There is a poignant story told about a poor immigrant family when the eldest son tells his father that he wants to go to college. His father ponders this request for a few minutes then replies: “You have my permission.”
That is authorization.
The United States Congress has just passed an authorization bill for NASA. In the finest tradition of the American leadership this was a compromise at the last minute before the end of the fiscal year and the adjournment of the House and Senate
As with all compromises, no faction got everything they wanted, some got nothing; no one is entirely happy, most are glumly resigned. And so, I too, am not happy – but not for the typical reasons.
The authorization bill asks NASA to do, once more, more things than there is money to do them with. Several of the directives, both old and new, have woefully underestimated budgets attached. Unfortunately this is not a new phenomenon; it has been going on for decades. More than one blue ribbon commission report has emphasized the need to have NASA’s appropriated budget match the authorized mission. This authorization bill fails to heed that advice.
Expect in a couple of years there will be speeches made on capitol hill by congressmen who are shocked, shocked that some of NASA’s projects are behind schedule and over budget. There is not enough in the authorization budget estimates to make them successful. What is that definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The US Congress is setting NASA up again, just like it has over and over again for failure.
To add to the problem, the Republicans – who by every poll are forecast to take control of the House in the upcoming election – have pledged to roll back Non-Defense Discretionary Spending (e.g., NASA) to the 2008 funding levels. Whether or not you think this is a good principle in general for the US Government, it would strangle many of the new initiatives proposed by the freshly passed NASA authorization bill.
Happy New Year! Today is the first day of the new US Government Fiscal Year 2011. Much of the government does not have a real budget but is being funded by a Continuing Resolution – in other words, keep doing what you were told to do in FY 2010 at the same spending level you were given in 2010. Sometime after the election, probably after January, Congress will get around to approving an appropriations bill for FY 2011 for NASA. Not all the programs that have been authorized will get the money they expect. Some few lucky programs will get a pittance more; most will have to make do with reductions from the estimates the authorizers made. Estimates which were generally inadequate in the first place.
So the fight continues. As I said in the title, it ain’t over . . . .