March 10, 2003
Diane S. Witiak
(202) 639-6419

NASA's Problems: Mindless Contracting Out, Privatization & Downsizing

(Washington, D.C.)—“No federal agency, including NASA, should have a human resources plan that explicitly encourages constant turnover and puts no value on continuity, dedication or career development for the incumbent workforce,” states Bobby L. Harnage, National President of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). “Yet that is exactly the direction this draft legislation would take the agency.”

Opposing proposals for sweeping civil service changes at NASA, Harnage will testify before the House Science Committee on: Wednesday, March 12, at 2 p.m., in Room 2318 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

“Instead of careful consideration of whether NASA’s mission could be most effectively and economically carried out by hiring in-house employees, it has engaged in wholesale privatization—not competitive sourcing—and made reliance on contractors the rule,” Harnage will point out. “Indeed, NASA has met its entire privatization quota without ever having held a single competition. The fact is that too much contracting out and privatization caused NASA’s workforce deficits, and only a reversal of contracting out and privatization will solve them.”

Harnage will point out that the draft proposals do not provide a separate, supplemental funding mechanism for bonuses or ‘super salaries’ which means these incentives would likely be financed from existing salary accounts. “The agency would only be able to use these broadened authorities if it paid for them through the elimination of jobs or the denial of other salary adjustments for those not selected for a bonus—not a good long-term strategy for rebuilding in-house capabilities,” Harnage will add.

Stressing the union’s vehement opposition to removing limits on demonstration projects, Harnage will state that such authority would be highly destructive of civil service standards and destroys the concept of demonstration projects as an experiment or pilot plan. “I fear the removal of limits on the number of people covered by a NASA demo may be an easy way to establish a new personnel system that would not otherwise pass muster if it were proposed as a legislative change to title 5.”

Harnage will urge NASA and other executive branch agencies to stop looking for short-term fixes. “Taxpayers’ interests are best served by knowing that federal employees—sworn to uphold the public good and work in the public interest—perform government work,” he will state. “In order to get rid of a worker without notice or any due process, the agency seems willing to be staffed by a group of contingent workers to whom absolutely no loyalty, commitment, training or career development is offered.”

“This is just another example of an agency failing or unwilling to acknowledge that incompetent or poor management training is the real problem—leaving supervisors unable to cope with personnel issues,” Harnage will conclude. “These new ‘flexibilities’ will not address the problem because the checks and balances of due process will be missing, leading to yet more abuse.”

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