Reviewing Griffin’s tenure at NASA

While we await the NASA budget tomorrow and a potential announcement of a review that could put the future of Constellation (at least in its current configuration) in question, it may be useful to look back at Griffin’s nearly four years as NASA administrator. A reader pointed me to a new white paper, Launching a New Mission: Michael Griffin and NASA’s Return to the Moon, published late last month by the IBM Center for Business in Government. The report is written by W. Henry Lambright, a professor of public administration and political science at Syracuse University; Lambright also wrote similar studies of Griffin’s two predecessors, Sean O’Keefe and Dan Goldin.

The report is a chronological overview of Griffin’s time at NASA, along with a set of lessons learned at the end. Most of the material should be familiar to people who followed NASA affairs in the last four years, although one passage (on page 16) caught my attention, regarding a late 2005 meeting at the White House that featured President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Griffin, and several other key officials about the future of NASA and its budget:

Decision making escalated to political levels of the White House in December 2005. President Bush did not customarily intervene in agency-OMB budget fights. He was a delegator, and saw his decision role as strategic, not tactical. That he was willing to have a White House meeting of “principals,” including himself, was indicative of the importance of this juncture in the implementation of his 2004 decision. the nasa shuttle budget crisis was pivotal in how well and quickly implementation could go. Griffin wanted the Moon-Mars program carried out, but many other non-NASA priorities argued for holding expenditures to the absolute minimum.

The key protagonists at the meeting were OMB director Bolton and NASA administrator Griffin. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Science Advisor John Marburger, a State Department representative, and various other officials and aides attended. The questions to be decided came down to two. First, should NASA fly out the shuttle to 2010, finish the space station, or not do so? Second, should the Science Mission Directorate be flat-lined with funds reallocated to Human Space Flight to mitigate the shuttle shortfall? Doing so would protect the new exploration mission and make it possible to accelerate Orion/Ares.

Bolton spoke for OMB. His position was that the shuttle and space station programs should end early. OMB especially opposed spending more money on the shuttle. “it sucks money out of the budget and is a dead-end program,” was the longstanding OMB view. Griffin argued that America’s good faith with its international partners was at stake in finishing ISS, and to do that NASA needed the shuttle. The State Department representative spoke up for the interests of the partners. Cheney raised the issue of shuttle safety. Bush asked about the possibility of another accident. Griffin said the odds were one in one hundred. Bush indicated that was acceptable. The president wanted to know what would happen if he ended the shuttle and space station programs early. “You could do that,” Candida Wolfe, his legislative aide, responded, “but Congress would overturn your decision.” Congress would be cognizant of the domestic job losses as well as international partner considerations. Bush decided that NASA would stay the course—fly out the shuttle to 2010 and complete the space station.

The second question had to do with the transfer of money from science to shuttle and thereby protection/acceleration of manned exploration. Griffin argued in favor of the science flat-lining strategy. OMB opposed this position. Science Advisor Marburger spoke up in favor of science as a priority. The president’s decision was to give NASA a modest overall raise. Science would also get a small raise while the shuttle continued. Exploration Systems would thus have to pay for some of the extra shuttle costs. Griffin would not have the money needed to accelerate Orion/Ares, but enough to keep the original goal of 2014.

As Griffin saw it, he won his dispute with OMB on the first question, and lost on the second.

The source for that section, according to the footnotes, was an interview Lambright had with Griffin last February.

3 comments to Reviewing Griffin’s tenure at NASA

  • Major Tom

    Griffin complained about “[OMB] work at the staff level [that] continues out of view of the nation’s elected leadership” in his recent Goddard Dinner speech here:

    But per Mr. Foust’s post above, Griffin earlier told Henry Lambright that “the key protagonists” at a key meeting on the NASA budget back in 2005 “were OMB director Bolton and NASA administrator Griffin. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Science Advisor John Marburger, [and] a State Department representative”.

    So which is it?

    Did rogue OMB staff cut NASA’s budget without informing their White House principals?

    Or did Griffin just lose fights with White House principals on the NASA budget?

    It appears that history is being revised, at least in Griffin’s mind, as time goes by.


  • Artful Dodger

    Well one thing is clear from this account – Bush once again reaffirmed his position as the Worst President Ever by putting NASA in its current untenable position of not having enough money to implement the President’s vision!

  • yg1968

    Very interesting report. A must read!

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>