The Nation, DeLay, and space policy

The Nation, a left-leaning magazine, published an article about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s influence over NASA and its budget. The article largely rehashes the issues most regular readers of this blog are familiar with: DeLay’s addition of JSC into his Congressional district, his last-minute move to top off NASA’s FY05 budget request, and the recent reorganization of the House Appropriation Committee’s subcommittee structure. Like many such articles, it includes an arguably questionable comment from John Pike: “With NASA changing its spending priorities to support President Bush’s vision for space exploration that will return humans to the moon and take them to Mars, there will be plenty of money going to start-up companies with no record of producing hardware, and there will be no way to measure results.” I’m not sure what he means by there being “no way” to measure results; at least one startup company has complained publicly about the amount of status reports and other paperwork they have to supply to NASA.

The thesis of the article is summarized in this sentence: “NASA, then, is another potential source of money and power for DeLay–if he survives his ethics troubles.” Don’t you think that if someone like DeLay—who already has significant power in Congress today—wanted “another potential source of money and power”, he would take aim at something a bit bigger than NASA and its $16-billion annual budget? Is that the best he can do to shore up his constituency back in Texas? Or is DeLay someone with an actual interest in space and is willing to use some of the power and influence he has accumulated to support the space agency? That alternative, unfortunately, isn’t really explored in the article other than a sentence that “for years, DeLay has expressed an interest in the space program.”

4 comments to The Nation, DeLay, and space policy

  • A “left-leaning” magazine? That’s kind of understating it, I would think.

  • Jack S.

    Johnson Space Center represents the biggest and most influential piece of the NASA pie. It represents one of the largest employers in DeLay’s district. “Jeff” is being naive and narrow-minded when he says that NASA’s nationwide budget isn’t big enough to provide DeLay with power. DeLay needs a strong constituency, and his fair-weather friendship with NASA has significantly strengthened his position in his district, and support for the repubs in general.

    The money argument is even less convincing when you consider DeLay’s relationship with Indian gambling. This is a far smaller money pot, yet DeLay put himself squarely in the middle of it.

    The title of this web site is “space politics”, not “space money”. Think bigger, and you’ll understand DeLay better.

  • Money to NASA is mostly a political loser. Bush and Delay have reaped mostly criticism for it. I am with Jeff that there are more direct ways to use pork to achieve popularity. I hope to drum up some enthusiasm to give people like Bush and Delay more cover to take controversial stances in favor of space development.

  • (1) The idea that Tom DeLay is too big of a fish for a $16 billion per year pond is absurd. Very few people in the world directly control as much as $16 billion per year. When thinking about the influence that someone like Tom Delay might have over that amount of money, you have to multiply by the degree of control. It is true that the NASA budget is less than 1% of the entire federal budget; but most of the budget is (a) very difficult to change by anyone, and (b) not in DeLay’s district. A highly negotiable $16 billion, much of it in-district spending, is indeed a fat political prize, even for someone as big as Tom DeLay.

    (2) Although I don’t doubt that Tom DeLay is actually “interested” in space, he is a man who freely commingles the national interest with his own personal interest. So you have to ask whether he will measure success by launches and missions, or by patronage and campaign contributions.

    (3) John Pike’s comment about “measuring” results was poorly phrased but valid. Of course NASA, like many government agencies, has a colossal appetite for paperwork. The question is whether they will use this paperwork to demand real results, or whether they will be content with paper results. Especially if, as Pike says, money goes to companies whose only track record is on paper.