JPL Layoffs: The View From Inside - and outside

Reader comment: "Please keep my name and email anonymous. Thank you. I am a program manager at JPL and am watching the layoffs with shock and awe. I'm writing today to add some facts and observations to your ongoing report."

Another Reader comment: "Someone needs to tell Dr. gRIFfin that there is no humane way to do what is being done right now. Just because he smiles and says he understands does not make it humane. Current management has already taken things beyond where Goldin had it. A bar that I thought would never be crossed."


Reader comment: "Please keep my name and email anonymous. Thank you. I am a program manager at JPL and am watching the layoffs with shock and awe. I'm writing today to add some facts and observations to your ongoing report."

"As I understand what is happening, from talking with line managers, the layoffs are a "directed" reduction in force in response to the funding outlook. The "visible" direction is coming from JPL's Executive Council (i.e., John Beckman's memo which you published). However, reliable sources have given me reason to believe that the RIF originates among the new NASA senior management. If so, the ultimate rationale for the RIF and its magnitude remain unclear to me and the rank and file.

Although JPL is indeed expecting less funding in FY06 (e.g., due to several project cancellations such as MTO and Prometheus), the individual layoffs are not about particular positions losing funding. More than a few of those employees being laid off actually are in positions with relatively secure funding. (I know, because a couple of people being laid off work for me now).

I'm not privy to the process being used to select individuals for layoff, but I have been told by several line managers (who are in the unfornate position of having to administer the layoffs) that the process has changed change week to week; or at least it seems to change insofar as the process is communicated down the management chain to them. Several (in different line organizations) have given me different explantions. The program and project managers are being informed this week about the individuals who are being laid off, but otherwise we've been uninvolved and have no had no visibility or input into the process.

While I have no reason to believe there is any age discrimination involved, it appears to be the case that one criteria for layoff is an employee's salary. To the extent this correlates with years of experience (and is only a partial correlation due to skills and expertise factors), we will see some of JPL's long-serving engineers and managers leaving.

For those who are documented low performers, perhaps it is not a bad thing they will be leaving. However, what bothers me is that performance is being evaluated locally at low levels of the organization. The number of layoffs required has been allocated down to those organizations (groups, sections). "Contribution" seems to be a layoff selection factor. Thus, for those individuals who are supporting work outside the focus and interest of their home organization, it is a clear liability for them if their organization doesn't care about the job they are doing.

So in the end, the manner in which this RIF is being executed (today) is that it appears to be about individuals, not really about positions going away or funding in the future. This is something new for us.

As one line manager put it to me today, "the social contract at JPL has been broken." I think we going to see more things break before this is all over."


Another Reader comment: "I am a civil servant at a NASA research center. Please do not mention the center or my name if you can figure it out. Or my email for that matter.

I am beginning to think that NASA senior management sees their employees as a financial liability. The more that they can get rid of the better. Are we losing good people? Who cares. Lets convert that money over to spending dollars. They seem to be intent to cut back as far a politically possible. Whatever long term damage is done to the organization so be it. We will end up with a little more money in the short term.

The is especially concerning given NASA current age demographics. And, it is the younger employees who are being scared into taking the buyout and are the targets of the government RIFs. The end result of this action is some centers will have very few employees left under the age of 40. That should be of concern to management. But it is not.

Someone needs to tell Dr. gRIFfin that there is no humane way to do what is being done right now. Just because he smiles and says he understands does not make it humane. Current management has already taken things beyond where Goldin had it. A bar that I thought would never be crossed."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on October 11, 2005 7:57 PM.

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