Congress

House: no budget boost for NASA

The House Appropriations Committee today approved a joint funding resolution for the remainder of the 2007 fiscal year that does not contain any additional funding for NASA. The plan, announced in December by the incoming chairman of the House and Senate appropriations committees, was to basically extend the continuing resolutions that had been funding much of the federal government since October 1 for the rest of the fiscal year. However, such CRs generally fund agencies at no more than what they received in the previous fiscal year, which for NASA meant a level about a half-billion dollars less than the $16.8 billion the agency had been planning for 2007. There had been talk that there would be opportunities in the joint funding resolution to increase funding for certain areas, but that does not appear to have panned out for NASA, according to the text of the resolution:

Science: $5.251 billion
Aeronautics: $0.890 billion
Exploration Systems: $3.402 billion
Cross-Agency Support Programs: $0.532 billion
Exploration Capabilities: $6.140 billion
Inspector General: $0.032 billion
TOTAL: $16.247 billion

In other words, no budget increase for NASA in 2007. A Space News article (subscription required) notes also that NASA was not given any additional flexibility by appropriators regarding how the agency can spend the money. (A ScienceNOW article does report that the legislation would free up $300 million from the 2006 budget, “giving Administrator Mike Griffin some flexibility to fund efforts such as the shuttle replacement or the upcoming mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope”.)

The big loser here is exploration, which absorbs nearly all of the half-billion cut NASA is facing. (Science programs get but by about $100 million, and aeronautics actually gets a modest but critical increase.) A NASA spokesman told Space News that the budget could delay the development schedules for the Ares 1 rocket and Orion spacecraft, and could jeopardize the 2014 deadline for bringing them into service that was laid out three years ago when the Bush Administration unveiled the Vision for Space Exploration. The article also reports that “at least 40 lawmakers” had asked appropriators to fund NASA at the requested FY07 level, without success.

The full House is scheduled to vote on the resolution tomorrow, to be followed by the Senate. That will be the last opportunity for NASA to salvage some sort of increase, although since House and Senate appropriators jointed drafted this resolution it likely will be no easier to win additional funding there.

A closing comment from House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. David Obey in his press release: “I don’t expect people to love this proposal, I don’t love this proposal, and we probably have made some wrong choices.” A lot of people at NASA and in the aerospace industry would agree with that.

30 comments to House: no budget boost for NASA

  • Tom

    This is not bad news at all. The country has other priorities now. Perhaps this will begin to force NASA to look at lower cost alternatives for a Shuttle replacement. At least it should.

  • If the dollar figures are the same as last year, are all the pork barrel projects refunded too or can Griffin move that money towards other areas? IIRC the money dedicated to pork spending was in the $100s of millions. The fact that the renewal also included one-time increases like the $300M in emergency funding (katrina-related expenses?) is a boost but I wonder if anyone has numbers on the pork in last years budget.

  • Ryan,
    I’m not entirely sure, but I think that may be the $300M referenced in the ScienceNow article above. But then again, the Shaft is mostly pork-barrel politics itself (witness the Mike Puckett’s of the world talking about how VSE is unsinkable because it provides so many jobs).

    It would be nice if NASA was forced by budget cuts to try a more affordable approach. If they were given five years to get 25 people to the moon, and were only given $10B to do it, with their jobs on the line if they didn’t pull it off, they could do it. Giving them $60-70B and 15 years, and then allowing them to get away with just 8 people per year to the moon at that point is a waste.

    ~Jon

    PS Jeff, I like the new look of the site.

  • Brad

    The new Democratic majority congress has spoken. As far as NASA is concerned it’s pork and earmarks over exploration. Yep, the good ‘ol Clinton years are finally back of ever declining NASA budgets and human spaceflight stuck in LEO forever.

  • anonymous

    “The new Democratic majority congress has spoken. As far as NASA is concerned it’s pork and earmarks over exploration.”

    The Dems explicitely removed all earmarks from the entire continuing resolution bill (i.e., the whole federal government), probably the first time in decades for such an event to occur. I don’t understand how anyone could claim that the new Democrat-controlled Congress is for pork over exploration (or anything else) based on that.

    And no, I’m not a Dem or a Republican. I register independent and have voted both ways.

    “Yep, the good ‘ol Clinton years are finally back of ever declining NASA budgets”

    The Dems’ 2007 bill makes NASA’s budget flat with respect to 2006. We’ll see if the Republican White House proposes a declining budget for NASA in 2008 next Monday.

    “and human spaceflight stuck in LEO forever.”

    That you can lay at the feet of ESAS, Griffin, and the Shaft. The good times were bound to come to an end at some point, and the ESAS plan should have reflected that. (That was why the VSE stressed sustainability.) But instead of taking advantage of the window of opportunity created by the VSE and getting the nation locked into some actual exploration hardware, ESAS and Griffin wasted it on another LEO truck.

  • anonymous

    “If the dollar figures are the same as last year, are all the pork barrel projects refunded too or can Griffin move that money towards other areas?”

    No, because there are no earmarks this year. The Dems wiped the entire continuing resolution clean of earmarks across the entire federal government. Thus, there’s no spare change in NASA’s flatline budget for Griffin to redirect. He just has a $500 million hole in Constellation.

    Furthermore, it appears that Griffin won’t be able to raid the science or aeronautics programs to fill that hole, as he’s done in the past. The Shaft will likely get stretched out (increasing total costs) and/or Orion’s capabilities will shrink (again). Unless NASA is hiding some huge budget carryover from earlier years in the Constellation budget (a no-no), the Shuttle 2010-2014 retirement gap will increase and the 2018 lunar return date will get iffy.

    Also casts a big shadow over what happens to funding for Ares V, LSAM, and other unbuilt Constellation elements when the new White House takes office in 2009.

    Pretty bad for hit exploration, but at least the Dems appeared to have put controls in such that science and aeronautics don’t sink with the exploration ship.

  • Brad

    ” I don’t understand how anyone could claim that the new Democrat-controlled Congress is for pork over exploration (or anything else) based on that.”

    Oh really?

    “Pretty bad for hit exploration, but at least the Dems appeared to have put controls in such that science and aeronautics don’t sink with the exploration ship.”

    You just answered yourself!

    Pork is more than just earmarks.

  • kert

    What about COTS ? Did it survive ? Does Griffin have free hands to kill it ?

    Regarding pork .. Shaft IS the pork here, NASA has so much as a admitted that the sole reason for its existence is keeping the shuttle workforce working on shuttle-inherited hardware ( as to why cant they do a more useful job like build LSAM or ISRU hardware or something, is beyond my comprehension )

    Shuttle workforce = pork for Huntsville, Cocoa Beach, Houston, and Salt Lake.

  • Mark R Whittington

    One wonders (a) what sort of chaos this inflicts on other parts of the government besides NASA, if the same sort of inflexibility applies ad therefore (b) the bill becomes veto bait? In any case, while evidence of irresponsibility, this move will not, contrary to some of the more fanciful comments here, herald some massive change in policy. Everything just gets stretched out.

  • Mark R Whittington

    By the way, even if this looks like the final bill and it is signed by the POTUS, the process is not over. There is already talk of a supplemental to cover the shortfall.

  • Jon – as suspected, the $300 was not pork money but funding for katrina damages. According to some recent estimates, about $500M was in the NASA budget for pork projects. That $500M + $300M if turned to discretionary money for Griffin would be the same as giving NASA a 3.125% boost in their budget ($800M/$16B). According to an article on page 4 of the post today, in some cases what this plan is doing is just giving lump sums to agencies and telling the agency to spend it at their own discretion. The post notes that this is what is going on with the Army Corps of Engineers in that they typically get funding on a per project basis (like NASA does) and now the agency gets to decide which projects to spend the money under this resolution. Unfortunately the Post didn’t mention NASA specifically in the article.

  • anonymous

    “Pork is more than just earmarks.”

    Uh, yeah… space telescopes, Mars rovers, competed planetary probes, remote sensing satellites, competed science grants, national air system technology development, clean/quiet jet engine technology… that’s all wasteful pork.

    Oy vey…

  • anonymous

    “In any case, while evidence of irresponsibility, this move will not, contrary to some of the more fanciful comments here, herald some massive change in policy. Everything just gets stretched out.”

    For now, the actual damage is probably limited to a schedule stretch for Ares I, another reduction in Orion’s capabilities, or some combination of both.

    But the portents of this action are not good.

    The ESAS plan cannot garner support from a new Congress to overcome a relatively modest $500 million budget hiccup which is necessary to maintain the development of a system that is critical to replacing a dangerous Space Shuttle, keeping the Space Station operational, and retaining critical workforce skills.

    Based on that, I find it hard to see a new White House (and Congress) in 2009-10 deciding to let NASA go forward with multiple, multi-billion dollar efforts (Ares V, LSAM, etc.) to pull off a completely discretionary repeat of Apollo that will only pay off sometime after that new White House has left office — especially in the face of other rising federal budget pressures (boomer retirement impact to Social Security, rising medical costs and their impact to Medicare, higher research priorities in energy, etc.).

    I’m not saying it’s an inevitability, but the ESAS plan’s inability to garner a much smaller amount of funding for a much more critical effort in a much more benign budget environment with a sitting President who is vested in the effort strongly indicates that the cards are stacked against the actual exploration elements of the ESAS plan.

    (As an aside, it’s also possible that NASA has large carryover dollars squirreled away from prior budget years in Constellation, ISS, or STS that could alleviate the 2007 flat-funding problem. But admitting to that carryover will invite reductions in future NASA budgets from Congress or OMB.)

    “By the way, even if this looks like the final bill and it is signed by the POTUS, the process is not over. There is already talk of a supplemental to cover the shortfall.”

    Looking to recent events, I think that’s wishful thinking.

    NASA couldn’t get a supplemental to restore the dollars taken from the STS/ISS budget to cover damage to NASA facilities inflicted by a national emergency (Katrina). And that was under the Republican Congress and a strong Bush II White House.

    Based on that, I find it doubtful that the new Democratic Congress will pony up a supplemental that will only maintain program schedules (not repair physical damage), especially with a weak Bush II White House.

    I could be wrong, but the cards don’t seem to be stacked that way.

  • anonymous

    “as suspected, the $300 was not pork money but funding for katrina damages.”

    IIRC, NASA has received no additional funding for Katrina damage. NASA took money out of the Shuttle and Station budgets to cover Katrina damage, but that money was never restored by Congress.

    “According to some recent estimates, about $500M was in the NASA budget for pork projects.”

    Those earmarks were in the 2006 budget. This is the 2007 budget we’re talking about.

    Just to be clear, almost all Congressional earmarks cut into the President’s budget request for a particular department or agency for that year. For example (not actual numbers), if the President requested $10.0 billion in 2006 for NASA, and Congress redirected $300 million towards earmarks, that means that NASA has to find $300 million in savings from its programs in the 2006 budget to fund the Congressional earmarks. NASA’s 2006 budget is effectively cut to $9.7 billion from the President’s request by the Congressional earmarks.

    Continuing the example, what’s happened in 2007 is that the President requested a $500 million increase in NASA’s budget over 2006, to $10.5 billion total. However, as the Republican Congress failed to pass NASA’s 2007 spending bill, the new Democratic Congress now has responsibility and has decided to keep most agency budgets flat (with certain programmatic exceptions) at their 2006 funding levels, i.e, the $10.0 billion level from 2006, which is a $500 million cut from the President’s request of $10.5 billion for NASA in 2007. The Democratic Congress could go further and add earmarks to the 2007 budget, further cutting into NASA’s actual 2007 spending power. But they’ve decided to forgo earmarks this year, apparently to mitigate damage to federal programs, speed up the passage of the late spending bills, and score political points for good budgeting.

    So although there were earmarks in 2006, they have no relevance to 2007. And although the 2007 budget contains no earmarks, it is still a $500 million cut to the President’s request for NASA’s topline budget, the vast majority of which falls on Constellation as it was driving that topline increase.

    I hope that’s clear and helpful.

    “That $500M + $300M if turned to discretionary money for Griffin would be the same as giving NASA a 3.125% boost in their budget ($800M/$16B).”

    Again, there’s no earmarks ($500 million or otherwise) in NASA’s 2007 budget to be redirected. And last I knew, NASA had received no additional money for Katrina ($300 million or otherwise), although theoretically anything could be squirrelled away in the final spending bill.

  • anonymous

    “(b) the bill becomes veto bait?”

    On the basis of NASA, there’s really not a chance in hell of that happening. IIRC, Bush has yet to exercise his veto powers, and right now, he has much higher priorities for his veto capital (cuts to Iraq spending or other Iraq bills, social conservative issues like stem cell research, etc.).

    Moreover, this spending bill covers nearly the entire federal government. Even if the President didn’t have higher priorities to spend his veto capital on, unless he wants to force a politically dangerous government shutdown (a tactic that Gingrich tried to use against Clinton and lost), he’ll sign the bill. There would have to be much bigger funding problems in the bill (i.e., non-NASA) for the President to veto.

  • Mark R Whittington

    I would counter to those who argue that ESAS is surely doomed in 2009 to remember the space station in all of its incarnations. It was clear, for example, that Bill Clinton wanted to cancel it, but changed his mind in 1993 under pressure from Congress (which was still Democrat at the time, btw.) And this was a project that clearly had serious problems, unlike ESAS despite some of the fanciful talk by some people.

  • anonymous

    “I would counter to those who argue that ESAS is surely doomed in 2009″

    I would not say that it’s surely doomed. But I would argue that there is now clear evidence that the cards are stacked against the later, exploration elements (Ares V, LSAM, etc.) of the ESAS plan.

    “to remember the space station in all of its incarnations. It was clear, for example, that Bill Clinton wanted to cancel it, but changed his mind in 1993 under pressure from Congress (which was still Democrat at the time, btw.)”

    Apologies for nitpicking, but that’s not an accurate recounting. The House actually came within one vote of shooting down the Space Station. So there was little Congressional pressure on Clinton, although I’m sure the White House received letters supporting the Space Station from certain Congressmen in certain states and districts.

    What saved the Space Station was Gore. It was his initiative (or somone on his staff or at NASA that he capitalized on) to bring the Russians into the partnership. It was that post-Cold War foreign policy rationale of cooperation with our former enemy and keeping Russian engineers employed on civil space projects instead of selling missile and nuclear technology to rogue states that saved the Space Station from cancellation by Clinton or another Congressional vote. Within a year, Space Station went from within one vote of cancellation to an overwhelming majority of Congressional support once the Russian foreign policy rationale was introduced.

    So far, ESAS lacks such a foreign policy rationale. Despite several years of existence and a herculean effort by the NASA Deputy Administrator over the past year, no other foreign government or space agency has made a commitment to NASA’s lunar return plans. No one has even shown much interest publicly except for the British. This is in marked contrast to the Space Station, which had European, Japanese, and Canadian contributions early in the going.

    [quote]
    And this was a project that clearly had serious problems, unlike ESAS despite some of the fanciful talk by some people.
    [/quote]

    Even if Ares I and Orion meet expectations, the rest of the ESAS plan — Ares V, LSAM, etc. — is severable. The funding for these lunar return elements is all budgeted in 2009-10 and later. That makes it very easy for the next White House to say “Thanks for starting on this Shuttle replacement to keep the Station running. We’ll let you finish Ares I and Orion. But the nation really can’t afford to go back to the Moon right now — I need those Ares V, LSAM, and lunar mission dollars for Social Security, Medicare, the war on terrorism, energy research, etc.”.

    That’s why Ares I, even if it performs technically, is still the Achilles heel of the ESAS plan from an exploration point-of-view. If you want NASA to move beyond LEO, all Ares I has done is force NASA to waste the limited budget and political window created by the VSE on building another LEO truck — instead of getting the nation locked into some actual exploration hardware.

    And given that the Ares I/Orion system still has negative margin for remaining design and development and now has to deal with a $500 million shortfall, I wouldn’t claim that it’s out of the technical and programmatic woods yet.

    For what it’s worth…

  • I agree with Anonymous regarding Mr. Gore saving the Space Station (and, therefore, serendipitously creating the market for COTS, although he certainly did not foresee that), and with much of Anonymous’ analysis of the likely budgetary fallout. It’s worth noting that we got into this mess because Dr. Griffin tried to ride Mars on returning to the moon. He has been clear about developing the Ares-1 because it created hardware he needed for Ares-V.

    The lesson I draw from all this is the dangers of trying to bite too much project at a time. I argued at the time that we should use existing vehicles to return to the moon and worry about Mars later. The Solar System will be opened one step at a time, not all at once.

    Most here will disagree with me, but I still see the way forward as not starting from scratch. If Anonymous is correct that Ares-V, et al, is off the table, but that Ares-1 / Orion has a chance, than we would end up with Ares-1 and an Orion capable of lunar missions. Most here seem to feel that would be synonomous with nothing, but I disagree.

    If we start from scratch now, we will do just that and have nothing meaningful when a new Administration takes office. If we continue, the next Administration will have few choices but to continue Orion or withdraw from human spaceflight altogether — which is probably not in the political cards.

    At that point, two to three years from now, I see two strategies (in my order of preference):

    1). Cancel Ares-1, fit an uprated EELV, SpaceX, or some other derivative under Orion, and use EELVs / SpaceX vehicles to separately launch the upper stages and fuel needed to get to the moon.

    2). Keep Ares-1 and use it and / or the other vehicles to separately launch Orion and the upper stages and fuel needed to get to the moon.

    Mars would become a separate project sometime in the future, using Ares-V (and belatedly benefiting from Dr. Griffin’s synergies), or something else.

    This strategy does not involve biting off more than we can chew. We get a lunar capable spacecraft and the flexibility inherent in an expendable strategy for changes to the launch vehicles. By setting Mars very firmly on the back burner, we may be able to keep costs below the flat budget NASA will get, especially if the flyout of the Space Shuttle stays relatively problem free.

    We would have been much better off going with Mr. O’Keefe’s original ideas, but I think we can still recover something — but only by continuing.

    – Donald

  • anonymous

    “I agree with Anonymous regarding Mr. Gore saving the Space Station (and, therefore, serendipitously creating the market for COTS, although he certainly did not foresee that), and with much of Anonymous’ analysis of the likely budgetary fallout.”

    Thanks, Mr. Robertson. You get so used to getting flamed on forums like this that agreement is that much nicer when it occurs.

    “1). Cancel Ares-1, fit an uprated EELV, SpaceX, or some other derivative under Orion, and use EELVs / SpaceX vehicles to separately launch the upper stages and fuel needed to get to the moon.”

    The best option would be to start something like this now. Cancel Ares 1, maintain Orion (probably scaled back to minimize impact to EELV), and undertake a low-level EELV upgrade/human-rating program (the USAF might even kick in some dollars for better EELV reliability) as the backup option for human transport. Put the remaining dollars into accelerating/augmenting COTS as the preferred LEO path, and getting actual exploration lander and heavy lift or in-space fueling (depending on your architectural preferences) hardware underway.

    One nice trick would combine a GFE’d Orion, EELV upgrades, and COTS into a single, cost-constrained competition — giving industry and companies the flexibility to propose the best combinations of existing hardware and new development for LEO transport. It would require NASA to allow industry to push back on requirements, particularly in human-rating. Put most of your LEO dollars into one or two conservative proposals, a little into one or two aggressive proposals, see how well they do, and downselect at appropriate gates. But we’re probably well past that option now from a procurement point-of-view.

    Of course, NASA management egos are understandably on the line so I don’t see anything like this happening before a new Administrator is installed. We probably are stuck with Ares I, and it could be terminated midway through development or after limited operations, especially if the new White House squeezes hard on the budget and expects synergies across NASA, USAF, and the black world.

  • D. Messier

    Brad:

    It’s not the Clinton years that are back, it’s the Reagan years. Bush is Reagan redux. Announce a big space project at the beginning of an election year. Grossly underestimate cost and complexity. Spend like a drunken sailor on everything and anything and run up a huge debt. Then, when the crunch comes, blame the “Democrat” Party for the problem.

    This didn’t just happen. It’s Bush and GOPers in Congress who are largely responsible for getting us into the situation we’re in. It’s the GOP Party that pushed through this program. The GOPers controlled Congress until three weeks ago. Why don’t you hold them accountable?

  • anonymous

    “Grossly underestimate cost and complexity.”

    Although there are parallels between what happened to Space Station under Reagan and what’s happening to the VSE under Bush II, I don’t think that the Bush II Administration “grossly underestimated” the “cost and complexity” of what they set out to do. The VSE budget estimates for what eventually became Constellation, as rolled out by O’Keefe, were pretty consistent with Apollo costs. In fact, if anything, they were more conservative because they gave themselves a longer timeframe than Apollo to complete a task (land humans on the Moon) that had been done before.

    The problem is really the ESAS recommendations that Griffin bought into (and Horowitz pushed for years before he came back to NASA). They turned what was a fairly straightforward lunar return plan under O’Keefe and Steidle into something considerably more complex, costly, and (worst of all) lengthy in time. Instead of building a small CEV and leveraging existing EELVs so that a heavy lift vehicle and lunar lander could get underway as soon as possible, Griffin chose to build a large Orion CEV and a clean-sheet Ares I launch vehicle that would consume all of Constellation’s dollars and time during his tenure, leaving no exploration hardware underway by the time a new White House comes into office in January 2009.

    One might argue this was a worthwhile tradeoff as ESAS showed that Ares I and Orion had better crew safety than less costly and more quickly developed options. However, ESAS assumptions about safety factors related to several suppossed “Shuttle-derived” elements of Ares are questionable, and ESAS requirements like crew size were set in stone, not allowing examination of potentially safer options like a smaller Orion that would have eliminated blackout periods when launched on EELVs. Moreover, the difference in safety between Ares I/Orion and other options was marginal (about 1-in-2000 versus 1-in-1600 chance of loss of crew per flight, IIRC), especially given the small number of flights the system would make during its operational life (probably several tens of flights). The difference was probably within the margin of error we’ve seen on Shuttle flight safety estimates (an operational and much better understood system), where the calculations show a 1-in-200 or so chance of loss of crew per flight, while the demonstrated rate is more like 1-in-50.

  • al Fansome

    ANONYMOUS: The best option would be to start something like this now. Cancel Ares 1, maintain Orion (probably scaled back to minimize impact to EELV), and undertake a low-level EELV upgrade/human-rating program (the USAF might even kick in some dollars for better EELV reliability) as the backup option for human transport. Put the remaining dollars into accelerating/augmenting COTS as the preferred LEO path, and getting actual exploration lander and heavy lift or in-space fueling (depending on your architectural preferences) hardware underway.

    I agree with “anonymous”.

    I also agree that Griffin’s ego will get in the way, and that this plan probably does not have a chance of happening until January 2009.

    - Al

  • D. Messier

    Well, Mr. Man with No Name:

    Fact is, what happened with space station was a two-fold problem: Ronny and the boys underestimated cost and complexity and NASA’s ability to do the job. AND NASA came up with a deisgn that went beyond what was originallly proposed. Look at some of the plans for that dual keel, ultimate research facility, way station to stars with contributions from all our Cold War allies monstrosity that sold to Congress. Ronny didn’t stop them. Twenty years later, Reagan Redux (a.k.a. Bush the Second) does the same thing.

    I really think too much is being put on Griffin. At some point, Bush (or whoever he delegate to keep an eye on NASA, if anyone) has to provide some adult supervision (something clearly lacking in this administration). You can’t put the whole thing on Griffin as if he’s some independent contractor working in Newt Gingrich’s Third Wave (don’t ask, you don’t want to know).

    Oh, BTW, I I wrote you a little song here, Mr. Anonymous. Goes to the tune of that America song, Horse with No Name. I really hope you enjoy it.

    I went through a blog with a man with no name
    it felt like sort of a strange game
    On the blogosphere he can’t remember his name
    but his arguments will cause you no pain

    Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah….
    (Guitar solo)

  • anonymous

    “Fact is, what happened with space station was a two-fold problem: Ronny and the boys underestimated cost and complexity”

    I’d argue that the original $8 billion budget was a realistic estimate for the space station as originally intended. But, as you stated, NASA took what could have been a relatively simple, straightforward, and quick project and turned it into a complex, convoluted, and lengthy program that — even if NASA had not gone into redesign paralysis — could never hope to be built for $8 billion.

    “Ronny didn’t stop them. Twenty years later, Reagan Redux (a.k.a. Bush the Second) does the same thing.”

    The problem I have with this argument is that it passes the buck from the NASA Administrator to the White House and tries to create a partisan political attack on the White House when the NASA Administrator — first and foremost — should be the one held accountable for these decisions.

    Don’t get me wrong — the White House and Congress in power at the time always hold some level of responsibility. I just don’t think one can take every bad decision by every secretary, adminstrator, and general in the federal government, pass the buck all the way back to the White House (or Congress), and claim that it’s some pattern of mismanagement by the Republicans (or Democrats) in power at the time. While such an argument may score points among the partisan faithful, it doesn’t inform the NASA debate or put that debate at the level of NASA’s leadership, where it can do the most good.

    NASA now appears to be on a path where a White House (likely the next one, but maybe even the current Bush II Administration) will scale back the human exploration elements of the VSE because Griffin made the LEO elements unnecessarily difficult, expensive, and lengthy. So I think you’ll get your wish and the White House, as it has done before, will eventually exercise oversight and control over NASA and its Administrator by cancelling or making major alterations to NASA’s human space flight programs. But I think the vast majority of the responsiblity for the decisions that put NASA in this position lie with NASA Administrator Griffin and other NASA leaders. Whether the NASA Administrator decides to build a clean sheet launcher, leverage EELVs, or do something else to replace Shuttle’s LEO capabilities is a technical and policy decision. There is no political ideology at stake, and partisan politics should not enter into the picture.

    “I went through a blog with a man with no name
    it felt like sort of a strange game
    On the blogosphere he can’t remember his name
    but his arguments will cause you no pain”

    I’m sorry, but my day job requires me to conceal my identity.

    Sounds like you have sour grapes over recent budget events at NASA. Although I understand your displeasure, venting it at me, anonymous as I am and opposed to the decisions that led NASA to its current situation, won’t do any good. Better to voice your opinion at those responsible for those decisions than engage in useless partisan sniping.

    My 2 cents… FWIW…

  • D. Messier

    Mr. Anon:

    The song was a joke. I was really hoping you’d find it amusing. But, apparently not. I didn’t mean any dispect, I actually enjoy debating with you. Your comments are intelligent and well thought out. I mean that; I’m not being sarcastic in any way.

    That being said, the problem with your analysis of responsibility is that if you take that argument to its illogical extreme, Bush should either have an approval rating of 100 percent or zero percent. Because the government is so large, he wouldn’t actually be held responsible for how anything got done, good or bad. Hence, he’d either be universally popular or so insignificant that we could replace him with a turnip without anyone noticing.

    Bush, Rove and company want it both ways. Bush certainly will show up on aircraft carriers and the floor of the Stock Exchange to take credit for anything that goes right, however significant or insignificant his role is in it. He’ll make the same speech about the war in front of one military or law enforcement group after another. But, when anything goes wrong, it’s, “Hey, I dunno. Go talk to Rummy. Go talk to Griffin. What the heck do I know about this? I can’t be held responsible for this.”

    The CEO model of government of delegating things only works if you have a competent CEO. He’s got to pay attention, make sure things are going in the right direction, and hold people when they screw up. Bush doesn’t do this. How long were we stuck with Rummy? How long did we stick with a losing Iraq strategy?

  • anonymous

    “The song was a joke. I was really hoping you’d find it amusing. But, apparently not. I didn’t mean any dispect, I actually enjoy debating with you. Your comments are intelligent and well thought out. I mean that; I’m not being sarcastic in any way.”

    My apologies. I did assume that the song was intended as a flame. Thank you for the creative energy expended.

    “That being said, the problem with your analysis of responsibility is that if you take that argument to its illogical extreme, Bush should either have an approval rating of 100 percent or zero percent…”

    I agree. The argument can’t be taken to either extreme. The President can’t be fully responsible for every decision his appointees make but neither can the President be absent of all culpability in everything that goes wrong. Specific issues and situations are going to fall at different points along this spectrum.

    “… How long were we stuck with Rummy? How long did we stick with a losing Iraq strategy?”

    Absolutely, I’m with you on Iraq. The Bush II White House let things go wrong for far too long in Iraq, partly out of misplaced adherence to their own ideologies but also out of misplaced loyalty to underperforming appointees. I still find the awards that Bush gave to Bremer and Tenet to be mind-boggling displays of craven hypocrisy in the face of overwhelming evidence of underwhelming performance.

    But the President (and the Vice-President and Condi and the rest of the White House) led on Iraq. It was his White House that pressured the intelligence community to agree to dubious proof of WMDs, it was his White House that decided to go to war, it was his White House that failed to develop an adequate reconstruction and anti-insurgency plan, it was his White House that ignored the advice of experts and kept the post-invasion force small, and it was his White House that variously ignored and spun worsening conditions in Iraq. From what I see, there is little doubt that slavish adherence by the White House to Republican (or at least neocon) ideology, instead of realpolitik, resulted in what is probably the worst foreign policy debacle in U.S. history since the Bay of Pigs.

    But the Iraq situation is very, very different from what’s happened at NASA. After Bush’s speech to roll out the VSE, the White House has not led on the decisions made with regards to NASA’s human space flight program. It was Griffin (not the White House) that set up the dubious requirements and lack of sensitivity analysis in the ESAS study; it was Griffin who accepted the recommendations to build a new LEO launch vehicle that would consume the available budget and defer actual exploration hardware until the next White House; it was Griffin who appointed Horowitz to oversee the development of that vehicle even though Horowitz had such a personal stake in it that the vehicle was nicknamed for him; it was Griffin who agreed to changes in the design that reduced the Shuttle heritage in the vehicle and turned it into a tougher, clean-sheet design with even more dubious performance and safety claims; it was Griffin who cut science and aeronautics to keep the vehicle on schedule even as mass issues were beginning to emerge on the vehicle; and it will be Griffin who decides to stay the course and stretch out the development of the vehicle out even further after Congress cut his request by $500 million.

    Sure, you could argue that the White House should be more involved with NASA and maybe they should. At a minimum, I would agree that the White House should have kept the budget promises it made on the VSE, which they did not in 2005 and 2006. But the reality is that the White House does not own ESAS and everything that has flowed from it — Griffin does. So when I critique the sustainability of the ESAS plan and how it’s not proving to be sustainable in the face of modest budget pressures and how it will likely crumble when those pressures intensify with the next White House, I put the blame on Griffin and his political naivete, not Bush. And I certainly don’t blame political ideology for what are very involved NASA technical decisions and budget policy.

    You and I may just have to agree to disagree on this one, but hopefully this finally makes my logic (or lack thereof) clear, even if you don’t agree with it.

  • al Fansome

    Anonymous,

    I agree with almost everything you said, and could not have said it better. (My first reaction was to right something similar, then I read your response.) I am struggling to find something I disagree with.

    I would only summarize what you said as follows:

    On national security/DoD/Iraq/Afghanistan/terrorism, Bush has repeatedly made it very clear that he is the “Decider”.

    On NASA/civil space policy, Bush would NEVER make the same statement.

    Since Bush made the VSE policy decisions, as anounced in early 2004, and the subsequent decision to put Griffin in charge of NASA, Bush has decided very little at NASA, excepting (perhaps) the top-level budget for NASA.

    Griffin is clearly the “decider” on how NASA will implement the VSE.

    Sure, you can blame the WH for not providing more adult supervision of NASA, but even this is hard to get worked up about, since the Bushies have (and should have) much higher priorities in a time of war.

    - Al

  • D. Messier

    This whole thing has followed the same pattern I thought it would four years ago. This idea that you could do all these things with only moderate increases in NASA’s budget and modest cuts elsewhere within the agency’s portfolio never seemed very believable. Not given the historic nature of optimistic cost estimates. Not given the way NASA implements things. Not given the way Bush was running up massive deficits at the time (which gives you no margins when your cost estimates go south). Not given a lot of things.

    What we may be seeing is the result of that. How many disasters like Iraq and Katrina do you need to see before you realize that Bush and his minions really don’t think things through very well? He has this idea that he can do anything but isn’t required to think through the contradictions in his own planning.

    The Earth sciences budget at NASA has dropped 30 percent. I believe that way part of the plan. Bush came in and said no carbon caps, but we’ll study the problem vigorous and follow wherever the science leads us. He didn’t mean a word of it. Classic bait and switch. He put an oil industry figure in the bureaucracy to rewrite reports on global warming. He’s apparently had his minions intimidating scientists. And he’s used this lunar mission as an excuse to gut the very research that would tell us what’s going on and probably force him to actually do something.

    This was no accident. This was not the fault of Griffin or O’Keefe. This was the official policy of this government. And if you asked Bush and Cheney about it, they would look into the camera and deny it up and down.

  • anonymous

    “Not given the way NASA implements things.”

    This is the fundamental problem. NASA (Griffin, Cooke, and others) are still using an Apollo model for Constellation, with its massive budget run-up and unsustainable infrastructure, in a world where there is no longer a driving rationale like the Cold War and the Soviets for such huge and wasteful expenditures. NASA has to change its culture and adapt its programs and infrastucture to the world today as there’s little chance that it will have the resources necessary to undertake another Apollo-style human space exploration effort in the foreseeable future.

    “How many disasters like Iraq and Katrina do you need to see before you realize that Bush and his minions really don’t think things through very well?”

    Again, I agree with you regarding the Bush Administration’s failings in Iraq or after Katrina. No debate there.

    But I would argue that the Bush White House did think through VSE pretty well. They deserve kudos for establishing original guidelines for a sustainable, post-Apollo, post-Cold War human space exploration program — something that no one else has done in the three-and-a-half decades prior.

    However, unlike Iraq and Katrina, there is little evidence that the Bush White House has been deeply involved in decisions about NASA’s human space flight programs since rolling out the VSE. Maybe we can accuse the Bush White House of neglecting NASA, but we can’t accuse them of poor decisionmaking on the human spaceflight program because they havn’t been making those decisions — Griffin has. So, as much as the Bush White House is culpable on other issues, I have a hard time blaming the White House for ESAS and the decisions Griffin has made since ESAS.

    “The Earth sciences budget at NASA has dropped 30 percent. I believe that way part of the plan. Bush came in and said no carbon caps, but we’ll study the problem vigorous and follow wherever the science leads us. He didn’t mean a word of it. Classic bait and switch.”

    You’re onto something there. The Bush White House has stiff-armed reductions in carbon emission to combat global warming with one hand while promising to do more science to ensure that carbon emission reductions are necessary with the other hand. But the funding for that science has not materialized at the White House. Whether that was the direct result of a conspiratorial plan as you indicate — or whether it’s just a reflection of the low priority that the Bush White House assigns global warming and/or the right hand not coordinating with the left hand — it’s hard to say without more evidence.

  • The Earth sciences budget at NASA has dropped 30 percent. I believe that way part of the plan. Bush came in and said no carbon caps, but we’ll study the problem vigorous and follow wherever the science leads us. He didn’t mean a word of it. Classic bait and switch. He put an oil industry figure in the bureaucracy to rewrite reports on global warming. He’s apparently had his minions intimidating scientists. And he’s used this lunar mission as an excuse to gut the very research that would tell us what’s going on and probably force him to actually do something.

    This was no accident. This was not the fault of Griffin or O’Keefe. This was the official policy of this government. And if you asked Bush and Cheney about it, they would look into the camera and deny it up and down.

    An astonishing indictment of America, Americans, and the administration they chose to represent them. Now you are starting to get it. I’m only mildly surprised it took you so long to figure it out, though.

    There may be a way to salvage a little something from this, but it would involve a movie star and future nobel prize winner running again for the highest office in the land, and a bunch of SSMEs, ELVs, space shuttles and space stations in the hands of some creative Americans. Are there any creative Americans left out there after six full years of oppression by a fascist government?

    Don’t worry, the next big American disaster is right around the corner.

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