Boehlert Legislation Would Address “Brain Drain” at Space Agency

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Science Committee today approved, by a vote of 21 to 14, Chairman Sherwood Boehlert’s (R-NY) legislation to address the “brain drain” at NASA.  H.R. 1085, the NASA Flexibility Act of 2003, would give NASA more flexibility to recruit and retain a highly skilled workforce. 

“In short, H.R. 1085 is a moderate, targeted, careful approach to enable NASA to overcome one of its fundamental, pressing problems.  In the next few months, this Committee is going to spend a lot of time figuring out how to address a range of issues at NASA.  Here’s something we know how to do right now.  It’s time to act,” said Chairman Boehlert.

Within five years, a quarter of the NASA workforce will be eligible to retire.  The most recent General Accounting Office (GAO) report on NASA, issued just this past January, noted, “The agency still need[s] to deal with critical losses due to retirements in coming years.”  This conclusion was built on numerous past GAO reports that concluded that NASA had to do more to address its workforce needs.

H.R. 1085 builds on existing law.  Among other reforms, it allows NASA to offer larger recruitment and retention bonuses than are permitted currently, and to offer bonuses to employees shifting between federal jobs without relocating.  The bill language parallels existing law and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regulations.

The Committee accepted, by a vote of 22-16, a Manager’s amendment offered by Mr. Boehlert that makes the following changes to the bill:  strikes the Voluntary Separation Incentive (Buyouts) provision; requires that NASA’s Workforce Plan address any workforce management reforms recommended by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board; and requires that any modifications to the Workforce Plan be reported to Congress and all employees 60 days before being implemented.

Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) offered an amendment, which was accepted by voice vote, that modifies the bill’s scholarship for service program.  The amendment ensures that only junior and senior undergraduates or graduate students may be awarded a scholarship under the program.  In addition, the amendment expands the pool of students eligible for awards to include permanent residents, in addition to U.S. citizens.

The Committee accepted three additional amendments by voice vote.  The first, offered by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), directs that the NASA Workforce Plan describe safeguards and other measures to ensure that NASA not compromise the safety or survival of any spacecraft or crew.  The second, offered by Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) and amended by Chairman Boehlert, ensures that certain workforce authorities are not available to political appointees. The third, offered by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), expresses the sense of Congress that NASA should continue to conduct minority recruiting polices already established in law.

The International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFTPE), the largest union at NASA, endorsed the legislation before the bill was approved at Subcommittee on June 26.

Gregory Junemann, President of IFPTE, sent Boehlert a letter saying, “We are extremely appreciative of the candid and constructive dialog between you, your staff, and IFPTE over the last few months.  We believe the final outcome of the collaborative working relationship between your office and IFTPE has led to a legislative proposal that will better serve the agency, its employees, and the Nation.  IFPTE is especially pleased with the rigorous notification, planning, and monitoring portions of the bill, with the inclusion of financial incentives reserved almost exclusively for the recruitment and retention of rank and file technical staff.  In addition, IFPTE applauds you for ensuring that the proposed Industry Exchange program not be included in your bill.”  

“Working with House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA), it’s my hope that this bill will be considered before the full House sometime this fall,” said Boehlert.  The Government Reform Committee shares jurisdiction over H.R. 1085 with the Science Committee.  Companion legislation in the Senate, introduced by Rep. George Voinovich (S. 610), was recently approved by the Senate Government Affairs Committee. 

Information on the bill and amendments can be found on the Science Committee website at