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NASA IG Paints Bleak Picture For Agency Projects 73

Posted by samzenpus
from the outlook-not-so-good dept.
coondoggie writes "The bottom line for NASA as well as any number of government agencies in this new era of sequestration is money — and NASA in this case has too many programs chasing too few dollars. That is just one of a number of bleak conclusions NASA's Inspector General Paul Martin laid out to a Congressional hearing adding that 'declining budgets and fiscal uncertainties present the most significant external challenges to NASA's ability to successfully move forward on its many projects and programs. For the first 6 months of this year, NASA has operated under a continuing resolution that funds the Agency at last year's level of $17.8 billion. Moreover, NASA's share of the Government-wide sequestration cuts reduce that spending authority by $894 million.'"
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NASA IG Paints Bleak Picture For Agency Projects

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  • by Lotana (842533) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @01:18AM (#43168223)

    Given NASA's constant funding problems for the last few decades, by this point all the talented engineers and researchers would of left. Also with the current political environment of focusing spending on the War on Terror related projects and social support, I would be surprised if there will be any increase in budget allocation to the space-related sciences.

    At this rate, is there any meaningful hope left for NASA, JPL or indeed any government-funded space-related agencies?

    • by crutchy (1949900)

      at the moment, nobody really gives a fuck about nasa or space since they're trying to focus on figuring out how to pay their bills, and rightly so... i know nasa bureaucrats are thinking of themselves too, but if you like begging for handouts there are other ways/places to do it

      • by TheSeatOfMyPants (2645007) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @05:03AM (#43169081) Journal

        at the moment, nobody really gives a fuck about nasa or space since they're trying to focus on figuring out how to pay their bills, and rightly so...

        Exactly. A few decades ago, the old "we can't just keep throwing money at the poor" reaction made some sense, as things like homeless shelters, support for the elderly & disabled, public schools & universities (like the ones that created much of the original Internet) were relatively well-funded; unemployment wasn't out of hand, minimum wage wasn't being eclipsed by the cost of necessities but there was plenty of help for those that needed it. The situation wasn't remotely near perfect, but it was close enough to divert some funds into scientific endeavors that aren't devoted to saving & drastically improving lives.

        That's not true anymore. Most adults over 30 are under a hell of a lot of pressure between knowing job security is shit, their pay not mirroring how hard/long they work, the cost of necessities is eating most of their paycheck, plus have kids plus elderly/disabled relatives they will (or are) need to help out substantially because the programs that would've done so 30 years ago were cut to the bone. Some of the geeks on Slashdot are (or should be) worrying even if they do earn a good living, as the age bias could easily cause long-term havoc unless they can excel enough at a new career to be hired in middle age with zero work experience in the field. It's usually the inexperienced younger folk that haven't had to help others out yet that shrug the issue off and focus on their dreams & ideals...

        Personally, my thought is that we should return to the overall taxes & spending setup that helped spur the creation of the Internet and the space program, because it's all ultimately interconnected. Those of you whose reaction to the above is to resentfully think that a lack of dependents & current success means you shouldn't have to pitch in, that's what it will take if you want an America like the one that achieved great things several decades ago; if you want one like the stagnating, slowly failing one of the last 12 years where people focus on individually scrabbling for what they can grab for themselves rather than working together to achieve great things, keep pushing for the path we're on.

        • by 0111 1110 (518466)

          Personally, my thought is that we should return to the overall taxes & spending setup that helped spur the creation of the Internet and the space program,

          What are you talking about? Are you under the impression that what we have now is not tax and spend?

    • by Tailhook (98486) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @02:38AM (#43168547)

      Given NASA's constant funding problems for the last few decades

      During the last few decades (1990-) NASA has enjoyed consistent funding [wordpress.com] just north of 15 billion inflation adjusted dollars every year. That pattern has survived four presidents and almost six administrations.

      The "funding problem" you imagine is received bullshit. Given that NASA is just one of many 'discretionary' costs that must compete with the ever bloating welfare state and chronic $1E12+ annual deficits since 2008, a NASA spending authority loss of only 5% is a testament to our values and our wisdom.

      Our wisdom... sounds weird doesn't it? Taking the occasional break from self-flagellation is useful behavior.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Given that NASA is just one of many 'discretionary' costs that must compete with the ever bloating welfare state and chronic $1E12+ annual deficits since 2008, a NASA spending authority loss of only 5% is a testament to our values and our wisdom.

        That's a lot of shit. NASA's budget amounts to a rounding error on our military budget. If you think that makes us wise, it's clear you are not even distantly acquainted with wisdom.

        • by khallow (566160)
          I think the US is spending too much on the military, but the military does national defense, which is one of the few things that most people agree is important.
          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            I think the US is spending too much on the military, but the military does national defense, which is one of the few things that most people agree is important.

            I agree, but I think it should be tempered by the needs of planetary defense. Also, pork.

            • by khallow (566160)

              I agree, but I think it should be tempered by the needs of planetary defense.

              The US military happens to be a better fit than NASA for planetary defense as well. Among other things, the US military has a bigger space budget than NASA does and they built and operated the existing systems for detecting threats on Earth and in space.

              Also, pork.

              The problem here is that NASA is just as pork-ridden and inefficient as the US military. If we redirect the waste from the US military without doing a similar cleanup at NASA, then we'll still squander that money.

              • by drinkypoo (153816)

                The problem here is that NASA is just as pork-ridden and inefficient as the US military.

                I'd rather have space pork than exploding pork.

    • During the cold war, NASA made sense as an ICBM/anti-russki R&D department that had the beneficial side-effect of space exploration. Now, despite $1.5 Tn being available to invade a single country, there's no military fiscal connection.
    • Given NASA's constant funding problems for the last few decades, by this point all the talented engineers and researchers would of left.

      Yet, we have two rovers on Mars and two orbiters at Mars, an orbiter at Saturn, an orbiter at Mercury, a fly-by probe on the way to Pluto, multiple astronomical observatories, lunar orbiters, and more earth sciences orbiters than you can shake a stick at... In fact, NASA has more going on currently [nasa.gov] than at almost any other time in it's history. I'd suggest you calibrate your biases against reality, because the former is way out of touch with the latter.
       

      At this rate, is there any meaningful hope left for NASA, JPL or indeed any government-funded space-related agencies?

      I've been hearing that question since the mid-70's - NASA watchers seem to be mostly nothing but a bunch of Chicken Little's for whom the sky is perpetually falling.
       
      From years of watching NASA, their problems aren't so much budgetary and managerial... and not just at HQ, but all the way out to the line troops at the Centers. NASA has a long standing problem with properly estimating and managing their budgets. To be fair, some of that isn't their fault - Congress is rarely inclined to fund the engineering development missions that would give them the experience to do so... as a result, practically every program and mission is a one-off that absolutely must succeed because failure isn't an option. And because Congress and the general public treat every failure as an earth shattering disaster, something of a positive feedback loop has been established which just makes the problem worse.

    • Let me correct your statement: "Given NASA's constant funding problems for the last few decades," In fact you meant to write, "Given NASA's constant spending problems for the last few decades..."

      They have an $18B budget yet can't find a way to get by. Really? Maybe it is time to re-examine what NASA should and should not be about and fit that into the $18B instead of crying about not getting more to fund extravagant missisions of dubious value. ISS? $100B for what great scientific achievments that only

      • Part of the problem is that NASA is so hamstrung by political interference, it's hard for them to change anything. NASA HQ has been trying to divest itself of unneeded real-estate assets for years or close marginal centers, but each time it tries, the congress person representing the district in question raises holy hell. Never mind the Senate Launch System, the $40 billion dollar rocket NASA doesn't want
    • by dainbug (678555)
      Absolutely! There are in fact many talented engineers, men and women who put up with below market pay and benefits, insecure working environment and a country full of fools who villainize (demonize) public employees. If you are lucky enough to know one, ask them why.
  • $894 million is a lot of money, but out of a budget of $17.8 billion, NASA has to figure out how to do with 5% less.
    • by Pretzalzz (577309) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @01:38AM (#43168317)

      Try again. Sequestration hit 5 months into the year. Assuming a relatively constant spending of money, $894 million is 8.6% of $10.4 billion[which is 7/12 of 17.8 billion]. This makes senses as it is the commonly quoted percentage for every agency facing cuts. But all of that budget isn't really cuttable. Say half of the budget is uncuttable. That leaves you needing to suddenly cut 20% out of the budget that is cuttable. This is where you get 1 day a week furloughs and whole programs/services eliminated like we've been hearing about in other agencies.

    • by crutchy (1949900)

      i'm surprised they didn't threaten another challenger disaster or an apollo 1 fire or some other fearmongering nonsense, especially since the white house is leading the way with that tactic

      • by JWW (79176)

        i'm surprised they didn't threaten another challenger disaster or an apollo 1 fire or some other fearmongering nonsense, especially since the white house is leading the way with that tactic

        That would require NASA participating in Human Spaceflight, a business they currently are not participating in anymore.

        • by crutchy (1949900)

          they send bodies... erm i mean astronauts... over to russia for testing... erm i mean launches... in ukraine

          but in any case, i wonder if most americans know this? i mean if they believe the tripe that comes out of the white house...

    • Meanwhile at the DOD [guardian.co.uk]: Pallets of shrinkwrapped Benjamins equal to 13 years of savings from NASA budget cuts simply vanished and no one can explain where they went.

      THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS.
  • It works for everyone else!
  • "Nobody ever ruined their eyesight by looking at the bright side of something." - current footer citation

    Do not look into the bright side of the Sun with remaining eye.

  • If you want to talk about "eras", we should talk about the "era" of relying on the government for access to space being just about over now.

    NASA is doing some good work still but properly they should be scaled back, as private companies move now to take us into space far cheaper than NASA ever could. The sequestration cuts are tiny compared to the reductions that make sense for them now.

    • by asm2750 (1124425)
      NASA never built the rockets only maintained and launched them. It was companies like Boeing (McDonnell), Lockheed, and NAA that made programs like Apollo and the Shuttle possible. The same companies still build similar launch hardware but they charge an arm and leg for private and government launches it is still access to space from private companies.

      NASA (with FAA help most likely) is probably move to a regulatory role with launch providers and, sequestration is going to hinder private manned space flig
      • by trout007 (975317)

        The contractor USA (United Space Allience) maintained and launched te Shuttles. Technically NASA owned the vehicles and facilities but Civil Servants only ever made up 10% or so of the workforce. You need at least a few technical people around to help write clear contracts.

  • Welcome to the new USA "Austerity [wikipedia.org]." It wasn't officially passed, it came in the back door.
  • by Cornwallis (1188489) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @03:44AM (#43168747)

    The entire sequestration issue is nothing but a political red herring. Of course NASA must shrink.

    If you believe in Peak Oil this seems to be a logical partner:

    http://www.peakprosperity.com/blog/acknowledging-arrival-peak-government-part-1/75356 [peakprosperity.com]

  • Looks like.
    Transfer homeland defense budget to NASA problem solved.

  • by flowerp (512865) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @05:12AM (#43169147)

    some of them might actually get the funding ;)

  • by Virtucon (127420) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @07:32AM (#43169803)

    It's sad to see an Inspector General get on a politicized soap box and yell "the sky is falling!" The Obama administration has gone out of its way to have every cabinet member and in fact everybody down the food chain or should I say "feeding trough" also echo a bunch of FUD over the sequestration. Just like our retarded Homeland Security Chief Napolitano, a bigger political idiot I'd be challenged to find on this planet! [thegatewaypundit.com] Wasn't it her program of "If you see something, say something?" Hey Janet, "you're a retard and a hypocrite because on one hand you tell us that because of sequestration the TSA will have to cut back and we'll have longer waits at the airport and yet you spend another $50M you didn't need toright after announcing that!" Sorry for ranting.

    In the private sector, every manager usually has a few goals established that are boilerplate but still applicable.. One of them is "Reduce Costs by x%" usually x is 10. All of us in this economy has had to cut back and it's time for the US Government to stop spending every dollar they take in and a third more. $900B deficits are killing us now and will only get worse, it has to stop.

    If you look at the data for NASA the current budget while it is less than they've spent under Continuing Resolutions but in FY2009 [wikipedia.org] (The last year a budget was passed by Congress) Their budget was $17,782B. in 2010 and 2011 they were allowed to spend $18,724B and $18,448B respectively. That's pretty hefty in terms of spending increases and let's not forget they were still flying the Space Shuttles during those fiscal years! It was hella expensive to launch a shuttle and it has been a drain on NASA's budget for decades. By some estimates $192B over the life of the Shuttles.
    Now the IG is whining that the budget is going to cause problems? I'd submit that after the Shuttle program ended that the budget should have gone down. But no, it's now down by their latest projection for FY2012 (the current budget year) $17,770B roughly the same as in FY2009!?!? Assuming 4 launches launches per year (FY2010) [wikipedia.org] @ $1.5B/launch [forbes.com] that's $6B just for not flying the Shuttle, but yet the budget didn't go down. Granted only two shuttles flew in FY2011, I'd still submit that's $3B that went to something "else."
    What ever "else" is they need to just stop doing that because it came into fruition over the last year.

    This is a very very poor set of arguments from an official who is supposed to be independent and the watchdog for the American People and he's not doing his job by echoing the same BS and FUD that the administration has pushed out since February. They have eliminated the Shuttle, reducing expenses of $6B/year and they want more money? What every they're smoking they need to share it with the rest of us!

    This kind of attitude clearly points out why there's such a huge vacuum of leadership in DC. From Congress to the White House, it's time to vote them all out of office, but first fire this IG!

  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @07:51AM (#43169917)
    Well if NASA did not stop throwing billions down the manned spaceflight rathole, it would not be in such a mess. Nobody cares about ISS or SLS and few, if any, scientific discoveries has come from the manned missions. All the science (and excitement) is coming from robotic probes such as Curiousity. The SLS is the rocket to nowhere; its only purpose is to create jobs. Unfortunately NASA is run by ex-pilots, not scientists...
  • by stenvar (2789879) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @07:54AM (#43169953)

    If we spend more and more money on entitlements, crony capitalism, global warming remediation, and bailing out home owners who can't afford their McMansions, there will be just less and less money left for interesting stuff like space exploration.

    Having said that, NASA's budget in constant dollars is actually historically fairly high:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA [wikipedia.org]

    Of course, given rampant fiscal irresponsbility, its percentage share of the total federal budget is declining, but that's hardly a decline in funding.

  • Obama killed the moon trip the mars trip and most of manned spaceflight altogether. NASA is a self admitted Muslim outreach program now. I mean for all his blather about education how much of that do you need to be part of Obama's infinite cadres of teacherscopsfirefighters?

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