Tricia Mack is one of the best EVA officers I ever worked with. Knowledgeable, hardworking, very personable she has trained crews, developed procedures, and kept at least one Flight Director (me) out of EVA hell. I made many requests of her over the years as we worked together, but none of them was as strange as the request I gave her in the fall of last year.
When the Review of Human Spaceflight Plans committee (aka ‘the Augustine Committee’) was established in the late spring of 2009, several NASA folks were assigned to provide help and coordinate assistance to the committee. Tricia was doing a rotational assignment at NASA headquarters and wound up being the secretary for the committee. Phil McAlister, a very able headquarters staffer, was to be the official liaison between NASA and the committee. I was asked to assist Tom Cremins on his support team for ‘Strategic Analysis and Collaboration.” Tom and I had worked together before and I have the highest regard for his abilities, so I had no hesitation in accepting the assignment. Many of the other NASA support staff was old colleagues and some, like Phil, were new to me but we got acquainted in a hurry.
By the end of the summer I regretted accepting the assignment in the worst way. I was so upset with the whole process I told Tricia that I did not want my name listed in the report as having helped. After a short discussion, she complied with my request and you won’t find my name anywhere in their report, especially not in the Appendix B which lists all the NASA folks who supported the review committee in one way or another.
A couple of months later I was notified that I would receive a Group Achievement Award for helping with the committee. I told them I did not want the award and would not accept it. They didn’t know how to handle that request. I boycotted the awards presentation but they still sent me the certificate in the mail. My first impulse was to burn it. I still may.
A fair question to ask is what about the committee’s work so thoroughly upset me? There were a number of factors, far more than I can explore in one short post. So I will deal with the #1 reason: the committee was snookered by OMB.
In the spring of 2009, the Congressional Budget Office released a very well done report which examined the NASA mission as authorized by the Congress at that time. The mission included significant science missions like the Mars Science Laboratory rover and the James Webb Space Telescope, significant expenditures in aeronautics, and then the human space flight program which was Constellation at that time. You can read the whole thing at http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/100xx/doc10051/04-15-NASA.pdf . The CBO’s bottom line: NASA needed about $4 to 6 billion more per year to accomplish its entire authorized mission over the $19 billion in the current budget. A one third increase in funding for NASA was obviously never going to happen.
Even though the paperwork indicates that NASA requested the review committee and set its rules, that was far from what actually happened. OMB and OSTP wanted the committee and directed the acting Administrator to draw up the papers. OMB in particular dictated the parameters of the study. The Committee was tasked with coming up with at least two options for the US Space program that fit within the existing budget; options that exceeded that budget were initially not desired.
Dave Radzanowski, a brilliant NASA budgeteer, gave the committee a series of briefings on the expected future costs of the existing programs which lead to the same conclusion that the CBO had come to in a few months earlier. What to do?
Somewhere the chairman and/or some members of the committee went back to OMB and asked what a reasonable increase in NASA’s budget might be allowed in the future. The answer came back, ramping up to $3 billion per year is the maximum that might be expected but we are more interested in options that fall within the existing budget.
When the committee’s work was all said and done, they provided two options within the existing budget (options 1&2 within the report). The committee chairman flatly stated in public meeting that these were “not very interesting”. All the other options, the ones the committee really liked, the ones “worthy of a great nation” came in well above the existing budget. Whether or not they would really fit within an increase of up to $3 billion over the next several years is a matter of conjecture since the financial estimates made for the committee are highly suspect. But none of those more interesting options come close to the existing budget, that is certain.
Several of the committee members told us NASA pukes that at the very least the committee had ensured that NASA would get a significant budget increase.
When the administration released their budget proposal for NASA, there was an increase over the previous predicted budget – $150 million in FY2010. A pittance. And the out year projections actually went down in some years. So the “flexible path” without a budget to support is now what the nation gets, if we are lucky. Even though the committee wrote a nice paragraph in their report about “matching resources and goals” (section 9.2 page 111) that lesson has fallen on deaf ears, once again.
Those of us who have watched the budget wars from inside government for several decades had a premonition it would turn out this way.
Lots of fancy viewgraph charts. Big changes, imaginary promises, no more money. No bucks, no Buck Rodgers.
Thanks a lot Augustine. The OMB gotcha. I don’t think they ever intended to give NASA any kind of increase. And Congress is already on record to cap the total NASA budget at what the OMB proposed.
Now the weather is turning cooler and I’m thinking about stoking up the fireplace. I’ll need some paper to get the first fire going. I think I know where I can find a piece to burn.