Congress

Emergency spending and earmarks

The Heritage Foundation, in an online memo criticizing Senate plans to add $32 billion in “emergency” funding to FY2007 budget bills, makes mention of efforts to increase NASA’s budget by $1 billion through such a mechanism. The problem, Heritage’s Brian Riedl believes, is rooted in Congressmen’s tendencies to attach earmarks to NASA budgets. “Had Congress resisted the urge to earmark NASA’s budget in 2005 and 2006, the agency would have enough money to fund” the shuttle return to flight and post-Katrina repairs without such an emergency measure. “Rather than cut back on pork, Senators added $1 billion in ‘emergency funding’ for basic, non-emergency activities” like those.

This analysis misses a couple of nuances, though. Much of the argument for the additional funding has been based on the fact that NASA got no extra money to cover the costs of the return-to-flight efforts in the last few years. Also, paying for Katrina repairs certainly constitutes an emergency, and NASA did get some additional money for FY06 to cover repairs, although not as much as it asked for. While Heritage is right to be concerned about pork and earmarks, Congress has cut back on earmarks so far in this budget cycle, although we’re still far from done (and it won’t be done soon: the Senate version of the FY07 budget is unlikely to be approved before Congress adjourns at the end of this week; it reconvenes after the November general election.)

6 comments to Emergency spending and earmarks

  • Chris Mann

    It seems odd that not flying the shuttle cost more than flying the shuttle. Please excuse my ignorance, but why did the RTF efforts not fit in the existing budget?

  • It’s a characteristic of any reusable vehicle (your car as much as the Space Shuttle) that you have to pay for it and it’s infrastructure (your garage and taxes for roads, et cetera) even if you don’t use it — the maintenance costs of keeping it ready to use have to be paid whether you fly (drive) it or not.

    Unlike your car, however, the fuel and flight operations costs of the Shuttle are negligible compared to the extremely high costs of maintaining it and its support systems. Add to that the costs of developing the stuff to recover from Columbia, and it’s easy to see why not flying the Shuttle could cost more than flying it. . . .

    This also explains why, at limited flight rates, expendable vehicles are not necessarily more expensive than reusable ones.

    – Donald

  • Al Fansome

    Donald,

    I think your have the right analogy, but you need to simplify it.

    The bottom line is that, while the car is in the shop, you save a little on gas by not operating it, but those savings are less than the repair bill from the shop.

    Also, the real costs are in the people.

    The large majority of the cost of the Shuttle program is the many thousands of people who work on it. You can’t lay them off while you are repairing the shuttle. Then, on top of that payroll, you hire lots of expert engineers to come in and repair whatever went wrong.

    - Al

  • Al, I accept and agree with your thoughts here.

    – Donald

  • Chris Mann

    I didn’t ask why the shuttle costs more at low flight rates, I asked why it costs more to not fly it at all than to fly it.

    Even for a government program, surely redesigning and requalifying the tanks in a wind tunnel couldn’t have run more than a billion dollars over the existing flight budget.

  • Nemo

    Even for a government program, surely redesigning and requalifying the tanks in a wind tunnel couldn’t have run more than a billion dollars over the existing flight budget.

    If that were all that were involved, maybe you’d have a point.

    But it wasn’t, so you don’t.