Late Wednesday afternoon the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County (RPCC), Ohio, which includes the city of Cleveland, sent out a press release claiming that it had become aware of plans to move work on human spaceflight activities from the NASA Glenn Research Center there. “This move will have devastating effects on the economy of northeast Ohio,” the RPCC release stated, adding that “that this move will not be officially announced until after the 2012 presidential election.”
An email message to NASA Headquarters late Wednesday seeking comment wasn’t answered, although agency officials did provide statements to local Cleveland media outlets about the RPCC statement. “NASA is not transferring human spaceflight research and development activities from the Glenn Research Center,” a spokesperson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The RPCC pressed its case, though, with an event Thursday that included former NASA administrator Mike Griffin and Scott Pace, who both advise Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (Neither were present at the Cleveland event in a campaign advisory, according to a WEWS-TV account that referred to them as “Michael Griffith” and “Michael Pace”.)
Griffin also provided a quote in the RPCC release on Wednesday, only citing his affiliation as a former NASA administrator and not as a space policy advisor to the Romney campaign. “The fact that the Obama administration is seriously considering moving Human Space flight work out of Glenn is a [sic] deeply troubling,” he stated. “To eliminate Glenn’s role in human spaceflight is to call into question its very participation in NASA’s future.”
On Friday the RPCC sent me a chart from an “internal NASA document” that the party said was proof of the planned cuts. (This document was also apparently distributed at the Thursday event.) The chart, titled “HEO Cum FTE total reduction By Center FY13 thru FY16 2014 PAA vs FY13PB”, showed the “work scope change” in terms of numbers of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees that would be cut by center, presumably for the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) mission directorate. For Glenn it showed a cut of 244 FTEs. However, other centers would also suffer job cuts under this plan, including 311 at the Johnson Space Center and 254 at the Marshall Space Flight Center; others centers would lose fewer than 100 positions each. The chart did not indicate when those staffing changes would take place beyond the fiscal years 2013-2016 timeframe in the chart title.
An RPCC spokesman declined to provide additional information on the source of the chart, only saying it came from “inside NASA.” A NASA spokesperson told the Plain Dealer in a follow-up article that the chart came from a “budget-planning exercise conducted by mid-level staff” and did not represent final NASA plans. A White House spokesman said they had not seen any plans to cut jobs at Glenn “and we have no intent to transfer such activities.” And, for good measure, the article noted that NASA said Glenn had already lost 214 positions—during the four years Griffin served as administrator.
Glenn is getting this attention since Ohio is a key state in the November election, with both major parties looking for any advantage that can win votes. Here, though, the focus is on jobs, not space policy. The coverage of the alleged planned job cuts said little about broader policy issues, beyond a comment made by former Sen. George Voinovich at Thursdays event and reported by WEWS. “If the President gets reelected… he should be asked, where are you going, what do you want?” he asked, either unaware of or unsatisfied with the existing policies of the space agency. “And if he’s not elected, it’s going to be up to President Romney to lay out what is his vision, where are we going.” So far, of course, Romney has said little about what his space policy vision might be if elected in November.