When the Orlando Sentinel noted in its article about NASA’s memo about cutting back work on Constellation that the announcement “caps a bitter, three-month behind-the-scenes battle”, the first thought that ran through my mind on how Congress would react was a line from Animal House: “Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is!” And sure enough, members of Congress are making clear this decision does not “cap” this debate at all.
In a statement late today, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) said NASA was “skirting the law” with its plan to cut back work on Constellation to comply with the Antideficiency Act. She cited the memo as the latest evidence that NASA was “working to subvert Constellation”, along with letters sent to contractors about termination liability and the reassignment of Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley. Hutchison also released a copy of an email sent to Hanley on May 21 that contained direction and even language similar to Bolden’s letter to Congress this week (although Bolden’s letter contained additional specifics about the impact of the plan on each element of Constellation.)
“At best, this demonstrates that, at least three weeks before briefing members of Congress about issues related to funding challenges, NASA’s leadership had already taken steps to implement a course that today leads to the loss of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of jobs,” she said, comparing this week’s letter with last month’s email. “At worst, it shows an agency that is willfully subverting the repeatedly expressed will of Congress. In either case, the result is the same. The leadership of the world’s preeminent space agency has strained its credibility to the breaking point and something has to change.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) also provided a statement to Huntsville TV station WAFF, included in an article about Constellation-related layoff notices Boeing plans to issue next month. “NASA is reprioritizing funding based on a future budget that has not been supported, or approved, by Congress,” Shelby said, adding that language included in a supplemental appropriations bill the Senate approved last month is a “reaffirmation of Congressional intent to continue Constellation funding”.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) also made a brief statement about the Bolden letter prepended to a copy of the Sentinel article (which, I’m sure, Bishop’s office got permission to reprint.) The decision to cut back work on Constellation, he said, “is nothing more than a disingenuous legal maneuver to circumvent statutory language that was put in place to prevent this very type of action.
Bishop also issued a separate statement Thursday reacting to a comment in an interview with Elon Musk where the SpaceX CEO said that Utah is the “one state that is going to suffer from the Obama plan”. “Elon Musk is right that Utah will suffer under the Obama plan, but so will the rest of the country” because, among other things, the plan “severely handicaps our security and missile defense,” Bishop said. “In the end, all of us in America suffer under that scenario, and that is unacceptable.”