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Letter From IFPTE to House and Senate Appropriators Regarding NASA's Budget

Status Report From: IFPTE
Posted: Friday, June 20, 2008

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June 18, 2008

Dear House and Senate Appropriator:

As both House and Senate Appropriators prepare for the full-committee mark-up of their respective Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) appropriations measures, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), NASA's largest Union, would like to thank House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey for his decision to increase the CJS allocation, and House CJS Subcommittee Chairman Allan Mollohan for his decision to use almost $200 million of that increase to begin the restoration of NASA's Science, Aeronautics, and Education programs. While Europe and China continue to invest heavily in aerospace R&D and Science/Technology/Math/Engineering education to secure a dominant role in aviation commerce and to vie for world leadership in aerospace technology development, the President's fiscal year 2009 (FY09) budget reflects the government's abandonment of nearly 60 years of America's unquestioned dominance in these arenas.

The Administration's anemic FY09 budget proposal for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA):

  • Cuts NASA's Aeronautics R&D by 35% from its FY04 level. These cuts will force NASA to further curtail its responsibilities in Aviation Safety and Fundamental R&D, and in the development of the Next Generation Airspace system (NextGen), just as it is becoming increasingly clear that we must make radical changes to the U.S. Airspace System to enable the anticipated dramatic growth of civil aviation before the safety of the traveling public and our economic competitiveness is compromised.
  • Cancels most planned growth in NASA's Science Mission. The failure to keep up with inflation is threatening NASA's commitment to Earth, Space, and Life Science research just as it is becoming increasingly clear that we must address the new challenges of global climate change and the risk of impact from near-earth asteroids.
  • Cuts NASA's Technology Development by 33% from just last year. Over the last 5 years, NASA has drastically cut its mid- to long-term Exploration Technology R&D to cover underfunded manned spaceflight programs just as it is becoming increasingly clear that this shortsighted view is dramatically harming America's ability to compete with Europe and China in the 21st century.
  • Cuts NASA's Education programs by 21% from just last year. This would force NASA to deny the best and brightest young Americans the opportunity to be inspired and guided towards careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math just as it has become increasingly clear that the U.S. is lagging dangerously behind its competitors in training the next generation of high-tech and aerospace workers.

While IFPTE strongly applauds the House's efforts to rebalance and reinvigorate NASA's budget, the union also supports Senate CJS Sub-committee Chairperson Barbara Mikulski's effort to secure a larger increase for NASA. Specifically, we support the extra $1 billion that was championed by Chairwoman Mikulski and passed by the Senate last year. IFPTE believes that adding $300 million to the House level would restore Science, Aeronautics, Technology, and Education programs to their previous healthy levels, and would allow some minimal growth in global climate R&D. An additional $500 million would then put Constellation's progress on surer footing as it works to relive the Saturn-V development era on a shoestring budget.

In addition to the above budgetary proposals, IFPTE supports a number of administrative provisions to protect NASA's workforce from further harm caused by the President's Management Agenda:

  • Extend the defunding of any Reduction-In-Force. IFPTE strongly supports the bipartisan effort to block layoffs at NASA already provided in the House version of the bill and provided previously in NASA's last two Appropriations Acts.
  • Protect employees from improper and wasteful background checks. IFPTE strongly supports language that would prevent the implementation of of the reinvestigations of current low-risk employees under NPR 1600.1, a NASA discretionary policy that goes beyond the President's Executive Order HSPD-12. These background checks violate constitutional privacy rights of NASA employees with no rational link to any bone fide security interest. This provision has the full support of Chairman Danny Davis of the Federal Workforce Sub-Committee.
  • Block transfers between accounts; limit transfers between major themes. The current Administration has a bad track record of ignoring Congressional authority and reprogramming R&D funds to cover short-term milestones. We support the House bill's 5% cap on sub-account reprogramming but would also urge a complete block of transfer across accounts.
  • Mandate that NASA's future budget proposals sequester technical labor. IFPTE supports the new account structure that breaks NASA's budget into 7 accounts. We also support the recent dismantling of full-cost recovery for management and administrative salaries by explicitly appropriating such salaries in the Cross-Agency support account. However, IFPTE recommends going one step further by explicitly appropriating technical salaries as well within the Cross-Agency support account starting in FY10. This additional reform is vital for the long-term health of the Agency as strategic hiring to maintain old and develop new core competencies at NASA's field centers has nearly come to a halt with tactical hiring to cover short-term program needs becoming the norm. Unless this policy is reversed, NASA will have enormous difficulty maintaining its technical excellence.

Lastly, IFPTE fully realizes the extraordinary fiscal constraints facing Congress today given the insatiable budgetary demands of the Iraq war and the irresponsible tax policies of the Bush Administration. Regrettably, under these constraints, NASA's budget cannot be optimized and, of course, NASA's problems cannot be allowed to eat into critical needs in other key areas covered by CJS. IFPTE would like to point out, however, that the Constellation program deliverables, particularly Ares V, will undoubtedly be dual-use as the Department of Defense's space operations will someday utilize these vehicles to place heavy military payloads in orbit. It would therefore seem appropriate for the military's space operations budget to provide CJS with the approximately $800 million needed in FY09 to bridge the gap between the House bill's proposed top line and the $1 billion emergency increase over the President's proposed top line supported by the Senate. When NASA was asked to build Saturn V, it was provided with the equivalent of a $30 billion dollar budget and a civil-service workforce of nearly 36,000. It would not seem unreasonable for NASA to be given a relatively small transfer from the secret military space operations budget (under the oversight of the Select Intelligence Committees) so that NASA may deliver the Constellation vehicles on time with both civilian and military benefits, without compromising NASA's other important missions, without harming CJS's other important priorities, and without increasing the burden on the taxpayer.

I thank you for your consideration of these important matters. Should you have any questions, I, or IFPTE Legislative Director Matt Biggs can be reached at (202) 239-4880.

Sincerely,

  Gregory J. Junemann,
President

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