Congress, Lobbying

Mikulski’s unlikely fundraiser

Place this in the “politics makes for strange bedfellows” file: today’s Baltimore Sun reports on an interesting source of fundraising for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the appropriations subcommittee with oversight of NASA’s budget, who is running for reelection this year. The article notes that the Huntsville metro area is fourth in donating to her campaign, behind Baltimore, Washington DC, and New York (although a look at the data itself shows that Huntsville is a distant fourth, particularly when compared to the Baltimore and Washington metro areas, which dominate.)

That people and organizations in the Huntsville area would contribute to Mikulski’s campaign is itself not surprising, given her powerful position within the appropriations committee to alter the budget of an agency, NASA, which plays a major role in that city’s economy. It’s also not surprising that “Alabama business and industry leaders” held a fundraising breakfast for Mikulski last fall in Huntsville less than a week after the release of the final report of the Augustine Committee. What is a little more surprising is the person who reportedly played a role in that event’s success: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking member of Mikulski’s subcommittee. While Shelby’s spokesman said that the senator didn’t help organize the fundraiser, he “worked behind the scenes to make sure the event was a success”, according to the Sun, which calls this “an extremely unusual example of fundraising cooperation across party lines”.

Mikulski and Shelby have a long record of working together, the article notes, and her trip to Huntsville last October was not the first fundraiser that she has held there during her time in the Senate. It does come, though, as Congress debates the shift in NASA’s direction the White House has proposed in its FY2011 budget, one that has not gone over well in Huntsville as it calls for canceling Constellation, including the Ares 1 and 5 rockets. She has been quiet about the plan so far other than a letter to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) last month saying that any new NASA plan should be “mission driven” and expressing concerns about the NASA workforce. That silence will be broken for certain later this month when her subcommittee holds a hearing about the NASA budget proposal.

20 comments to Mikulski’s unlikely fundraiser

  • red

    Hopefully Mikulski will keep her focus on what’s good for Maryland, the U.S. as a whole, and development, use, and exploration of space.

    The 2011 budget increases in robotic missions (eg: Earth science, lunar robotic precursors) should be good for NASA Goddard, Applied Physics lab, University of Maryland, and various businesses in Maryland. The Earth science work can also help Maryland’s NOAA sites. These are also good for general space use, space development, space exploration, comsats, DoD satellites, and so on.

    The new space technology research, development, and demonstration programs offer all sorts of opportunities to Maryland businesses.

    The commercial cargo funding, increased ISS use, and longer ISS use is good for nearby Orbital. It’s possible that commercial crew would also work for Orbital.

    Wallops has many opportunities with the new budget to launch small robotic precursors, smallsat technology demonstrators, Venture-class Earth science missions, and so on.

    These types of missions are also good for the U.S. as a whole, as they help lower the cost of doing all sorts of space business and missions.

    If common ground can be found with Shelby and Huntsville, that’s fine, but let’s not sacrifice any of these basic essentials for something like Constellation that delivers nothing except decades of wheel spinning.

  • Major Tom

    “Hopefully Mikulski will keep her focus on what’s good for Maryland…”

    Actually, if Shelby or his staff actually thought through the new NASA budget plan, they’d realize that they’ll probably come out ahead of the POR in terms of jobs. The new budget contains one major new first-stage engine development that will likely take place at MSFC, one to two upper-stage engine developments that could take place at MSFC, and commercial crew and cargo development and services that ULA is almost certain to win a big piece of and generate work at Decatur. That’s more engine development actually taking place at Huntsville than under the POR with more at Decatur work to boot. The POR only had J-2X development, Ares I management, and nothing else for MSFC or Alabama.

    FWIW…

  • While not necessarily disagreeing with Major Tom, I would like to applaud the cooperation implicit in this. The space community — and the nation as a whole — both need a lot more of this if the Republic is to survive.

    – Donald

  • ISS vet

    @Major Tom

    Is it safe to assume those new engines would be tested in Mississippi?

  • googaw

    I would like to applaud the cooperation implicit in this.

    Let’s see, which level of hell do we prefer:

    (1) Republican bigwigs cooperating with Democratic bigwigs to divvy up the NASA budget based on their political power rather than on the effectiveness and efficiency of the projects to be funded.

    (2) Obama-bashers fighting tooth-and-nail with Bush-bashers to get their hands on the NASA budget.

    I can’t decide which is a more pathological way to develop space. But the latter is definitely more entertaining. So stop with all this talk of cooperation please. :-)

  • red

    Major Tom: ” and commercial crew and cargo development and services that ULA is almost certain to win a big piece of and generate work at Decatur”

    I could also see Decatur winning a good share of the big boost in launches implied by the new line of robotic HSF precursor missions, the increase in Earth science missions, and possibly some of the technology demonstration missions (beyond those that will involve ISS services from the commercial crew/cargo lines you already mentioned).

    There’s also the opportunity for new types of non-ISS business based on ULA EELVs that the commercial crew line makes possible.

  • Major Tom

    ISS Vet: “Is it safe to assume those new engines would be tested in Mississippi?”

    If MSFC is developing them, then yes, I think it’s safe to assume there would be testing at SSC (and probably some at MSFC, too).

    The point being, instead of trying to resurrect and sustain dead programs over multiple fiscal years against the opposition of the White House and 500 other members of Congress seeing blood in the water, Shelby would be better off ensuring that all the engine work planned by the White House and NASA (or big pieces of it) is done at MSFC (versus completely developed in industry, or the upper stage engines developed at GRC, etc.). This is something within Shelby’s wheelhouse — he did it to what remained of the VSE’s lunar robotic program after Griffin whacked it.

    (Of course, whether MSFC is the most competent organization when it comes to engine development is another question, but that’s another, non-political discussion.)

    Red: “There’s also the opportunity for new types of non-ISS business based on ULA EELVs that the commercial crew line makes possible.”

    Good point.

    FWIW…

  • ISS vet

    My, it’s nice to have well-informed, constructive conversation every once in a while.

  • Mike Puckett

    Politics make strange bedfellows.

  • googaw

    One interesting angle on the EELVs I haven’t heard much about: these are the USAF’s babies, and after their Shuttle experience, they are probably quite loathe to have NASA messing with them. I suspect the efforts to include the EELVs in Commercial Crew and man-rate them will receive a quiet but strong push-back from the Pentagon. Indeed I suspect this already happened for ISS cargo which is why they went with developing two new systems. Still, NASA’s much ballyhooed astronaut launcher gap exerts some highly visible pressure in the other direction. Nevertheless, at the end of the day what the USAF does in space is crucial to national security and what NASA does is not, and one would thus presume that the Pentagon’s preferences regarding the EELVs will prevail. So space activists should be prepared to convince the generals that they won’t get burned this time.

  • ISS vet

    googaw: It’s a little different this time because ULA is a commercial launch company. The Air Force can’t stop them from launching EELVs for other customers. The Air Force has a lot of influence, but not control. The Air Force should get some benefits out of the deal – lower costs and probably some redundant new facilities, as well as upgrades to EELV reliability.

  • Rhyolite

    The EELVs may be the USAF’s baby but they are Boeing and Lockheed’s property.

    USAF paid only a fraction of the EELV development costs. Boeing and Lockheed invested their profit and loss money into the designs and have considerable rights them.

    If ULA thinks they are competitive with the other entrants, then expect them to bid.

  • Rhyolite

    Speaking of the J-2X, does anyone know whether it has been canceled or is going to live on under the in In-Space Engine Demonstration component of the exploration budget?

  • danwithaplan

    Trust me, DOD, NRO, NASA nonHSF is not happy with the “man rating” HSF NASA crowd trying to get their hands on EELVs and messing up perfectly good launchers. The robotic NASA folks know that EELVs are good enough as they are. No changes needed. Neither the commercial customers would be happy if the exploration directorate got their fingers on the EELVs and make them EVEN more expensive until the ESMD re-evalutates its idiotic ‘man rating’ requirements.

  • sc220

    I could also see Decatur winning a good share of the big boost in launches implied by the new line of robotic HSF precursor missions, the increase in Earth science missions, and possibly some of the technology demonstration missions (beyond those that will involve ISS services from the commercial crew/cargo lines you already mentioned).

    This is something that has truly confounded me for the last five years. Why wouldn’t Shelby endorse a Shuttle replacement centered around Atlas V and/or Delta IV? Going with one of these options, rather than Ares I, would have consolidated Northern Alabama as the launch vehicle technology and development capitol of the U.S., if not the world.

  • Why wouldn’t Shelby endorse a Shuttle replacement centered around Atlas V and/or Delta IV?

    He is a big supporter of Ares rockets and the NASA centers connected with this development.

    sc220: Your idea is a good one and it may be part of a compromise. This would also involve going with the Direct/Jupiter concept on HLVs. He can’t give up his chips at this point in the process. This issue is complicated both technically and politically. Stay tuned.

  • googaw

    The EELVs may be the USAF’s baby but they are Boeing and Lockheed’s property.

    This doesn’t mean much when they have one dominant customer.

  • Chris

    I wonder if they’d ever use any of the normal school fundraisers like on http://www.fundraisingideas.org/

  • Rhyolite

    Rhyolite: “The EELVs may be the USAF’s baby but they are Boeing and Lockheed’s property.”

    googaw: “This doesn’t mean much when they have one dominant customer.”

    And if USAF doesn’t like what ULA does with other customers, what are they going to do? Take their payloads to Arianespace? Proton? Long March?

    USAF undoubtedly has some influence with ULA. But not enough to prevent them from seeking potentially profitable contracts with other agencies of the US government.

  • [...] issues, and also have a record of working together despite their different political affiliations: Shelby even helped support a fundraiser for Mikulski in Huntsville in [...]

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