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NASA IG: Major Challenges Facing NASA in 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA's Inspector General (IG), Paul Martin, is testifying to the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee this morning. His written testimony is available on the Office of Inspector General (OIG) website.

Martin's bottom line is that NASA is in a "state of significant uncertainty" and its "most immediate challenge" is managing the agency's programs "amid the continuing lack of clarity caused by conflicting legislative directives" in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act and the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act that prohibits NASA from cancelling the Constellation program or initiating a replacement program until Congress gives its approval in a subsequent appropriations act.

He goes on to list six key challenges facing NASA:

  • Future of U.S. Space Flight
  • Acquisition and Program Management
  • Infrastructure and Facilities Management
  • Human Capital
  • Information Technology Security
  • Financial Management

House Tea Party Republicans May Force Deeper Cuts

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The cuts proposed yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee reportedly are not being warmly received by the conservative Tea Party Republicans in the House who promised to cut $100 billion in spending during their campaigns.

Doing the math is a problem in calculating how much of a cut was proposed, starting with the fundamental question of whether the baseline is the President's FY2011 budget request or the FY2010 appropriated levels under which the government is currently operating based on the Continuing Resolution (CR). Appropriators used the FY2011 President's request as their baseline, but apparently the Tea Party Republicans want the cut to be from current spending, which is the FY2010 level. If the FY2011 request is used, the House Appropriations Committee's cuts would total $74 billion. If the FY2010 level is used, the cut is only $32 billion according to calculations by the newspaper The Hill.

Using NASA as an example, its FY2010 level is $18.724 billion, while the FY2011 request is $19.000 billion. The House appropriations committee proposed a $379 million cut to NASA's FY2011 request, which would give the agency $18.621 billion, $103 million less than its FY2010 level. Under the Tea Party Republican approach of using the FY2010 level as the baseline, NASA would end up with $18.345 billion. Any cut would have to be absorbed in just 7 months instead of 12 months, since 5 months of FY2011 will have passed by the time the current CR expires on March 4.

Another question is whether the $100 billion cut should come only from non-security programs as recommended by the House Republican Study Committee, or if cuts to the Department of Defense, for example, can be included in the calculation. House appropriators reportedly want to include the cuts they proposed to the FY2011 request for security programs, but if the FY2010 figures are used as the baseline instead, that spending would increase.

As Republicans debate these points, the upshot is that the numbers released yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee may become only the tip of the iceberg in whatever the House passes. Politico reports that the chairs of the appropriations committee and its subcommittees "were closeted away in the Capitol, fending off talks of across-the-board cuts but also admitting they will most likely need days more to come up with an alternative."

Across-the-board cuts are sometimes used by Congress to meet a target spending goal. Each agency is dealt with individually, but then a certain percentage cut is applied to all of them, usually to be taken at an agency's discretion on an account-by-account basis.

What the Senate will do with whatever legislation is sent to them by the House is highly uncertain. Senators reacted cooly to the earlier-announced House cuts; deeper cuts presumably would increase their concern. With the expiration of the current CR only three weeks away, and the House and Senate scheduled to be in recess for one of those weeks (February 21-25), the clock is ticking for resolving these profound issues.

House Appropriators Will Cut $100 Billion from President's FY2011 Request

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, announced this afternoon that his committee will yield to demands of the Tea Party Republicans and cut $100 billion from the budget in the upcoming Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for the rest of FY2011. The cut will be from the FY2011 President's budget request, not current spending levels at the FY2010 level. Details on where the additional cuts will come from were not revealed.

The cuts announced by the committee yesterday totalled $74 billion from the FY2011 request, meaning that an additional $26 billion in cuts are needed. The cuts will have an even greater impact because they will have to be absorbed by the affected agencies over just 7 months instead of 12 months because the new legislation will not be enacted until at least March, when five months of FY2011 will have elapsed.

In a statement, Rep. Rogers said:

"After meeting with my subcommittee Chairs, we have determined that the CR can and will reach a total of $100 billion in cuts compared to the President's request immediately - fully meeting the goal outlined in the Republican Pledge to America' in one fell swoop. Our intent is to make deep but manageable cuts in nearly every area of government, leaving no stone unturned and allowing no agency or program to be held sacred. I have instructed my committee to include these deeper cuts, and we are continuing to work to complete this critical legislation."

UPDATE: NASA Cut $379 Million, NOAA Cut $336 Million, in House Appropriations Proposal for CR For Rest of FY2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: The House Appropriations Committee has now posted its "partial list of 70 spending cuts" it is proposing for the FY2011 CR. The list includes the $379 million cut to NASA reported by the National Journal, as well as a $336 million cut to NOAA's budget, and one of the largest cuts -- $1.1 billion -- is from the Department of Energy's Office of Science (the press release does not specify that it is DOE's Office of Science, but a committee staffer confirmed that it is). NSF would also get cut by $139 million, and the National Institutes of Health by $1 billion.

ORIGINAL STORY: The document is not yet posted on the House Appropriations Committee's website, but the National Journal (subscription required) reports that the Continuing Resolution (CR) as reported from that committee for the rest of FY2011 includes a $379 million cut to NASA. The article states:

"The spending bill will also include cuts to several of Congress' sacred cows: a $379 million cut to the NASA; a $224 million cut to Amtrak, and a $256 million cut in assistance to state and local law enforcement."

The cut presumably is to the FY2011 President's budget request of $19.0 billion, which would put the agency roughly at its FY2010 level of $18.7 billion. We will provide more details when they are available.

Need a Break From Budget News? Watch A Comet Encounter on Monday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA cleverly designed the Stardust-NExT mission to have its encounter with comet Tempel 1 on Valentine's Day, but that was when the President's budget request for FY2012 was to be released a week earlier. Now, the two coincide. For those on the East Coast who are still awake near midnight on Monday and need relief from analyzing the budget request, the Tempel 1 encounter will be televised on NASA TV beginning at 8:37 pm PST (11:37 pm EST).

A press conference will be held the next day at 10:00 am PST (1:00 pm EST) at which Science Mission Directorate head Ed Weiler and three Stardust-NExT scientists -- Joe Veverka of Cornell, Tim Larson of JPL, and Don Brownlee of the University of Washington-Seattle -- will speak.

Republican Lawmakers Want Human Spaceflight, Not Climate Change Research

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

A group of Republican lawmakers have written to the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and its Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee recommending that funds for NASA's climate change research satellites be shifted to human spaceflight, reports Space News today.

The letter to Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) reportedly was signed by Reps. Pete Olson (R-TX), Bill Posey (R-FL), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Sandy Adams (R-FL), Rob Bishop (R-UT), and Mo Brooks (R-AL). All have districts with interests in the human spaceflight program.

Many Republican Members of Congress are skeptical that climate change is human-induced and in the past have not been particularly supportive of NASA programs focused on climate change research. Recommendations to cut those programs thus are not surprising, whether the money is reallocated to other space activities or to deficit reduction.

The House Republican leadership is expected to introduce the latest Continuing Resolution (CR) later this week, perhaps Thursday, with a vote anticipated next week. The CR would cover the rest of FY2011. Overall spending for domestic discretionary spending is slated to drop by $74 billion compared to the President's FY2011 budget request (or $32 billion compared to FY2010 spending) in whatever is introduced, but various news sources indicate that Tea Party Republicans plan to offer amendments to cut more deeply. The Republican Study Committee, for example, wants to cut $100 billion to fulfill a Republican campaign promise. Others argue that a cut of that magnitude, which would have to be absorbed with only seven months remaining in the fiscal year, is too precipitous.

The impending House cuts have received a tepid response in the Senate so far.

ATK and Astrium to Team on New Rocket

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

ATK and Europe's Astrium have announced that they will team to build a new commercial rocket to compete for the commercial crew launch business. Called "Liberty," the rocket will build on the work ATK has been doing for NASA's Ares I.

Ares I is part of NASA's Constellation program that is on its way to being cancelled as soon as Congress passes an appropriations bill that lifts an existing congressional prohibition on terminating the program or beginning a new one. Liberty will use the solid rocket motors ATK was developing for Ares I paired with the first stage of Europe's Ariane rocket, which is built by Astrium. The rocket would be able to lift 44,500 pounds to low Earth orbit with a first launch at the end of 2013, a second test flight in 2015, and operational status is 2015, according to the press release.

Events of Interest: Week of February 7-11, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may of interest in the coming week. For further information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below.

Monday-Tuesday, February 7-8

Tuesday, February 8

Wednesday-Thursday, February 9-10

Thursday, February 10

Thursday-Friday, February 10-11

  • NAC, NASA Headquarters, room 9H40
    • Thursday, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm EST
    • Friday, 8:00 am - 12:00 pm EST

Aerospace Corp. Paints Picture of NPOESS Program Doomed From the Start

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) was doomed to failure according to a set of lessons learned identified by the Aerospace Corporation. Its December 2010 report to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was posted on NOAA's website today.

Historically, NOAA and DOD operated separate civil and military polar-orbiting weather satellite systems; NOAA also operates a geostationary weather satellite system. The decision to pursue a "converged" polar-orbiting system to meet both NOAA and DOD requirements was made in 1994 by the Clinton Administration. The Powerpoint briefing by the Aerospace Corporation cites Vice President Al Gore and then-NOAA Administrator James Baker as the architects of the "convergence" plan that became NPOESS. It was a tri-agency partnership among NOAA, DOD and NASA, with NASA serving in a technoiogy development capacity.

The Obama White House dissolved the NPOESS partnership in February 2010 after years of cost growth and schedule slippage. The program was restructured and DOD and NOAA now are returning to building separate systems. NASA is the acquisition agent for NOAA's satellites and its NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft, originally designed as a technology testbed for NPOESS sensors, will be repurposed as an operational satellite for NOAA when it is launched later this year. Congress is still debating funding the new NOAA Joint Polar Satellite System and DOD's Defense Weather Satellite System as part of the FY2011 budget process.

The Aerospace Corporation pulled no punches in its findings about what went wrong. The findings state --

  • Chronic unrealistic cost estimation tainted the budget process, dictated the acquisition strategy, distorted management decisions, and set the program up for overruns
  • Incomplete, inaccurate assertions of heritage contributed to cost estimation problems and led to significantly optimistic assessments of technical and programmatic risk
  • The Government and the prime contractor failed to establish clear, detailed supplier performance expectations and appropriate incentives
  • Multiple factors constrained and eventually eliminated the SPD's authority to make performance trades
  • From the start, the mission priorities of the key Convergence stakeholders were divergent. The formulation of the NPP mission created a "nested", interagency partnership with conflicting risk reduction and climate monitoring mission objectives. The lack of synergy in these partnerships created significant tension in program cost, schedule and performance.
  • The acquisition strategy contained two major flaws, including assumption of the future use of the capability trade space to maintain cost and schedule baselines, and an ill-conceived interagency risk reduction mission that co-mingled the DoD and NASA acquisition paradigms
  • Lack of a sufficent number of talented, sufficiently experienced staff appropriate to the complexity and scope of the acquisition plagued the program and were [sic] a root cause of program execution problems
  • Outside events and pressures impinged on the NPOESS program as it co-evolved with its context, complicating an already difficult program management environment with significant consequences
  • Program management decisions were ill-informed and/or distorted by a combination of factors that worked to divert attention from the core, priority mission requirements. The factors included:
    • politically pressured baseline cost constraints
    • a flawed acquisition strategy
    • cost estimation pathologies
    • dysfunction in the governance structure
    • weak staff support
    • subjective and inaccurate assessment of, and credit for, instrument heritage
    • lack of agility in adapting to the changing program context
    • weak/ineffective oversight of contractor efforts
    • constraints on the capability trade space along with the authority to utilize it

U.S. Should Support but Not Yet Sign EU Code of Conduct Say Former Bush Administration Officials

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Three former Bush Administration officials, one of whom stayed on in the Obama Administration to help craft the current National Space Policy (NSP), agreed today that the United States should indicate support for the European Union (EU) Draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, but not officially sign on to it yet. They spoke at a meeting sponsored by the Marshall Institute on Capitol Hill.

Recent stories in the Washington Times, including one this morning, report that the United States is about to sign up to the draft document, which was adopted by the Council of the European Union on September 27, 2010.

Paula DeSutter, former Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, Scott Pace, former NASA Associate Administrator for Policy Analysis and Evaluation, and Peter Marquez, former Director of Space Policy at the White House National Security Council under both President George W. Bush and President Obama, support the EU draft as an alternative to a draft treaty China and Russia are promoting through the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD).

The EU code of conduct is a set of voluntary guidelines with no enforcement or verification mechanisms. Instead it spells out what constitutes good behavior that space-faring nations should follow. One question was why the United States or any other country should bother signing a document that cannot be enforced. The answer from the speakers involved aphorisms such as "idle minds are the devil's playground" or "nature abhors a vacuum" to indicate the document's ability to divert other countries from promoting less welcome approaches. The prime example cited is the Chinese-Russian Draft Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects (PPWT). DeSutter went so far as to say that the EU code would "undermine" the PPWT and possibly lead to the end of the CD, both positive developments in her view.

All three speakers stopped short of endorsing a formal U.S. adoption of the EU code, noting that the European Union is consulting with many countries and others might insist on changes. They recommend that the United States wait until the end of the process or risk losing its own leverage over the final wording. The draft code was adopted as an internal EU document that is not subject to negotiation with third countries, but it "invites the [EU] High Representative to pursue consultations with third countries" and "All States will be invited to adhere on a voluntary basis to the Code...."

Another question was, if the United States does agree to it, whether it should be sent to the Senate for advice and consent as is required for treaties. DeSutter said that strictly speaking that is a question for lawyers, but in general she thinks it would be a good idea to put it through though those "tests" to see if the country really supports it. Pace and Marquez agreed.

Each of the speakers offered several tweaks in wording, but overall thought the document was solid. DeSutter and Marquez agreed that it was better than anything the United States could have drafted, although Marquez asserted that we already have expressed our own code of conduct in the principles section of the Obama National Space Policy. He finds the overlap between those principles and the EU code of conduct to be quite close, making it fairly straightforward for the United States to agree with the European document.

Events of Interest

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »


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