The Washington Post

Union says ‘supervisory mischief’ leads to ‘robust’ bias at NASA

A federal union representing NASA employees said racial “bias is robust” in a letter last week to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Jan. 23, 2014. (Craig Bailey/AP Photo/Florida Today) A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Jan. 23, 2014. (Craig Bailey/AP Photo/Florida Today)

The International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE) told OPM Director Katherine Archuleta that “NASA’s performance ratings are improperly influenced by demographic factors such that, on average, white employees are rated higher than minority employees. The bias is robust across centers and has been a persistent feature over time.”

The letter from Lee Stone, an IFPTE vice president, said “NASA has two levels of above-standard performance which invites supervisory mischief whereby the highest level often ends up preferentially allocated to friends-of-management, leaving the next tier for high-performing employees who are not plugged-in with management, including exceptional minority employees.”

Allard Beutel, a NASA spokesman, said the agency has worked to improve its performance management system and  “is committed to a workplace that encourages innovation, demands excellence and ensures a level playing field for all.”

“Recently, NASA was voted the Best Place to Work in the Federal government for large agencies by its workforce for the second time,” he added. “At the same time, NASA employees voted NASA the best place to work for African Americans, Hispanics, Multi-Racial, Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders, Veterans, and Employees with Disabilities, as well as #1 for Support for Diversity.”

federaldiary@washpost.com

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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