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November 25, 2008

T-Minus 57 Days and Counting

DarkSyde, a leader in the DailyKos community who specializes in science and global climate issues, posted a piece today at DailyKos, with the title I am also using.   Darksyde shares a NYT opinion piece written by Alan Stern, a NASA upper echelon scientist.  Stern wrote about the ineptitude and corruption that's been rampant at NASA.  This is bigtime whistleblowing and could be the beginning of a flood of current and former government workers telling us what isn't working so we can have a crack at fixing it.  

Endemic project cost increases at NASA begin when scientists and engineers (and sometimes Congress) burden missions with features beyond what is affordable in the stated budget. The problem continues with managers and contractors who accept or encourage such assignments, expecting to eventually be bailed out. It is worsened by managers who disguise the size of cost increases that missions incur. Finally, it culminates with scientists who won’t cut their costs and members of Congress who accept steep increases to protect local jobs.

The result? The costs of badly run NASA projects are paid for with cutbacks or delays in NASA projects that didn’t go over budget. Hence the guilty are rewarded and the innocent are punished.


This cancer is bad, but it is curable. The new presidential administration could begin by accounting for cost increases more honestly, using the initial basis on which missions are started, rather than today’s practice of neglecting certain kinds of cost escalation. Further, scientists and engineers should be required, when formulating missions, to ensure their scope matches their budget. And NASA should be charged to reduce or cancel development projects that are not performing to cost. Of equal importance, Congress should turn from the self-serving protection of local NASA jobs to an ethic of responsible government that delivers results.

Yes, controlling the costs of space missions, while ensuring their success and safety, will be a steep challenge for NASA, but NASA’s workforce, from technicians to top executives, is among the government’s most dedicated and capable. This is a challenge that can be met with appropriate leadership.

I'm guessing that Obama's team is a magnet for folks who have been horrified at how inept and corrupt the Bush Administration has been.  It will be interesting to see how much the folks from the inside will be able to assist in uncovering some of the huge problems that we will have to deal with.

Posted by Lynn Allen on November 25, 2008 at 06:22 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink


"Of equal importance, Congress should turn from the self-serving protection of local NASA jobs to an ethic of responsible government that delivers results."

Of more importance, I'd say. The idea that government projects should span as many congressional districts as possible to stay alive is probably as responsible as anything for the high cost of defense programs. So much time and money is spent flying people between offices where a program is administered, implemented, and tested that I'm amazed any projects ever get finished. Add to this the Congressional habit of keeping programs that aren't even wanted by DoD around (the V-22 comes to mind), that you have to wonder how much lower the research budget would be if Congress didn't use it as a way to please the folks back home.

Posted by: Cujo359 | Nov 25, 2008 12:34:12 PM


The one potential good thing about this financial crisis is that we have a chance to unearth the stupid, greed-induced processes that have gotten built into our government at every level.

I suspect that we could come close to balancing our budgets if we could root out and eliminate the hundreds (state-level) or tens of thousands (national-level) of financial handouts and/or tax benefits we have built in to protect or give favor to particular interest groups. I think mostly we are talking businesses here but who knows what is buried down there?

Posted by: Lynn Allen | Nov 27, 2008 9:45:39 AM

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