As the campaign between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney ramps up, the candidates are getting plenty of advice, solicited and unsolicited, about a wide range of issues. That includes space, with a couple of recent op-eds offering some proposals—although perhaps too vague or unrealistic to be acted upon.
Writing for NBCNews.com, reporter/commentator Jay Barbree wants space policy on the “presidential to-do list”. Doing what, exactly, isn’t clear yet (this essay was the first of a five-part series), but he clearly wants the US to restore its human spaceflight capability as soon as possible. To President Obama, he says that most “space veterans” approve of the goals of his policy, but that he should not “prop up the newcomers while giving short shrift to America’s most experienced aerospace companies”, citing specifically the funding SpaceX has received while ATK “is still trying to get in on the funding for space station resupply.”
Barbree also suggests to Gov. Romney that his proposals for a blue-ribbon panel to review the nation’s space policy are unnecessary: “Take it from a reporter who has covered NASA for every day of its five decades in existence: America’s space program does not need another busload of suits with untanned faces stabbing holes in the air, debating over things about which they know little.” (If tanned faces are indeed correlated with space expertise, perhaps the Romney campaign should consider ditching its current space policy team with the cast of Jersey Shore.)
While Barbree didn’t dwell on specifics about what the US space policy should be, Madhu Thangavelu of USC offers a specific proposal in a CNN essay: create a Cabinet-level “Department of Space”. The idea itself isn’t new, but in his essay, Thangavelu sees this department as coordinating public and private, domestic and international space efforts. He claims this department, which would appear to create another layer of bureaucracy on top of existing agencies, would instead “help NASA remove layers of bureaucratic burden” and also help companies “cut through government bureaucracies” ranging from FAA to OSHA. (Wouldn’t every industry love having a Cabinet-level department running interference on OSHA for them?) He suggests, for example, that such a department could resolve export control issues, although the current problem is that satellites and related components are explicitly placed on the US Munitions List by Congress, and thus Congress, and not an existing or proposed department, must act to at least allow the executive branch to remove them.
Thangavelu didn’t specifically direct this proposal at the Obama or Romney campaigns, but one item in there suggests that, if he did, the concept would likely be dead on arrival: he notes a USC study “presented a case that a Department of Space should operate at a budget level of $60 billion,” with a third of that going to NASA (how the rest would be spent isn’t mentioned.) A proposal to roughly triple civil space spending probably isn’t going to get much traction in the current political environment.