Responses to Follow-up Questions regarding the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Use of Term Appointments
GAO-09-356R, Feb 25, 2009
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GAO recently completed an engagement regarding the use of term appointments by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for civil servant positions. Congress expanded NASA's ability to use term appointments to fill civil service positions in 2004 through the passage of the NASA Flexibility Act of 2004 (Pub. L. No. 108-201). NASA sought this flexibility to ensure that it could hire and retain the workforce it desired. In October 2008, we briefed the Congressional committee on the results of our review, and were asked to respond to additional questions several members on your committee had regarding NASA's use of term appointments. 1. What policies and procedures are in place to protect the independence of scientists and engineers hired under term appointment authority? 2. What are the rates of conversion from term to career or careerconditional appointments? 3. What policies and procedures are in place for term appointees to challenge NASA decisions regarding non conversion of their appointments? 4. What is the declination rate to employment offers at the NASA centers?
1. NASA does not have any policies designed specifically to protect the independence of term-appointed scientists and engineers; however, federal whistleblower laws and NASA policies that protect the independence of career/career-conditional appointees also apply to term appointees. NASA stated that it makes no distinction between term and career/career-conditional appointees in any policies regarding employee working conditions. 2. In September 2008, GAO reported that since the passage of the NASA Flexibility Act of 2004, NASA has increased both the use of term appointments and the rate at which term appointments are converted to career/careerconditional appointments. To date, two-thirds (66 percent) of all term appointments made across NASA in fiscal year 2005 have been converted to career/career-conditional left NASA, and 5 percent were re-hired under a new term appointment. Of the 539 term appointments made agencywide in 2006, 62 percent have been converted to career/career-conditional appointments to date; of those made in 2007 and 2008, 14 percent and 2 percent have been converted respectively. Lower conversion rates in later years are likely due to the fact individuals hired in these years are at the beginning of their appointments. 3. No grievance policies or procedures exist for term appointees to challenge NASA decisions regarding non conversion of their term appointment to a career or career-conditional appointment. Although many term appointments are eventually converted to career or career-conditional appointments, there is no stated or implied promise of such a conversion. An employee should be aware that a conversion to a permanent appointment is not guaranteed. According to a NASA official, each vacancy announcement discloses that conversion is not guaranteed. 4. We are not providing the declination data furnished by NASA, because the data is not sufficiently reliable. NASA did provide data on declinations from their Staffing and Recruiting System (StaRS), which is the only readily available NASA-wide source for this type of data. However, according to NASA, this data does not portray a complete picture because users are not required to document declinations in the system.