Space Coast congressional representative Bill Posey at yesterday's D.C. press conference. Image source: Houston Chronicle.
Space Coast representative Bill Posey was one of six Republican congressmen who co-sponsored legislation introduced yesterday that would strip the President of any NASA decision-making authority.
Titled the "Space Leadership Act," the proposed legislation would turn over management of NASA to an eleven-member Board of Directors mostly appointed by Congress. That Board would then present the President with a list of three candidates for NASA Administrator. That Administrator would serve a ten-year term, and could be removed by a majority vote of the Board.
The six are Reps. John Culberson (TX-07), Frank Wolf (VA-10), Bill Posey (FL-15), Pete Olson (TX-22), James Sensenbrenner (WI-05) and Lamar Smith (TX-21). All are Republicans.
According to Posey's press release:
“NASA has suffered from a lack of continuity and long-term vision,” said Rep. Posey, Representative of Cape Canaveral, Florida. “Our bill fixes NASA's systemic problem and enables NASA to operate beyond short-term political agendas. It adds accountability to the agency, and puts an end to the abrupt terminations that have wasted too many limited dollars. The ability to commit to longer term projects will provide stability, which benefits our national space program, our national security, and will build the stable workforce that is needed to maintain U.S. Space leadership.”
Despite the sponsors' claims that the bill would take politics out of NASA's management, the language suggests the opposite.
The eleven-member Board of Directors would be comprised of eight political appointees by Congress, and three by the President. The majority leader in each house can appoint three members, while the minority leader in each house can appoint one. If one political party dominates Congress, while the President is a member of the other party, then the party opposing the President would have a 6-5 majority running NASA.
Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution vests "executive power" in "a President of the United States of America." Article I, Section I vests "legislative powers" in a "Congress of the United States." It seems unconstitutional to me for the legislative branch to try to give itself an executive power.
The bill specifies the "qualifications" for a board member, but ultimately just who is "qualified" would be determined by the politicians who appointed them. Appointees could be, for example, executives from aerospace companies such as ATK, Boeing or Lockheed Martin. The bill prohibits current employment with one of those companies, but says nothing about owning stock or drawing a pension from that company.
The Board would be required to submit a NASA budget to the President, who would then have to explain to Congress why the White House submitted a proposed NASA budget that differed from the Board's.
The bill also requires the budget to have "strict adherence" to "a balanced program" that includes "a flagship class mission," without explaining just what that is or what purpose it would serve.
Posey and others at the news conference spoke about the billions “wasted” when the Constellation return-to-the-moon program advocated by former President George W. Bush was scrapped by President Barack Obama in 2009. Obama decided instead to focus on pushing the private sector to take over missions to the ISS and develop a heavy-lift rocket for an eventual mission to Mars.
Apparently no mention was made of the several GAO audits prior to 2009 which concluded that Constellation was years behind schedule, billions over budget and "lacked a sound business case."
Watch Sally Ride's presentation to the Augustine Committee.
In fact, it was the late astronaut Sally Ride who presented to an independent panel in August 2009 the findings that Constellation was not sustainable.
No President can cancel unilaterally a program already approved by Congress. The truth is that Constellation was cancelled by Congress after the President recommended a new course. Bipartisan leadership in Congress then directed the President and NASA to begin work on the Space Launch System, supposedly another "flagship class mission" that has no missions or destinations — but according to those who ordered NASA to do it, SLS saves jobs in their districts and states.
The legislation, introduced late in this year's session, has virtually no chance of passing. It's possible the authors hope it might be grafted onto any emergency legislation passed this fall to avoid sequestration; on it own, no President would vote to give authority over NASA to Congress.
In my opinion, this is just another attempt at a power grab by Congress to solve a problem they have created themselves.