Imagine that your’e the head of a biggish governmental agency in the middle of a budget crunch. You need a bit more cash to finish the year under budget, but you know that the government’s got its own fiscal problems to deal with. What do you do?
If your first reaction was ‘make do with what you’ve got,’ now you know why you’re not running a government agency.
You could just pick up the phone and call in some chips from Congressional allies. Even if that works you’ve rashly called in favors that you might need later if you get caught sneaking kickbacks or some new administration has a golden boy they want to park at your desk. Plus it makes you look like a poor fiscal manager.
You could try running the agency more efficiently until the balance goes back into the black, but the problem with that approach is that people will figure that you can pull the same trick next year. They’ll come to expect it and funds will go to squeakier wheels than you. Road crews, for example, have a magical ability at spending just enough each year to justify more cash next year; if some inventor ever created a pothole-proof asphalt he’d likely end up as foundation for an off-ramp.
The ideal solution calls for a touch of theater. Assuming that anybody cares about what you do, wait until the last minute and cut whatever you think people will miss most (call it program ‘A’). The media will go nuts and politicians who normally wouldn’t give a rat’s ear suddenly have to deal with screaming constituents jamming their phone lines. If there’s a program that you want to kill, call it program ‘B,’ leak word that shifted priorities to B have made A unsustainable. You create a crisis environment, which is where government does its best work, and you’ve laid out a clear solution. Congress can either raise taxes, defund school lunches or direct you to cut ‘B,’ it’s all good.
As far as NASA is concerned Mars is program ‘B’ in a big way. Bush’s mania for manned space exploration has drained resources from important missions and forced scientists to shoehorn a Mars angle into practically everything they do, which can make doing their job a real pain in the butt:
In the months before the 2004 election, according to interviews and some documents, these appointees sought to review news releases and to approve or deny news media requests to interview NASA scientists.
Repeatedly that year, public-affairs directors at all of NASA’s science centers were admonished by White House appointees at headquarters to focus all attention on Mr. Bush’s January 2004 “vision” for returning to the Moon and eventually traveling to Mars.
…Many people working at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said that at the same time, there was a slowdown in these centers’ ability to publish anything related to climate.
The leaks regarding Bush’s misguided management of NASA have the ring of truth for any of several reasons. If the president’s sole concern about postwar Iraq was whether the new prime minister would personally thank him then it makes perfect sense that he’d redirect NASA on an ego-driven snipe hunt. With that in mind, it looks like NASA administrator Michael Griffin is pushing back with a bit of brinksmanship-style theater (see below) . More power to him. In a pissing contest between NASA and the president’s airheaded “vision” I support NASA 100%.
Budget Cuts Back Much- Promoted NASA Missions
Some of the most highly promoted missions on NASA’s scientific agenda would be postponed indefinitely or perhaps even canceled under the agency’s new budget, despite its administrator’s vow to Congress six months ago that not “one thin dime” would be taken from space science to pay for President Bush’s plan to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars.
…Among the casualties in the budget, released last month, are efforts to look for habitable planets and perhaps life elsewhere in the galaxy, an investigation of the dark energy that seems to be ripping the universe apart, bringing a sample of Mars back to Earth and exploring for life under the ice of Jupiter’s moon Europa — as well as numerous smaller programs and individual research projects that astronomers say are the wellsprings of new science and new scientists.
The agency’s administrator, Michael D. Griffin, says NASA needs the money to keep the space shuttle fleet aloft, complete the International Space Station and build a new crew exploration vehicle to replace the shuttle.
On the other hand, brinksmanship with Republicans seems like a risky gambit. The right wing has no great love affair with science, especially for an agency that keeps adding fuel to that liberal global warming nonsense. Cross your fingers.