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NASA Republicans Politics

House Representatives Working On NASA Reform Bill 188

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the free-bags-of-pork-rinds-to-all-texans dept.
MarkWhittington writes with good and bad news about NASA's future budgets. From the article: "Rep. John Culberson, along with Rep. Frank Wolf, are developing a bill that will attempt to rationalize NASA's budget process and provide some long term continuity in its administration. First, a NASA administrator would be named to a ten year term. The intent is to provide some continuity in the way the space agency is run and to remove it, as much as possible, from the vagaries of politics. Second, NASA funding would be placed on a multi-year rather than annual cycle. This is of particular importance to the space agency because the majority of its high level projects take several years to run their course. If funding were fixed for a number of years, the theory goes, money could be spent more efficiently. NASA planners would know how much they have to spend four or so years going forward and would not have to worry about being cut off at the knees by Congressional appropriators year after year." But is it more than political grandstanding in an election year? There might be a few problems: NASA could get stuck with a bad administrator, multi-year budgets might be a bit unconstitutional, etc.
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House Representatives Working On NASA Reform Bill

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  • NASA Reform (Score:5, Funny)

    by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:04AM (#40982931) Homepage Journal
    NASA Reform
    Imagination reborn
    Bureaucratic stubble
    From features shorn
    Burma Shave
  • Unconstitutional? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by radiumsoup (741987) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:08AM (#40982959)
    If we can go 3 years with no Federal budget whatsoever and count it as "constitutional", I'm pretty sure we can finagle a multi-year budget or two.
    • It's really not so much Constitutionality as stability. Congresses don't like explicitly binding follow-on Congresses with financial obligations. (The implicit crushing force of the national debt, well, let's gaff that off like the rest, shall we?)
      One Congress giveth, and another taketh away. And when you're a company trying to do 7 and 8 figure work, you can't have that.
      Which is why McNamara's Nightmare [wikipedia.org] makes the DoD budget into such a Stephen King novel. The rules under which Congress will allocate mult
      • Re:Unconstitutional? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning.netzero@net> on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @10:42AM (#40984547) Homepage Journal

        The constitutional aspect is derived from how NASA started. Keep in mind that some significant parts of NASA came from the U.S. Army Field Artillery Branch, which was how Werner Von Braun ended up coming to NASA. There were also several U.S. Navy programs that were folded into NASA as well, but the Army is something significant to explicitly mention.

        When the U.S. Constitution was written, there was a significant concern about a standing army running around North America with the potential to stage a coup d'état and thus overthrow any civilian government that had goals and aims which were different from the Army's goals. There are many historical examples which show this concern was well founded, and one of the steps taken to control the Army is to force annual accounting to Congress on their needs and to require annual reauthorization of expenditures.

        The U.S. Navy, on the other hand, was acknowledged to be quite a bit different and even when the U.S. Constitution was written it was acknowledged that some ship building programs may take several years for completion. Even acts of the Washington Administration (yes, that George Washington) through the Naval Act of 1794 [wikipedia.org] had a several year term placed upon its completion to build a fleet of six frigates that ultimately formed the core of the U.S. Navy that exists today. In fact, the U.S.S. Constitution (created in that act) is still a commissioned U.S. Navy warship even today.

        I'll also point out that one of the reasons for creating the U.S. Air Force was explicitly to set up multi-year appropriations for that branch of military service that otherwise wouldn't be possible if they remained a part of the U.S. Army. It was an acknowledgement that the annual arrangements for the Army aren't sufficient for advanced airplanes that may need a multi-year contract for completion.

        In this sense, what is being proposed is acknowledging it takes more than a year to build a reliable rocket, especially for things which will be taking people to other planets. The model that congress should be following for building things in space should be more along the lines of the U.S. Navy where ship will be traveling to distant locations and will be expensive to build. Certainly the notion that a rocket going into space is nothing more than a glorified artillery shell needs to be left behind. I certainly think the notion of a NASA administrator staging a coup upon the federal government with his agency backing up such a coup is laughable by any measure of the imagination.

        • by DERoss (1919496)

          Article 1, Section 8:
          The Congress shall have Power ...
          To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
          To provide and maintain a Navy;

          The two-year limitation applies only to the Army and not to any other military branch or to any civilian agency.

        • Re:Unconstitutional? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @12:35PM (#40985815) Homepage Journal

          there was a significant concern about a standing army running around North America with the potential to stage a coup d'état

          Your attention is drawn to Six Frigates [amazon.com]. Back in the day when the government served the people, (i.e. prior to our Progressive reversal) there was genuine disdain about standing forces because:

          • they cost so flipping much,
          • bureaucracy breeds bureaucracy, and
          • the Team America: World Police concept just wasn't there.
        • by emag (4640)

          You say that now, but when the NASA Orbiting Weapons System (NOWS) is placed, you'll change your tune. And no one will know, either, because they'll be claiming it's all satellites and deep space observation telescopes, until that fateful day...

    • by sycodon (149926)

      And how could it be political grandstanding unless Harry Reid refuses to take it up?

      Why would he refuse?

      • by crazyjj (2598719) *

        Why would he refuse?

        Because he sees this bill for what it really is, just an effort to funnel lots of federal money to Texas and to the huge government contractor industry in Virginia. Do you really think that bible-thumping Republicans John Culberson and Frank Wolf give a rat's ass about science?

        • by sycodon (149926)

          I see. So move NASA from Texas, Alabama and Florida and you would be good with it eh?

          • Re:Unconstitutional? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @09:35AM (#40983697)

            No, there are good physical reasons why NASA facilities are located as close as we can get them within the U.S. to the equator. If I were to reform NASA, I wouldn't move the facilities--I would move them AWAY from Congress (who have so hopelessly politicized NASA that the agency has for 40 years been WAY more of a contractor funnel for Congressional pork than a research agency). Make them an independent agency with hardcore ethics laws to prevent either the President or Congress from influencing their duties, and maybe they could get some actual work done without worrying about which Congressman wants some graft this week.

            • by sycodon (149926)

              So then...you are for NASA being restructured, even if that funnels "lots of federal money to Texas and to the huge government contractor industry in Virginia."

            • by medcalf (68293)
              So you want NASA to be a company? Interesting.
              • by crazyjj (2598719) *

                Think of it as being something more akin to the CDC or an Inspector General--an quasi-independent agency with heavy shielding to protect them from political influence.

        • by robot256 (1635039)
          I know it just looks like pork going to a couple states, but the alternative is what we have with the Joint Strike Fighter--the supply chain is fragmented into all 50 states so nobody wants to kill it, but it raises the overall cost of the program substantially. And science is even harder to fragment than manufacturing--scientists need to be able to work together, and with engineers, regularly to make efficient progress.
    • by gr8_phk (621180)

      If we can go 3 years with no Federal budget whatsoever and count it as "constitutional", I'm pretty sure we can finagle a multi-year budget or two.

      And we can borrow and spend money today with no idea how it's ever going to be paid back....

      • by Dan667 (564390)
        or we can just slash the huge unneeded and boated military budget. Problem solved.
  • by wbr1 (2538558) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:08AM (#40982961)
    ..that NASA could get stuck wirg low levels of appropriations for years at a time. Sigh.
  • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:10AM (#40982979)

    If funding were fixed for a number of years, the theory goes, money could be spent more efficiently.

    I can't figure out if this would encourage or discourage the "Gotta spend every penny this year or we'll lose the money permanently for all future years" behavior.

    If a multi-year budget means you get $30M for a project, in total, spread across the entire project, then you don't have the headache of spending exactly 3 mil each year for a decade so it discourages wasteful spending at the end of the year. On the other hand if multi-year budget means that $3M is set in stone for all eternity then it encourages wasteful spending.

    Since wasteful spending = votes I'm going to guess it is designed to increase waste.

    • by trout007 (975317)

      It would get rid of that and also the 3 months of no work between the end of the fiscal year and the calendar year. Congress has been gong down to the wire so no money can be allocated to projects until the budget is approved. When this happens at the end of September it takes a couple months to get the money turned on. Then nothing happens between Thanksgiving and New Years since so many people are using their vacation time that is use or lose.

      Also most projects have a spending curve where in the prelimina

  • by gatkinso (15975) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:11AM (#40982987)

    Is a drop in the bucket.

    The top 5 defense contractors all have larger revenues than NASA's entire budget. The US Army spent more on air conditioning tents and trailers in Iraq than NASA's entire annual budget.

    Want to fix NASA's budget? Actually give them one.

    • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:22AM (#40983055) Homepage Journal
      Hey, you know: shag all that. Let's make NASA into a national http://www.kickstarter.com/ [kickstarter.com]. Pour loot into NASA, instead of these godforsaken SuperPAC ads, and we'll be all over the solar system, lickety-split.
      • by Dan667 (564390)
        how about we do that for the military instead. People who think the military budget need to be bigger can give directly to it.
    • Not that NASA is the primary customer, by any means; but they farm out enough work that it would be very difficult to increase NASA's budget without also increasing the revenues of major defense contractors. Culturally NASA has a noble mission of doing some good science, often of the flavor with limited immediate payoff; but financially they help keep defense contractors humming when demand for their more lethal products is softer than they would hope.

  • Radical Idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:16AM (#40983017) Homepage Journal

    Stop the wars and spend 1% of what is spent on wars on NASA instead.

    • I think you meant invasions, there has to be an opposition for there to be a war...

    • I agree with stopping the wars. I'd love to see military spending down two-thirds, social welfare programs designed to get people off of welfare instead of dependent on it except in the case of those who are truly unable to work, a balanced budget and increase science spending.

      However, please be aware that we do spend $18B per year on NASA which is well over 1% of war costs.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by roman_mir (125474)

        Sure, but if US gov't didn't run the wars, spending on NASA could be increased by that 1% of the cost of war and at the same time the gov't spending would decrease overall. If the SS and Medicare were reformed (AFAIC they should be abolished, but let's say reformed), so that there is means testing - you don't get it if you don't need it (even those who are getting it today), then US economy could actually deleverage, stop the deficit spending, start paying back some of the debt. If the gov't size shrunk,

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:19AM (#40983043) Journal

    NASA has proposed reorganizing themselves as the "United Earth Directorate" and absorbing all legacy governments.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      NASA has proposed reorganizing themselves as the "United Earth Directorate" and absorbing all legacy governments.

      This position is taken already... by UN.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      That will never get support from the libertarians though. You need to instead replace it with the "Union Aerospace Corporation", with a mandate to build facilities on Deimos and Phobos. What could possibly go wrong?

  • by overshoot (39700) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:36AM (#40983155)
    I wouldn't count on much of anything more substantive than renaming post offices to get through Congress for the foreseeable future.
    • by Hillgiant (916436)

      And even then, over half are being renamed to "Closed".

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Who said they could manage renaming post offices? I mean, I'll grant you that Republicans are in the process of renaming anything they can for Ronald Reagan, but I don't think they can get that through the Senate.

      And they wonder why the Congressional approval rating dropped below 12% this year (it's now bounced back to 17%).

  • Second, NASA funding would be placed on a multi-year rather than annual cycle.

    It seems they have already been on that kind of funding for about 4 years now, seeing as Congress has failed in their Constitutional duty to pass a budget for 4 years...

  • Lots of it happening on both sides this summer. It'll dry up in a few months and most will go back to the golf games and fact-finding trips to the Caribbean.
  • Summary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dywolf (2673597) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @09:16AM (#40983477)

    -First, a NASA administrator would be named to a ten year term. The intent is to provide some continuity in the way the space agency is run and to remove it, as
    much as possible, from the vagaries of politics.
    GOOD.

    -Second, NASA funding would be placed on a multi-year rather than annual cycle. This is of particular importance to the space agency because the majority of its high level projects take several years to run their course. If funding were fixed for a number of years, the theory goes, money could be spent more efficiently. NASA planners would know how much they have to spend four or so years going forward and would not have to worry about being cut off at the knees by Congressional appropriators year after year."
    EXTREMELY GOOD.

    -But is it more than political grandstanding in an election year?
    POSSIBLE. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't happen

    -NASA could get stuck with a bad administrator
    As a part of the executive branch, the president himself has oversight. Also, very unlikely; you dont get picked to run nasa if you're a bad manager

    -multi-year budgets might be a bit unconstitutional
    On what grounds?

    • First, a NASA administrator would be named to a ten year term. The intent is to provide some continuity in the way the space agency is run and to remove it, as much as possible, from the vagaries of politics.
      GOOD.

      Actually, neutral... or at best meaningless. The NASA administrator is already about as insulated from politics as you can get and be an appointed official. (They tend to serve multiple administrations, regardless of party.) The problem, historically, with the office of the administrator is find

  • So, make a clause in the multi-year contract that if the Administrator sucks and isn't doing his job, fire his ass and take the next guy in line.

    Why should these positions be any different than any other employment?

    • Because Government is unlike any other employer.

      This is the reason for the civil service system in the first place. While it has it's downsides, without it all government positions would become political appointees.

      • This incompetent Congress can't do anything beneficial. Does anybody think that a Congress where a huge faction are only 1 step away from flat earthers SHOULD reform anything at NASA? As reasonable as some of these ideas sound they can't get past this Congress without idiocy.

  • Congresses idea of 'Reform' - cut spending on anything not related to the military, and give the money to the rich people as a tax cut.

  • If NASA changed their focus from exploring the Cosmos to searching for God, they would have no trouble getting multi-year funding.

  • Move all of Nasa's office and administrative staff to cheaper office locations. States such as Mississippi and Montana offer much lower salaries as well as cost of living. Incidentally they are also both "red" states. In fact it appears that all of the 10 lowest paid states are all red [wikipedia.org].

  • Although I'm hopeful about the concept, I'm suspicious until the full text of the bill is released. Considering the proponents of the bill, I wouldn't be surprised if this ends up being a thinly-veiled way to protect particular pork projects, worded in such a way that it could only be used to keep projects like SLS from being cancelled while being of limited applicability to other NASA projects. After all, after the Falcon Heavy starts launching, locking SLS into a multi-year procurement contract is probabl

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