Questions at several NASA centers are being raised about money, or more specifically the lack thereof. There are some serious claims floating around at these centers that NASA management in Washington is using a 80/20 rule for human space flight development; NASA headquarters will release up to 80% of 2010 funding but hold back the remaining 20% to prevent any budget overages. The end result of this budgetary legerdemain is NASA centers are laying-off skilled engineering contractors, and doing so beyond those who were to be laid-off due to the termination of the Shuttle program this year to include those attached to Constellation. These are people who will be needed to complete the new Space Launch System heavy-lift vehicle and the Multi-Purpose Crewed Vehicle. However, when Congress does finally authorize funding to support the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, it will be too late to bring back that lost talent.
People with whom I’ve talked cannot figure out who is leading this funding shortage effort. They wonder if NASA’s leadership is aware that the talented and skilled workforce needed to succeed in building the SLS and MPCV is being lost to such funding shortfalls? Some are worried that this could be a sideways attempt to cut the Agency, but without Congressional approval, in order to please their higher-up’s. Or worse, to make the Agency incapable of succeeding in the programs authorized by Congress and making a fait accompli the need to outsource human space flight.
Currently, NASA is funded through a continuing resolution (CR) that funds the Agency at levels of the previous fiscal year. Given that NASA’s 2010 budget was $18.7 billion, that NASA’s funding in the 2010 Omnibus Bill contains language directing no changes to be made to terminate Project Constellation, NASA should have plenty of money. There is no language within the 2010 Omnibus spending bill nor the 2010 NASA Authorization Act to support holding back funding within NASA. Indeed, members of both Appropriations Committees in Congress have reminded NASA’s executive management that they have the funds and flexibility to comply both with the 2010 Omnibus language and the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.
Perhaps this is a misguided effort to “starve the beast”, i.e. NASA, in order to support the President’s original goal of outsourcing the nation’s human space flight program? A long-time, senior NASA engineer told me a little while ago that in NASA, “You work for the President, not for Congress. If you are told to do something, you put you head down and get it done.”
Ultimately, NASA belongs to the American people, not the President. The old adage, “The President proposes and the Congress disposes” is accurate. This means that, according to the Constitution, ultimately it is Congress that directs NASA.
A great leader once said, “Engineers are generally citizens too. Citizens in our republic have a duty to be involved in the political process.” It shouldn’t need to be stated, but if any NASA civil servant or contractor knows of activities or actions undertaken by NASA not in agreement with the budget laws funding NASA, call your Congressional Representative. Ultimately, this is our Agency, part of our nation’s heritage, paid for with our tax-dollars and not the private play-thing of the President or his appointees.