It’s no secret that the Obama administration did not take space exploration very seriously.
It did not seem committed to sending astronauts anywhere and went so far as to scrap NASA’s moon plan without consulting Congress. Eventually, the administration announced a lackluster strategy to reach Mars by 2030 in a seeming attempt to silence the disappointment expressed by a bipartisan coalition headed by NASA heroes such as Neil Armstrong.
Taxpayers didn’t reap any savings from Obama’s myopic thinking. The billions of dollars already spent on the Constellation Program were senselessly wasted away, with taxpayers never seeing or reaping the fruits of their investment.
While canceling out NASA’s moon ambitions was devastating, the one good thing that seemed to come from the pressure Armstrong and others brought to bear was the development of the Space Launch System (SLS), which, when completed, will be the largest, most capable launch system in the history of spaceflight.
SLS will “deliver more payload mass, volume capability and energy to speed missions through space than any current launch vehicle.” It will be a critical tool for America’s defense and exploratory needs, saving important sums of money for the American people for the years to come.
That is, unless resisters and holdovers from the Obama years are able to terminate yet another space project before its completion — throwing billions of taxpayer dollars down the drain for a second time. If these rogues have their way, they will make NASA look like nothing more than a useless, New Deal-era make-work project rather than an essential cog in the wheel that will power American space dominance.
Unfortunately, it appears that an Obama holdover is looking to do just that with the SLS. Last week, Paul Martin, a NASA inspector general appointed by Obama in 2009, released an audit that slammed the SLS for its high costs, seemingly attempting to drum up skeptics’ calls for termination of the program.
The problem is that Martin’s audit is not an honest effort, but rather a political hit job. Martin has been a highly partisan IG — often doing the bidding of his political patrons rather than performing the important function of being a nonpartisan, fair-minded watchdog rooting out waste and wrongdoing. This audit only further tarnishes Martin’s shoddy reputation.
It’s clear that Martin either doesn’t realize or is refusing to acknowledge what everyone knew from the very beginning — that building the SLS would be difficult and costly, but that the long-term benefits to taxpayers would make it all more than worth it in the end.
To reach the conclusions that Martin does, he had to reflexively assume the worst case scenario — even assuming cost overruns on completed work. Additionally, he attributed construction costs and parts for multiple rockets to the first rocket so as to make it appear artificially more expensive. And to make matters even worse, he makes recommendations that were generated and adopted by NASA and the contractors a long time ago — pretending that improvements haven’t been made and that only he had the wisdom to call for better procedures.
But when it came to reviewing real waste in highly questionable NASA contracts, Martin looked the other way. The contractors who were favorites of the Obama administration got a pass for shoddy work and got paid even when they failed to make significant progress or meet benchmarks, in part because Martin covered for them.
In response to Martin’s audit, NASA official William Gerstenmaier was right to remark that "the design, development, manufacturing, testing, and operations of the system are highly complex and represent a national investment in a long-term commitment to deep space exploration."
Gerstenmaier, like many other senior NASA officials, recognizes that the building of a rocket capable of reaching deep space like this is unprecedented, and with competitors in the space race like China mimicking our plans by creating launch vehicles like the Long March 9, it’s critical that we not slow down or get distracted.
Yet, Martin seemed to gloss over NASA’s explanation of the standard “first-time production challenges associated with design development, manufacturing development, restarting a sub-tier supply base, testing, and initial operations,” vaguely making mention of them at the end of his audit. It doesn’t appear that Martin wants anything to get in the way of his petty personal political agenda, which certainly doesn’t include the Space Launch System.
Thankfully, while an IG can certainly make noise and grab headlines, an IG is not supposed to be a policy maker. While NASA can certainly accept the IG’s advice, it’s ultimately the Trump administration and NASA head Jim Bridenstine that make policy decisions.
Martin appears to be an obstructionist holdover who thinks that it is his job to limit NASA to a weak and paltry mission statement. Not only should Martin’s report be set aside, but President Trump should appoint an honest, independent and fair-minded IG for NASA.
Regardless of any new appointments coming from the White House, fiscal conservatives who believe in a robust national defense, Space Force and getting value for taxpayers, must refuse to toss away the billions of dollars already invested in a system that is progressing well, and after a few initial challenges, is on target and will pay dividends for American taxpayers for decades to come.
George Landrith is the President and CEO of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. To learn more about Frontiers of Freedom, visit www.ff.org. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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