I’ve noticed a meme over the past years that NASA would be able to accomplish more if it didn’t keep getting its direction changed every time a new President comes in, or every time there is a shakeup in Congress. A strong corollary to this meme seems to be that these changes (and the accompanying program cancellations or restructurings) are entirely politically driven, and that the programs (to badly mangle a Scooby-Doo-ism) “would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for that pesky president and his OMB”. According to this mythology, the Constellation moon program wasn’t canceled because it was running horrendously overbudget or that its schedule was slipping more than one year per calendar year real time. It wasn’t canceled because it would supply a Space Station crew delivery vehicle several years after they planned to splash the ISS. It wasn’t canceled because it required magically huge increases in NASA’s budget to deliver anything at all, and would then cost even more to actually use it for anything. In this mythology CxP was canceled because Obama didn’t want to continue a program that George W. Bush started.
A recently announced bill in Congress seems to be motivated by belief in this meme. As I understand it, this bill would do the following:
- Make the NASA Administrator position a 10-year position
- Remove the OMB from oversight into NASA’s budget
- Allow NASA’s budget to use a multi-year appropriation
Even ignoring how much of a disaster it would be for NASA if it ended up being stuck with someone like Mike Griffin as admin for 10 years, this bill leaves a few of questions:
- What happens under a multi-year appropriation when you have a major program blow its budget by a large margin?
- Can Congress really make a multi-year appropriation that legally binds future Congresses?
- Would this make it harder to kill a Zombie Program like Constellation in a timely fashion?
- Is the FBI really a good model for an organization like NASA when it comes to appropriations?
- Do we really want to slow down the feedback loop on making needed direction changes within NASA?
I can see some benefits in not having to deal with a ton of small continuing resolutions ever year, but my worry is that this is just a play to protect congressional interests from proper oversight and making it harder to terminate wasteful (but Congressionally popular) programs.