Yesterday I listed the various ways that the current mess at NASA (more here and here) should look familiar to experienced administration-watchers. There was the deliberate under-enforcement by appointed hacks, the intimidation of career professionals trying to do their job, and of course the fiscal mismanagement. I’m embarrassed to admit today that, via this morning’s New York Times, I missed a few other common points.
First, the annoying habit of using mid-level agency positions as a patronage mill for the inexperienced but ideologically pure:
The Big Bang memo came from Mr. Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose résumé says he was an intern in the “war room” of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M, he was also the public-affairs officer who sought more control over Dr. Hansen’s public statements.
In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word “theory” needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.
The Big Bang is “not proven fact; it is opinion,” Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, “It is not NASA’s place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator.”
…On Friday evening, repeated queries were made to the White House about how a young presidential appointee with no science background came to be supervising Web presentations on cosmology and interview requests to senior NASA scientists.
You also find the reassigning of agency resources for the sake of dingbat crusades:
Starting early in 2004, directives, almost always transmitted verbally through a chain of midlevel workers, went out from NASA headquarters to the agency’s far-flung research centers and institutes saying that all news releases on earth science developments had to allude to goals set out in Mr. Bush’s “vision statement” for the agency, according to interviews with public-affairs officials working in headquarters and at three research centers.
…One NASA scientist, William Patzert, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, confirmed the general tone of the agency that year.
“That was the time when NASA was reorganizing and all of a sudden earth science disappeared,” Mr. Patzert said. “Earth kind of got relegated to just being one of the 9 or 10 planets. It was ludicrous.”
In retrospect you could superimopse the problems at NASA over any of a dozen other Bush administration scandals from Katrina to the disastrous reconstruction of Iraq. I have no doubt that the current NSA scandal will turn out the same way, with a dingbat administrator, Lt. Gen. Hayden, and some ideologically pure appointees intimidating career professionals into a half-baked and illegal drain on critical agency resources. It’s unreasonable at this point to expect anything different.
And more! If an agency submits an ideologically-inconvenient scientific report, just rewrite the report.
In an unprecedented action, the Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientific panel on Friday challenged the agency’s proposed public health standards governing soot and dust.
….Some panel members called the administrator’s actions “egregious” and said his proposals “twisted” or “misrepresented” their recommendations.
….Cal/EPA’s air pollution epidemiology chief, Bart Ostro, charged during the teleconference that the EPA had incorporated “last-minute opinions and edits” by the White House Office of Management and Budget that “circumvented the entire peer review process.”
One of those plays that never gets old.
From the same article, one last maneuver from the Bush playbook (playpamphlet?). What’s the point of drafting complicated policies when you could have your friends in industry write it for you:
[Ostro] said research that he and others had conducted also had been misrepresented in the EPA’s lengthy justification for the proposed new standards.
In an interview later, Ostro said he was referring to marked-up drafts of Johnson’s proposals that showed changes by the White House budget office and language that was “very close to some of the letters written by some of the trade associations.”
One thing you can say for sure is that they’ll keep calling these plays as long as they keep winning.