Ranking Democrat Gordon Opposes Passage of NASA Workforce Bill
Earlier today, the Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics passed by voice vote H.R. 1085, a bill designed to provide NASA with management flexibility over its work force. Bart Gordon (D-TN), Ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee, opposed the bill: "I'm disappointed that we didn't wait for the Columbia Accident Investigation Board to report before marking up NASA workforce legislation," Gordon said. "Admiral Gehman has made it clear that workforce and management issues will be a significant part of the Board's report. It's likely that we will only be able to pass one NASA workforce bill this year, and we should take the time to do it right."
Rep. Gordon's full statement follows:
"Mr. Chairman, I cannot support the proposal before us today, and I would like to spend a few minutes explaining why. On May 13th of this year, all of the members of the Democratic Caucus of the Science Committee sent a joint letter to Chairman Boehlert. I would like to ask unanimous consent that the letter be inserted into the record of this markup. In that letter, we asked him to delay the markup of any NASA workforce legislation until the Columbia Accident Investigation Board has reported and the Committee has had a chance to review its findings and recommendations. Admiral Gehman has said on several occasions that the accident investigation board is examining issues related to NASA's personnel, contractors, and culture as it attempts to ascertain the root causes of the accident. Indeed, Admiral Gehman was quoted in yesterday's Washington Post as saying a 'goodly portion of the report, perhaps half', will deal with issues of management at NASA. We should wait to hear what the board concludes before we adopt legislative provisions that might prove either counterproductive or insufficient to address the underlying problems identified by the board.
"No case for urgency appears to exist that would outweigh the benefits of waiting until after the board reports. The July 25th deadline given to the Science Committee for its consideration of H.R. 1836 is not relevant: we are not marking up H.R. 1836 today. The bill that is before us, on the other hand, is not scheduled for a Full Committee markup until just before the August recess and will not be ready for Floor consideration until the fall under the best of circumstances.
"I have an additional concern about today's markup. The proposed amendment in the nature of substitute that we received just 72 hours ago contained numerous provisions that were not in H.R. 1085. It also retained provisions that are questionable. Last night we were informed that they are now proposing another version of the bill. The new bill appears to make some movement in a positive direction, and I hope that signals the potential for meaningful discussions on a consensus approach prior to Full Committee consideration of the bill.
"At the same time, I think we have to consider the concerns of all of NASA's 18,000 employees, not just a portion. For example, the 'enhanced demonstration project authority' contained in the bill before us today still represents a change to the existing civil service statute. Despite our queries, NASA still has not said why they need this new authority or what they will use it for. I think that it's instructive to note that the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee chose not to include that provision in the bill that it reported out on June 17th.
"I will concede that you might prevail on a party line vote on the bill before us today, as was the case in the House Government Reform markup. However, I continue to believe that party-line votes are a signal that more work needs to be done on legislation that should be non-controversial. Concern for the well being of the NASA workforce is not unique to one party. We all want to ensure that NASA has the skilled workforce that it needs to carry out its mission in the years ahead. And we are prepared to consider whatever legislative measures are needed to strengthen that workforce.
"We also need to ensure that the rights of NASA's workers are protected. Moreover, NASA has one of the highest percentages of work contracted out in the Federal government. For better or worse, that level of contracting has a significant impact on the roles and responsibilities of the NASA civil servants. We need to understand the implications of that reality too, and the Gehman Board may be able to assist us in that task.
"Mr. Chairman, I would propose that this subcommittee defer its markup of this legislation until after we have had a chance to review what the Gehman Board has to say. Let's also take a look at what the Senate has done. And then let's sit down and try to come up with legislation that reflects a consensus of the subcommittee and the full Science Committee. We are probably going to have only one chance this year to pass a NASA workforce bill. Let's take the time to do it right."