Space Isn't a Jobs Program; Let NASA Focus on Mission, Not Pork Politics and Landscaping

Article excerpt

Byline: Rand Simberg, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In the most austere fiscal climate in memory, Congress refuses to be serious about space policy. When the Obama administration, based on recommendations from a blue-ribbon panel in 2009, proposed cancellation of the overbudget, behind-schedule, underperforming Constellation program a year ago, its decision was hamstrung by wording that Congress had added to legislation that prevented NASA from shutting down any aspect of it. As a result, the space agency, like other government programs, has been forced to continue spending hundreds of million dollars on a program that most, including many in Congress, now agree will not move forward in its present form.

And now, while struggling on under the uncertainty of consecutive continuing resolutions, its budget, less than one-half of 1 percent of the total federal budget, the agency is being picked at like a wounded animal on the savannah by the jackals on the Hill. Last month, the new Republican House voted to shift about $300 million from NASA's overhead budget to fund community policing, with no apparent regard for the effect this might have on the agency's operations. One might have expected the previous Democratic House to do such a thing, but one would have thought that Republicans, particularly those claiming to be conservative, would have realized that community policing is a local, not federal responsibility. Yet 70 of them voted to raid the NASA piggy bank.

Last week, the Senate decided to cut almost half-a-billion dollars in funding from NASA's request for money that would develop technologies needed to make deep-space exploration affordable, while ensuring that janitorial and landscaping services at various NASA centers would survive, thus preserving middle-class jobs.

As it happens, there is nothing in the Space Act, NASA's charter, either as originally passed over half-a-century ago or as more recently amended, about preserving jobs of any kind, let alone middle-class ones. But unfortunately, since the end of Apollo, the agency has been largely viewed as a jobs program by the only people on the Hill who really care about it - the representatives and senators in whose districts or states NASA centers and contractors reside, and they generally get themselves assigned to the committees who make the budget decisions. …