Campaign '08

Would NASA face a BRAC under President McCain?

The presidential campaign of Republican Senator John McCain released its economic reform plan today, including its proposals to trim federal spending to help balance the budget by 2013. Part of the proposal would be a one-year freeze on non-defense, non-veterans discretionary spending:

A one-year pause in the growth of discretionary spending will be imposed to allow for a comprehensive review of all spending programs. After the completion of a comprehensive review of all programs, projects and activities of the federal government, we will propose a plan to modernize, streamline, consolidate, reprioritize and, where needed, terminate individual programs.

That is not surprising, since the McCain campaign made a similar proposal earlier this year. The campaign does go into a little more detail about how exactly that review would be performed:

McCain could use the bi-partisan commission structure used for the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC). Such a commission could be required to report to the President who would then submit the recommendations to the Congress for a straight up or down vote.

The statement goes on to promise to “eliminate broken government programs” (what he means by “broken” isn’t defined) and to “reform procurement programs and cut wasteful spending in defense and non-defense programs”. Overall, this does not look promising for those hoping to increase NASA’s budget beyond FY2009 as the implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration ramps up.

27 comments to Would NASA face a BRAC under President McCain?

  • spectator

    A threat to freeze the budget? Empty threat. I think the last time one of those was marketed, Ronald Reagan was running. He wasn’t close to making good on that slogan. Lets assume my guy, John McCain wins the office. He will likely face a Congress more Democratic than today. Good luck getting a spending freeze, that doesn’t account for brisk inflation, on programs dear to them.

    But the guys heart is in the right spot, I’d love to see the Feds take a cut over the next few years.

  • sch220

    He will likely face a Congress more Democratic than today. Good luck getting a spending freeze, that doesn’t account for brisk inflation, on programs dear to them.

    Yes, but low-priority programs, like NASA, are going to feel the most heat. I was an estranged Republican, dead set on Obama or even (ughh) Hillary. But if McCain is serious about trimming the fat, then I may have to rejoin the ranks.

    NASA really needs to lose a center or two. If done properly, this could be done in areas that wouldn’t feel a big negative economic impact and may actually benefit from high value property returning to the market.

  • If we could kill Stennis/Michaud, this would kill ESAS as well, I think. My fear is that Ames would be on the block…

  • Doug Lassiter

    Here we go again. Budget pronouncements before policy goals. Sure, let’s “cut the fat”, “trim the waste”, “terminate broken programs”. But unless you tell us what your vision is for the country, these are just empty words. Oh yeah, lets also “increase funding for the good stuff” while we’re at it. Now whoever could have a problem with words like those?

    I’m willing to keep an open mind about McCain, but this is just jaw calisthenics. He has to be smarter than this. What are his metrics for success? What are the signposts for fat and waste? Nope. You won’t find many in his “Economic Plan”.

    The one year pause in the growth of discretionary spending is more pointed, but is still kind of lame. In fixed year dollars, discretionary spending has been roughly constant since about 2001, while spending on homeland security and national defense has risen by about 50%. So he can take a bow when discretionary spending does exactly what it has done for nearly a decade.

    I suppose this rhetoric only challenges NASA to prove that it offers value. But that’s a little tricky until McCain lays out his value metrics, especially with regard to science, technology, and the spirit of exploration.

  • Dennis Wingo


    I am in agreement with you there. I have heard vague rumors of GSFC being split off with NOAA to create a new climate change focused agency on the Dem side.

  • Nemo

    A threat to freeze the budget? Empty threat. I think the last time one of those was marketed, Ronald Reagan was running. He wasn’t close to making good on that slogan.

    Clinton did, at least where NASA is concerned. At the end of the Clinton years, NASA’s budget was no higher than it was when he took office, about a 20% cut in inflation-adjusted terms.

    In terms of the overall budget, yes, empty threat. But agencies like NASA should take the threat seriously, since it’s a lot easier to follow through.

  • Someone

    NASA has been 30 years overdue for a BRAC. Killing the Centers and consolidating the work required NASA around KSFC, JSC and Marshall would clear out a lot of overhead. And allow NASA to focus on its core of manned spaceflight.

  • D. Messier

    Hi ho, hi ho, it’s making empty threats we go. It’s an election year so have a beer, hi ho hi ho…

    FWIW, I think it matters less where climate research is done as to whether the presidential administration actually believes its worth doing. It’s difficult to look at NASA many, many, many problems in human spaceflight and say, “Geez, if some part of the organization wasn’t focused on climate research, we wouldn’t have blown up 40 percent of the shuttle fleet, killed 14 astronauts in the process, spent 25 years building a space station best known as a vacation spot for gazillionaires, and totally fraked up the Constellation lunar program.”

    Oh, sorry. Dana Rohrbacher probably think so. Of course, he also once attributed past climate change to dinosaur flatulence. (Oh, I can find the clip on that really easy. Its on YouTube.)

  • Warmer

    War is the ‘good stuff’. We need more war, it’s good for the economy.

    If only we would spend more on war and less on the bad stuff, everything would be all right. Why can’t everybody see that, John McCain sees it!

  • sc220

    NASA has been 30 years overdue for a BRAC. Killing the Centers and consolidating the work required NASA around KSFC, JSC and Marshall would clear out a lot of overhead. And allow NASA to focus on its core of manned spaceflight.

    I agree with your first sentence totally. However, the centers you identified are the crux of the problem, particularly Marshall. All we’ve gotten from them are failed boondoggles. Witness the current one with Ares 1.

    Marshall should be one of the main centers on the BRAC list. Redstone Arsenal is growing like gangbusters and needs the engineers and facilities offered by Marshall. A gradual elimination of MSFC would have minimal impact on the Huntsville area.

  • feeling spacy

    Looking at NASA – they are very heavy on centers with aeronautics research as a focus, yet they make up little of NASA’s budget. A bunch of underutilized wind tunnels would certainly be BRACable.

    Ames could turned over to Google, but could easily be converted to an arrangement like JPL.

    Stennis doesn’t need to be a center on it’s own, just transfer the land to DoD (who already has a presence there), and become a tenant with another center managing the few hundred NASA (federal) people that are there.

  • Charles in Houston

    Fellow Political Fans –

    An anonymous system like the BRAC is the best we can hope for, too bad the Congressional and Executive branches can’t get together and kill old dead programs in the light of day. Sigh.

    NASA could certainly stand to slim down, but I am a bit saddened to see someone blame MSFC for a general NASA problem. I’d hope that we could rise above the constant interCenter rivalry. Having worked with MSFC, they have done many amazingly successful things.

    Anyway, that said – you have to ask yourself if NASA needs a Center or if it could consolidate and someone else run the “Yards And Guards”. Why does NASA have a Shared Services Center? An Independent Verification and Validation Center?

    Couldn’t Moffett Field be given back to the Navy, or to GSA?

    Hopefully, a “BRAC” for the whole Federal Government might allow us to eliminate the Tennessee Valley Authority, I think it is still out there. Isn’t the Rural Electrification Authority still in existence?

    And perhaps a process like that might allow us to eliminate the Missile Defense Agency. But now I am starting on my pet peeves…

  • gm

    RUTHLESS analysis from NASA for the Direct’s “hobby-lobby” rocket…

  • […] Space Politics » Would NASA face a BRAC under President McCain? […]

  • red

    Someone: “NASA has been 30 years overdue for a BRAC. Killing the Centers and consolidating the work required NASA around KSFC, JSC and Marshall would clear out a lot of overhead. And allow NASA to focus on its core of manned spaceflight.”

    feeling spacey: “Looking at NASA – they are very heavy on centers with aeronautics research as a focus, yet they make up little of NASA’s budget. A bunch of underutilized wind tunnels would certainly be BRACable.”

    These ideas remind me of the following Dilbert cartoon:

    Dilbert: Why are you sending *me* to teach Cobol to the Elbonians? Wally is the one who knows Cobol, not me.
    Pointy haired boss: Wally said he’s busy that day.
    Dilbert: Can’t you reschedule the class?
    Pointy haired boss: Okay… Does tomorrow work for you?

  • Someone

    I am fine with Marshall closing. And well as JSC as the Houston economy is also booming. Closing both and putting the necessary jobs in Florida would really offset the Shuttle downsizing. And cut travel costs greatly. Just imagine the radical idea of astronauts living at the Cape instead of burning up fuel and taxpayer dollars traveling back and forth as they have for the last 45 years. it would be good for the environment, and good for the government selling the land JSC and Marshall is on.

    Ames could well be a contract operation like JPL, run by Google. That might be interesting.

    As for the old aviation centers, does NASA even care about aviation? I know it saids so on the label, but really? The could also follow the contract models with perhaps firms like Lockheed.Boeing running the facilities worth keeping.


  • Alan Ladwig

    A BRAC-type review for NASA is unlikely. In the past when the Agency attempted to identify cost savings at Headquarters and Field Centers through less severe “roles and mission reviews,” parochial political interests blocked even minor recommended realignments.

    Congressional delegations of NASA states will frown on attempts to close their field installations. Besides, the savings to be found in closing the likes of Stennis or Michaud are not significant. The Navy isn’t interested in reclaiming Ames (it was a BRAC casuality), and it is not realistic to turn it over to Google. In the mid-90s Fed Ex expressed an interest in establishing operations at Ames, but political consideraitons made it a non-starter.

    That being said, I do believe the new administration ought to conduct a thorough review of how space R&D is implemented in both government civil and military organizations. One would hope that there are more efficient ways to conduct business, and realignments and modifications to roles and missions should at least be presented. The review should also take aim at the real elephant in the room and insure that NASA’s mission is appropriately aligned with high priority national needs.

  • spectator

    Everyone makes good suggestions on what should be done with Nasa. But none of it will happen. The same Federal system that allows Social Security to slowly collapse; that would rather have Americans pay Saudi’s to drill for oil rather than American’s; that props up the prices of all manner of food stuffs; that spends billions on gadgets to secure airports against undesirables yet allows huge chucks of border to barely patrolled.

    Yep, Nasa will get all manner of rational reform from Congress and the next Admin.

  • Someone

    So it appears that NASA is just a giant pork machine whose real mission is to create photo ops and jobs in the districts of key members of Congress. As long as it will do so the money will flow. Any attempt to transform it into a rational organization by deleting unnecessary cneter and missions is not allowed.

    Still is anyone could get away with taking the budget axe and trmming the fat and prok off of NASA McCain probably would be.

  • Me

    1. The astronauts only go to KSC for 3-4 trips including launch for each mission. That isn’t enough of a reason to shut down JSC.
    2. Moving JSC to KSC isn’t going to save KSC jobs. Most of the workers to be laid off are technicians and ground ops engineers. They aren’t development or mission ops engineers, which is JSC’s area. There is little work a TPS, SSME, or RSS tech can do on Constellation.
    3. Ames as a contract operation like JPL would cost more. JPL exists because it was thought that the civil servant pay scale couldn’t attract the talent needed for JPL. A JPL MTS or any other contractor is more than a civil servant. Half the center workers are already contractor.
    4. Contractors already run the aeronautical facilities. But turning over management of the facilities to one of the big aerospace contractors is not viable since they support multiple users
    4. And NASA can’t be sold, gm.

  • sc220

    Best approach is to convert the centers to FFRDCs. Then let them compete for resources without the HR limitations associated with civil servants. Survival of the fittest, the ultimate Law of Nature.

  • Someone


    It would save not just on astronauts but senior staff traveling between JSC, Marshall and KSFC. Alos having them in one place will blur the center distinctions. Its easier to get things done when everyone is in one place.

    There a difference between individuals layoffs the impact of the layoffs in the community. Yes, the Shuttle jobs will go away and those individals will leave or retire. But they will be replaced in the community by those moving from JSC and Marshall. So the impact on the community of the layoffs would be eliminated. Just as when corporates downsize and consolidate.

    And there would be savings beyond travel. For eaxmple its difficult to see the cost of security going up at KSFC even JSC and Marshall are moved there, well you eliminate the security cost for NASA at both JSC and Marshall. Ditto the other overhead costs required to keep a Center open.

    Of course it won’t happne as NASA is not a corporation, but a pork generator, but it would be one way to make the agency cost less to run.

  • me

    That is just wrong.
    1. KSC doesn’t have the facilities or officespace.
    1a. MSFC and JSC have unique facilities that aren’t at KSC.
    2. What MSFC and JSC do is independent of the launch site. Boeing, LM, OSC, don’t build their spacecraft or launch vehicles at the launch site. Nor control their satellites from there. Neither does the USAF.
    2a. With an ELV launched spacecraft, there is little overlap between JSC and MSFC. Just as much as Delta and a GPS spacecraft. You don’t know what it takes to do a mission, with yo
    3. Launch sites have a minimum amount of people.
    4. KSC supports other centers. Are GSFC and JPL suppose to move there too?
    5. There is more travel association with ELV missions than shuttle. Shuttle has reduced their travel dramatically.

    6. If NASA were a corporation, JSC and MSFC wouldn’t be the ones to close or move. However, they still could use some downsizing.

    Form your comments, you don’t know what it takes to do a mission.

    BTW, it is KSC (no “F”)

  • Someone

    Who is talking about doing any missions? We are talking about reducing the number of centers to save money. And since you can’t launch from Marshall or JSC they could be moved. Kennedy can’t. So it makes sense to consolidate there. Office space is cheap to build if needed.

    JSC was created simply to bring the Texas deligation into the NASA camp. And as Johnson’s reward to the people at home. Everything at JSC could have been built at Langley. And the Von Braun team could have been moved to Florida except for the need to keep the votes coming from Alabama.

    But as noted it will never happen. Congressional pork politics will keep any Center for being closed. So why worry about it?

  • Mark


    You would probably be looking at close to billions of dollars to reproduce the facilities of JSC and MSFC at Kennedy. There is a lot more than just office space at those centers. I don’t think that would be very practical given the extremely modest savings from less travel.

    If NASA needs loose centers, I would merge Stennis and Marshall and get rid of Ames. Anything Ames does can be relocated to Dryden or Langley

  • […] energy policy calls for $150 billion over 10 years for alternative energy research. Coupled with desires to reduce deficit spending, as well as growing pressure on the budget from mandatory spending, will space feel the squeeze in […]

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