“While it is true that prudent investments in science and technology will almost certainly yield future economic gains and will allow our knowledge economy to grow, it is also true that these gains can be thwarted by poor decision-making,” Chairman Hall said. “Americans expect and deserve better. With our unemployment hovering at over 9 percent, they expect us to reduce or eliminate those programs that are duplicative and wasteful and examine ways to advance real job creation and economic growth, not just spend their hard-earned money on what the government assumes is best for them.”
Hmmm…I can think of a few examples of massive projects that fit those descriptions. Like say SLS?
- Duplicative: In the near term, without any plan for BEO exploration hardware, SLS will be duplicating the function of commercial crew launchers–sending astronauts to the station (on MPCV), but at far higher costs.Â If at some point an upper stage and actual exploration hardware do get funded (10-15 years from now), SLS will mostly be launching propellant–something private rockets are also capable of doing.Â So, duplicative? Check.
- Wasteful: The development cost to the government of both the EELV programs and the two COTS programs are less than half one year’s worth of SLS funding, even at the lower projected rate that Obama proposed in his FY’12 budget, and even including the $300M increase in COTS funding. Those programs are giving NASA and the DoD four launchers, with at least some capabilities on both coasts, as well as two ISS cargo vehicles.Â Even if you include the total government and private investment in developing those rockets, the total cost is far less than SLS alone will spend over the next 3 years, let alone to completion. Even if you insist on building an HLV, and even if NASA is the only customer (likely), these programs demonstrate that the expected $10B+ development cost for SLS is disturbingly high compared to the cost of developing vehicles for launching critical national security assets.Â Wasteful? Check.
- Job Creation? Economic Growth? SLS is a NASA-specific products with no real outside commercial benefit, that will reuse obsolete technology in an effort to maintain as many existing jobs as possible. It is really just a zero-sum wealth transfer from the productive part of economy to politically-connected contractors. Actual economic growth and job creation come from creating new goods and services that provide for peoples wants and needs at increasingly affordable prices.Â Innovation, both technical and entrepreneurial are what drive job creation and economic growth–not running government-directed design bureaus to produce products that are irrelevant outside of NASA’s needs.Â Contrast this with EELVs, the COTS vehicles, Commercial Crew, and many of the technology programs NASA wants to fund, that serve multiple public and private needs, create wealth, and provide jobs that are backed by eventually self-perpetuating wealth-creating enterprises. So, Job Creation, Economic Growth? Not so much.
- Spending Tax Money on What Government Thinks is Best for Them? The big push for SLS development from the Senate (which has won it the nickname “the Senator Launch System”) and the even bigger push from the House, were led primarily by Congressmen from states that directly benefit from continued spending in this area. The ironic thing is that it’s pretty clear that even NASA doesn’t entirely want SLS, but you have Congressmen trying to legislate the design of a launch vehicle. To the point of Utah reps bragging about how language they put into the bill supposedly can only be met by using hardware procured in a non-competitive manner from bloated contractors in their districts (which I’m sure didn’t make any campaign contributions to help grease the palms of their Congressional enablers). There are few clearer examples of Congress forcing the government to build something that is more in the personal interests of certain Congressmembers than is actually beneficial for tax-paying public. Check.
Not trying to pick on Representative Hall.Â I actually have a bit of a soft-spot for the guy, since he came out and spoke at the NGLLC awards ceremony.Â Just pointing out that he has good advice, and it would be great if he consistently followed it.
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