Second, we do not support the Bush Administration's request for a new authority to convert current permanent employees into term limited employees. This request sends a clear message to Space Shuttle employees, many of whom NASA will need to retain as it prepares for Constellation mission operations. NASA's employees, who are the single biggest reason for NASA's ongoing success, should not be treated as if they are disposable. The Administration's Perm-to-Tern Conversion proposal allows for layoffs of a large number of employees at the end of 2010. This anti-civil-service policy undermines employee technical independence and thereby threatens safety and mission success. It is bad for employees and bad for NASA. We oppose any extension of the use of term positions by NASA.

Instead, we recommend that NASA limit its use of term positions to 10% of the workforce and the use of term hires to 10% of all hires annually. While providing more flexibility than the 3% term hires that were the norm in 1994, our proposed 10% cap on term positions would prevent the wholesale undermining of the Civil Service that has been underway. Over the last few years, NASA has hired nearly three-quarters of its new Science and Engineering employees as term employees, thereby denying them full civil-service protections.

Third, we support the proposed provision to temporarily extend Health Care Benefits to separated employees. This uncontroversial provision is important for assisting newly separated employees to establish health care coverage for their families as they transition into retirement or into a new job. The sudden disruption of health-care coverage is a major factor currently discouraging otherwise interested employees from taking a buy-out. We agree that the provision that you sent to Federal Workforce Subcommittee for review would be helpful in fostering a respectful workforce transition plan.

Fourth, we recommend that H.R. 6063 include a provision that requires that NASA halt implementation of its new policy of reinvestigating employees in low-risk positions, until the constitutionality of this process is fully settled by the Courts. The President issued Homeland Security Policy Directive #12 to mandate that all civil servant and contractor employees who have access to federal facilities be subjected to standard background checks and be issued standardized badges that can allow Agencies to reliably verify an employee's identity. While we do not object to this security measure, its implementation has been flawed. NASA has used HSPD-12 to instigate a new security policy, NPR1600.1, which establishes periodic reinvestigation of long-time NASA civil-servant employees who have already passed earlier background checks. Furthermore, the affected positions include those rated as low-risk. The process is so intrusive, the 9th circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction preventing its implementation for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory contract employees pending judicial review. Regrettably, NASA has decided to interpret this injunction narrowly and to move forward with re-investigations of low-risk civil-service employees using the same constitutionally suspect process. We believe that the decision to go beyond HSPD-12 and to subject NASA's civil service employees to an unnecessary, expensive and intrusive invasion of privacy is unwarranted and unwise.

We thank you for all of your efforts to re-vitalize NASA and to guide it as we move forward into a new Administration. At this point in time, we cannot count on the wisdom of the next Administration. We therefore look forward to being able to support H.R. 6063 after it addresses the pressing workforce concerns that we have outlined above.

Sincerely,

[signed]
Dennis J. Kucinich
Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce,
Postal Service, and the District of Columbia

[signed]
Danny K. Davis
Chairman, Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce,
Postal Service, and the District of Columbia

cc:
Chairman Udall
Ranking Member Feeney

// end //

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