A possible source of the five-year delay policy
by Michael Huang
|Promising one policy before an election and pursuing another in office is not the new politics that Obama wants to represent.|
The end of the election has seen a rush of new space policies and suggestions for President-elect Obama. Some are predictably attempting to downgrade human spaceflight in the new administration. It would be more appropriate if these new space policies had been presented to politicians and the public before the election, before people made their decision and cast their vote. If Obama adopts a different space policy now, he would be abandoning the election promises that he made only a short time ago. Promising one policy before an election and pursuing another in office is not the new politics that Obama wants to represent.
The five-year delay policy, criticized and eventually rejected, has a history before its appearance in the campaign. The policy was described in a publication by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Budget Options is an influential report, published every two years, that presents policy proposals to legislators in Congress. The resulting changes in the budget are projected for the next five to ten years. In the 2007 edition, option 250-3 is to “Delay NASA’s Constellation Program by Five Years”. The wording is almost identical to the line in the education policy: “…paid for by delaying the NASA Constellation Program for five years…”
The explanatory notes state that “A delay of five years in developing and operating the CEV [Crew Exploration Vehicle, Orion], CLV [Crew Launch Vehicle, Ares I], and CaLV [Cargo Launch Vehicle, Ares V] would extend to almost a decade the currently planned four-year hiatus in manned space missions and it would hamper the nation’s ability to transport crew to the International Space Station.” In addition, “Such a delay also might adversely affect NASA’s ability to sustain the engineering workforce needed to support human spaceflight, including the workers who now conduct launch operations at the Kennedy Space Center.” Both of these drawbacks became critical issues during the campaign. If the source of the delay policy was this CBO document, the question is why this policy was used for months, when its problems were clearly stated and explained so early in the process. A nine-year gap would make the US more dependent on Russia and exacerbate the problem of experienced aerospace workers leaving NASA permanently. The notes also make clear that the five-year delay includes the CEV and CLV, essential for low Earth orbit and space station access. The delay was not restricted to travel beyond low Earth orbit, which was stated at one point during the campaign.
The role of the Congressional Budget Office in space policy should also be examined. CBO is supposed to be objective and nonpartisan, but its Budget Options reports consistently give advice to cancel entire human spaceflight programs. In the 2007 edition, along with the proposal for a five-year delay, there is the option to “End the Space Shuttle Program and Additional Assembly of the International Space Station”. The 2005 edition has the options to “Cancel the Crew Exploration Vehicle and Lunar and Mars Exploration Programs in 2006 and Retire the Shuttle After Completion of the International Space Station in 2010”, and also to “Cancel Shuttle Program and Additional Assembly of the International Space Station”. The 2003 edition provided no advice on the space program. The 2001 edition had the option to “Cancel the International Space Station Program”; the same advice appeared repeatedly in the 1990s. These policy proposals sound like they come from a committed political activist, not an impartial government watchdog. In the area of space policy, CBO will lose its reputation as a nonpartisan agency if it continues this trend of biased policy proposals.
Peter Orszag, the director of CBO from 2007 to 2008, is currently President-elect Obama’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OMB oversees the budgets of all agencies in the executive branch, including NASA. CBO’s position on human spaceflight existed long before 2007, and Orszag’s own views on NASA are unknown. If OMB is starting to use CBO as a source of policies and personnel, then NASA will be in for some tough political fights.
|CBO is supposed to be objective and nonpartisan, but its Budget Options reports consistently give advice to cancel entire human spaceflight programs.|
The test for any government policy is whether people actually support it. The five-year delay policy was tested during the 2008 presidential election campaign, and drew so little support that it was abandoned. It is likely that other CBO policy proposals of this nature would also be opposed. People who have an interest in NASA and space exploration want a program with both robotic and human elements—robots for science and the possible discovery of extraterrestrial life, and humans for engineering and the long-term prospects for human life. This public input was reflected in the space policy that Obama brought to the election in November 2008. The challenge in 2009 is to carry out these promises.