The Non-Leadership Act


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Six Congressmen have introduced a bill that would have the NASA administrator serve a ten year term, and put the running of the space agency in the hands of an unelected board of directors.

Some details:

  • The law would create a Board of Directors chosen by the administration, House, and Senate, made up of former astronauts and eminent scientists.
  • Board members would serve three, three-year terms. Board member would also be forbidden from working for a company which has business with NASA.
  • The Board would prepare NASA’s budget.
  • The Board would recommend three candidates each for the positions of NASA Administrator, Deputy Administrator and Chief Financial Officer. The law encourages the President to pick from this list, but does not require him to.
  • The Administrator would be selected for a 10-year term.
  • The Board will be allowed to remove the NASA Administrator for cause.

They call this the Space Leadership Act. I instead call it the “Non-Leadership Act.” All this would essentially do is take power away from both the Congress and President, which in turn would rob the voting public of any influence on what NASA does.

What is it with these elected officials? Why are they so often eager to give up their power? Are they so afraid of responsibility that they can’t handle it and are willing to hand it to someone they appoint and whom they won’t be able to remove for years?

The real consequence of this law is that, if passed, it would essentially eliminate the ability of Congress to shift gears if it found its plans for NASA were not working. Instead, we all would have to beg an audience with this unelected board, praying that they might listen to us. Moreover, the existence of such a board, with enormous power and control over large sums of money but unaccountable to anyone, would be a wonderful opportunity for corruption and back-door deals.

Maybe the worst aspect of this proposal is how it illustrates in microcosm the overall irresponsible state of our government and society. Rather than deal with the problems at NASA and solve them, these politicians want to abdicate their power and leave it to someone else. Similarly, rather than deal with the federal debt, Congress and the President (from both parties) have repeatedly kicked the can down the road, refusing to face the fact that we are going bankrupt.

And the public goes along, unwilling to face reality.

It is all so pitiful it gives me a headache.

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13 comments

  • Kelly Starks

    Big agree.

    You could argue it would remove politics from NASA desitions – but thats rediculus. They still need to get total funds from congress, get voter support. But it wouldeliminate their accountability. Unless congress was willing to just do huge NASA cuts in total budget – the agency could do virtualy anything, with no input from anyone.

    REally – why is Congress so terrified to do anything?

    One good argument to flush more and more of them out for folks who’ll do something.

  • Practically a license to steal. Terrible idea.

  • wodun

    It looks like it would be hard to get a voice for commerce and industry on the board while other groups that receive money from the government would not be subject to exclusion.

    Scientists may be the new clergy of a secular society but they are still men and susceptible to the failings of human nature, just like other clergy.

  • Joe

    “They call this the Space Leadership Act. I instead call it the “Non-Leadership Act.” All this would essentially do is take power away from both the Congress and President, which in turn would rob the voting public of any influence on what NASA does.”

    I guess once again I will have to take the contrarian position.

    When the Congress does act to do specific things you accuse them of being “pork politicians” (because you do not like what they do).

    When they try to remove the possibility of “pork” being involved by establishing a Board to control the NASA Budget where “Board member would also be forbidden from working for a company which has business with NASA.” You say they are trying to abdicate their responsibilities.

    It appears the only way to please you is if they do exactly what you want done.

    That is highly unlikely regardless of what happens with this particular piece of legislation.

  • I want our elected officials to act responsibly and do their job. And yes, I (and you and everyone else) will only be happy when Congress does what I think is right. However, I’d rather take a partial success (with some pork thrown in) then have Congress abdicate its authority. This is a truly terrible bill.

  • Joe

    Actually my reading of the bill indicates that the real loser would be the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

    As things are now done NASA (subject to approval from the Administrator – a Presidential appointee) submits a budget request to the OMB in private. The OMB then makes whatever changes they deem appropriate (subject to the approval of the President). The Congress then must craft and approve a final budget. If that budget differs from the presidential submission it leaves them open to charges of (what else) “pork” because they are requesting things “even NASA does not want”.

    Under the proposed system the original NASA proposal would be established by the new board (only partially appointed by the president – note to anyone who wants to make that political that means any president of any party). The OMB could still make whatever changes they deem appropriate (subject to the approval of the President). The Congress would still have to craft and approve a final budget, thus they would not have abdicated their responsibilities. The real difference would be that now the differences (if any) between what the technical people wanted and what the OMB wanted would be on the public record. Some people call that transparency.

  • Edward Wright

    You assume the “technical people” have a natural right to get what they “want.” And the American taxpayers have no right to a say in how their money is spent.

    What this bill proposes and what you advocate was once called “taxation without representation.”

    No thanks, Joe. I’d rather stick with the Constitution the Founding Fathers gave us — which does not grant Congress the authority to delegate its spending power to an unelected, unaccountable “board of directors.”

  • Joe

    Hi Ed,

    You might want read this paragraph again:

    “Under the proposed system the original NASA proposal would be established by the new board (only partially appointed by the president – note to anyone who wants to make that political that means any president of any party). The OMB could still make whatever changes they deem appropriate (subject to the approval of the President). The Congress would still have to craft and approve a final budget, thus they would not have abdicated their responsibilities. The real difference would be that now the differences (if any) between what the technical people wanted and what the OMB wanted would be on the public record. Some people call that transparency.”

    No “taxation without representation” involved.

  • Edward Wright

    Sorry, Joe, but unelected, unaccountable “directors” are not elected representatives of the American people – no matter how many words you write..

    Transferring political power from the people, and their elected representatives, to panels of “technical people” is not a new idea. It was quite popular in Europe in the 1930’s. It was called “fascism.”

    I may be old fashion, but I still prefer the Constitution Republican form of government. I’m sorry you have such a poor regard for the American people and the Constitution that you feel NASA needs to be further insulated from them, I have much more faith in the common man.

    If the United States had passed a Computing Leadership Act like this law, a few decades back, we would now have one National Computing Center and one National Compute — the most powerful, most complex, most expensive machine ever built by mankind. Every year, the board of directors would prepare a budget for it, which would be sent to Congress for rubber-stamping. The National Computer would be programmed and operated by the Computonaut Office in Houston, whose employees would be national heroes. They would be the best and the brightest — not college dropouts like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Every 10 years or so, the directors would talk about how they have a plan to eventually make a limited amount of computing time available to the public — in 50 or 60 years.

    No, thank you. We need to make spaceflight more open, more democratic, and more accessible to the common man — not less so.

  • Joe

    Edward Wright says: Posted September 23, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    “Sorry, Joe, but unelected, unaccountable “directors” are not elected representatives of the American people – no matter how many words you write.. Transferring political power from the people, and their elected representatives, to panels of “technical people” is not a new idea. It was quite popular in Europe in the 1930′s. It was called “fascism.” “

    I am sorry also Ed but you are working from a false premise. Here is a link to the actual language of the Bill (via the Houston Chronicle):

    http://blog.chron.com/sciguy/2012/09/new-bill-proposes-nasa-oversight-board-10-year-term-for-administrator/

    If you will take the trouble to read it, you will see that it nowhere turns appropriation (or even authorization) authority over to the board (or anyone else).

    The board’s participation in the budget process is as follows:
    – It is to present to the Whited House and Congress simultaneously a proposed budget
    – The White House (and thus OMB) are to use that proposed budget as a starting point, but are free to change it in any way they choose for their budget submittal to the Congress.
    – The extra duty of the executive branch (read OMB) would be to detail the differences between what the board proposed and the OMB approved.
    – The Congress still has to write and pass the appropriation/authorization legislation and the president would still have to sign it.

    There is no transfer of “money” authority it’s just is not there. What is there is a public record of what Subject Matter Experts proposed and what the elected officials agreed to provide. That is the definition of transparency and it is puzzling why you and others are (currently anyway) so enraged by it.

    That renders the rest of your pantheon to constitutional government (and by implication that I am against the Constitution) mute.

  • Edward Wright

    Joe, I’ve read every one of your precious words — and the damn bill, too. Accusing anyone who disagrees with you of not reading is a strawman and simply shows your inability to make a valid argument.

    Creating a budget and presenting it to Congress is part of the budget process, no matter how you dance around the facts. The Constitution gives that power solely to the President (who must stand for reelection every four years).

    Transferring Presidential powers to an unelected, unaccountable “board of directors” who cannot be removed at the ballot box is unconstitutional and unamerican.

    Not to mention bad policy. The bill would make it harder to cancel bad programs and eliminate waste. That is not a good thing, in my view. It is certainly not “transparency,” as you call it.

    Which is the whole point. The Representatives backing this bill just happen to be the same Representatives who are fighting to protect an unnecessary, wasteful launch system. Coincidence? I think not.

    Also, the word “pantheon” does not mean what you think it means. And arguments are “moot,” not “mute.” I suggest you consult a dictionary.

  • Joe

    OK Ed one last time:

    – Proposed board would submit a proposed budget
    – The President would then still make his budget submittal, which might or might not resemble the Boards proposed budget.
    – The Congress would then (in both houses) still have to pass the budget bills, which might or might not resemble the Presidents submittal.
    – Those bills would still ten be reconciled in joint committee (exactly as is done now).
    – The final bill would then still (as is done now) returned for vote to approve in both houses.
    – The President would then still have to sign or veto the bill.

    If you can twist that around in your mind into fascism and an assault on the Constitution, have fun.

  • Edward Wright

    Yes, Joe, I read those words the first three times you wrote them.

    I have also read the Constitution, and I respect it.

    The Constitution gives the President the *sole* responsibility for submitting budget requests. Look up the word “sole.”

    Transferring any part of that Constitutional authority to a group of unelected fascisti (or “directors”), merely to protect an unaffordable, unnecessary rocket that deserves to be canceled, is a bad idea, in my view.

    Your description of the way the bill would work is laughable to anyone who understands DC. Congress essentially rubber stamps whatever NASA budget request is sent to them each year (plus or minus a few percent). So, this bill would give the fascisti control over >90% of the NASA budget — as the bill’s authors realize. They openly admit that the purpose of the bill is to “create stability” in the NASA budget — i.e., make it harder to cancel bad projects. I suspect you do, too.

    And I did not “twist” the word fascism to mean rule by “directors,” Joe. Mussolini did. If you have a complaint, take it up with him.

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