Andy Pasztor over at the Wall Street Journal is reporting in NASA Contractors Face Shutdown Costs about some of the unusual tactics NASA executive leadership is taking in trying to end Project Constellation, appropriations language not withstanding. The backdoor the Administration’s people at NASA are taking is to strictly adhere to the letter of the law concerning contractors’ requirement to budget funds sufficient for contract termination. Sounds like a reasonable requirement to many. But as with most things, there’s a catch.
According to industry and government officials, Johnson Space Center in the past was not required to strictly follow the same accounting and program-management rules that applied to other parts of NASA. That is one of the reasons why many Constellation managers consistently relied on assurances from some NASA managers that the agency would step in and cover liabilities in the unlikely event termination became an issue. Otherwise, large sections of our space program could be slowed or shut-down as contractors scramble to find money to cover contract termination contingencies.
NASA Administrator Bolden has stated repeatedly that he is only following the law in enforcing contract termination funding requirments. Perhaps. But to many, one of whom is likely Senate Appropriations Science Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, this tactic smacks of an end-around of Congressional will that Constellation remain the nation’s human space flight program until such time as the Congress has a chance to make a decision. We are pretty sure that this topic will be one that the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee’s Ranking Member, Senator Kay Hutchison, will focus on during today’s hearing when she grills NASA Administrator Bolden.
We think the Administrator and his subordinates are being a bit too clever by half. Attempting to defy the will of Congress could have the effect of rallying Congress around Constellation. And the actions by the Administrator and others at NASA could have other unintended consequences as well.