Tag Archives: budget

More budget cuts to Russia’s space program

The head of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, revealed today that there will be significant additional cuts to the country’s space program in the coming months.

These cuts come on top of the almost one-third cuts imposed from the time the budget for the ten-year plan was first proposed in 2015 and its adoption early this year.

Budget constraints and technical challenges delay commercial crew

A NASA inspector general report released today cites both budget constraints imposed by Congress as well as technical challenges that will delay the first commercial manned mission to ISS until 2018.

When the commercial crew program began, NASA hoped to have routine flights by 2015, but that slipped in large part due to congressional underfunding in the early years. OIG noted today that its 2013 report found that adequate funding was the major challenge for the program. Congress has warmed up to the program, however, and now is approving the full President’s request so funding is not the issue it once was. Technical challenges now are the major hurdle according to today’s report.

The companies’ systems must be certified by NASA before beginning routine flights to ISS. Boeing anticipates receiving certification in January 2018 with its first certified flight in spring 2018, and SpaceX is working toward late 2017 for its first certified mission, the OIG report says. But it is skeptical: “Notwithstanding the contractors’ optimism, based on the information we gathered during our audit, we believe it unlikely that either Boeing or SpaceX will achieve certified, crewed flight to the ISS until late 2018.”

The report has been written prior to yesterday’s Falcon 9 launchpad failure, which will certainly impact the schedule negatively.

Essentially, the report claims that the program was delayed initially by about two to three years because of the refusal of Congress to fund it fully. The delays to come will be instead because of the technical challenges. While I tend to agree with this assessment, I also note that government reports like this are often designed to generate more funds for the agencies involved, not find a better way to do things. If we are not diligent and hard-nosed about how we fund this program I worry that with time commercial crew will become corrupted by the government’s sloppy and inefficient way of doing things, and become as bloated as Orion and SLS. This is one of the reasons I never complained when Congress short funded the program previously, as it forced the companies involved to keep their costs down.

Federal debt to rise to $28 trillion

What, me worry? A new Congressional Budget Office report today predicts the federal debt will grow to $28 trillion in the next decade.

Government spending is projected to increase by 5 percent, or $178 billion, while government revenue is projected to increase by less than 1 percent, or $26 billion. The rise in government spending is attributed to a 6 percent increase in outlays for Social Security and Medicare, a 1 percent increase in discretionary spending, and an 11 percent increase in net interest.

With the American people apparently favoring candidates who want to increase that debt, I suspect this prediction is seriously understated.

House committee reshapes NASA budget

The House appropriations committee has outlined its recommendations for NASA’s 2017 budget.

Like the Senate the House is pushing more money for SLS and is demanding NASA use it to fly two missions to Europa in the early 2020s (likely delaying SLS’s first manned mission), In addition, the House wants NASA to abandon any plans for an asteroid mission and instead go back to the Moon. They also pumped up the planetary program, and express reservations about the manned commercial program.

Finally, in a wonderful example of congressional micro-managing, the committee ordered NASA to begin work on flying an interstellar mission to Alpha Centauri by the 100th anniversary of Apollo 11.

While some of the changes the committee is recommending (increasing planetary research funding for example) make sense, the overall priorities of Congress continue to appear to me to be misplaced. Their continuing emphasis on SLS while questioning commercial space illustrates their focus on pork rather than actual accomplishments. And their continuing effort to micromanage many NASA missions does not bode well for the success of those missions.

There is one takeaway from this House budget recommendation that most news sources are missing: The first manned flight of Orion is almost certainly not flying in 2021. I have seen numerous indicators in the past four months suggesting that NASA is going to delay it, and this budget recommendation’s insistence that NASA use SLS to fly Europa missions in 2022 and 2024 almost guarantees that delay.

Airbus begins assembly Orion service module

My heart be still! Airbus has announced that it is beginning assembly of the first Orion capsule service module.

Considering the cost to build about three Orion flight capsules, about $25 billion, one would think that would be enough to also build the capsule’s service module, especially since this is not cutting edge technology, having already been done with Apollo.

Not however when you are dealing with pork-laden government operations, where the customer, the taxpayer, is a good mark that you can suck for as much money as possible without any bad consequences. Make it sound cool and they will buy it, hook, line, and sinker!

Republican-led Senate passes spending bill larger than requested by Obama

Feeding the anger: A bill passed today by the Republican-led Senate included more funding that originally requested by the Obama administration.

Moving legislation and avoiding fights has been a top election year priority for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican wants the GOP Senate to prove that Republicans can govern by avoiding a one-and-done omnibus spending package at the end of the year. But the energy and water bill received little fanfare from Senate conservatives. They complain that the measure, which funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior, spends $261 million more than even Obama requested.

Sen. Mike Lee described the legislation as “simply unacceptable in a time of rising debt and slower economic growth.” The Utah Republican told The Daily Signal that “we’re never going to get our nation’s rising deficits under control until we can stick to our previous agreements on spending levels,” referring to the limits set in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Though Congress has not passed a budget resolution, the Senate started advancing spending bills at levels established in the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, which increased government discretionary spending by $30 billion above the 2011 caps.

Still Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told The Daily Signal he’s glad the appropriations process has gotten off the ground finally. “This is the first time this appropriation bill has passed the Senate since 2009,” Lankford, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, explained. “To avoid last-minute continuing resolutions, backroom deals and omnibus bills, we must move bills through a regular order appropriations process.”

These guys just don’t get it. There is a reason that Trump and Cruz dominated their party’s presidential campaign, and it wasn’t because they were calling for Congress to advance big spending bills in Congress quickly.

Posted from El Paso, Texas.

Senate committee throws money at NASA

The Senate appropriations subcommittee has announced its proposed 2017 budget for NASA, including significant budget increases for SLS and Orion.

SLS is the big winner in the bill, according to a summary of its contents provided by the committee. The heavy-lift launch vehicle would get $2.15 billion, $150 million more than it received in 2016 and $840 million above the administration’s request. The SLS funding includes $300 million directed for work on the Exploration Upper Stage with the goal of having it ready as soon as 2021, the earliest planned date for the first crewed SLS/Orion mission.

The bill also provides $1.3 billion for Orion, $30 million above 2016 and $180 million above the administration’s request. It also directs Orion to be ready for its first crewed mission in 2021.

The bill provides $5.4 billion for science programs overall, $200 million below the request. The summary does not break out spending among the various science mission directorates. Commercial crew would get $1.18 billion, the amount requested by NASA, and space technology would get $687 million, the same as 2016 but $140 million less than requested.

Meanwhile, in order to keep NASA’s overall budget about the same as last year the subcommittee, led by porkmeister Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), apparently trimmed the agency’s science budget.

The full plan will be revealed tomorrow. Moreover, the House still has to make its budget proposal, and then the House and Senate have to agree. Regardless, this Senate budget proposal is more indication that this Republican Congress is going to throw endless gobs of money at SLS and Orion, so the boondoggle can fly once, maybe twice, and then get mothballed. What a waste.

It also tells us how insincere many Republican elected officials are when they claim they are for fiscal responsibility.

The Orion fantasy

There is a commercial space conference going on in Colorado this week, which explains the plethora of breaking stories from the new commercial space companies both yesterday and today.

Two stories today from Aviation Week, however, are more about the old big space industry and the old way of doing things, and both reveal the hollow nature of that entire effort.

Both stories are about work Lockheed Martin is doing in connection with its Orion capsule, and both try to convince us that this capsule is going to be the central vehicle for the first missions to Mars.

Function starts in the bones of the spacecraft,” [Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin vice president and Orion program manager,] said in an April 12 interview at the 32nd annual Space Symposium here. “To be a deep space spacecraft, you have to build differently than you would if your requirements were to stay in low Earth orbit and be quiescent at the International Space Station for a few months. That’s driven Orion from the beginning. Any architecture you look at needs a crew capability, a long-term design requirement. So, you can debate a lot of different missions, but you need that fundamental capacity we have invested in Orion.”

I say balderdash. Orion is an over-priced and over-engineered ascent/descent capsule for getting humans in and out of Earth orbit. Spending billions so it can also go to Mars makes no sense, because its heat shield and other capsule technologies for getting through the Earth’s atmosphere are completely useless in interplanetary travel. Moreover, such a small capsule is completely insufficient for a long Mars mission, even if you test it for a “1,000 day” missions, as Hawes also says in the first article. To send a crew to Mars, you need a big vessel, similar to Skylab, Mir, ISS, or Bigelow’s B330 modules. A mere capsule like Orion just can’t do it.

Eventually, it is my hope that Congress will recognize this reality, and stop funding big space projects like SLS and Orion, and instead put its money behind the competitive private efforts to make money in space. Rather than trying to build its own capsules, space stations, rockets, and interplanetary vessels (something that NASA has repeatedly tried to do without any success), NASA should merely be a customer, buying the capsules, space stations, and interplanetary vessels that private companies have built, on their own, to make money, on their own.

Consider for example Bigelow’s B330. Each module is about as big as Skylab or Mir, and costs mere pennies to build and launch, compared to those government-designed stations. Moreover, Bigelow can build it fast, and repeatedly. Similarly, Orion has cost billions (about $16 billion when it makes its first manned mission in 2021 at the earliest) and will have taken 15 years to build. SpaceX built Dragon in seven years, Orbital ATK built Cygnus in five years, and Boeing is going to build Starliner in about four years, all for about $10 billion, total.

The contrast is striking, and though ordinary people with the ability to add 2 plus 2 can see it, it takes Congressman a little longer (as they need to use their fingers to count). Sooner or later they will get it, and Orion and SLS will disappear. Bet on it.

Another subsidized solar power company going bust?

Your tax dollars at work! The U.S.’s largest solar power company, heavily subsidized by the federal government, now faces bankruptcy.

An SEC filing from TerraForm Global, a unit of SunEdison, claims “due to SunEdison’s liquidity difficulties, there is a substantial risk that SunEdison will soon seek bankruptcy protection.” Both SunEdison and TerraForm are delaying the filing of their annual financial report to the SEC.

News of SunEdison’s impending bankruptcy filing comes after the company’s shares fell 95 percent in the past 12 months, with shares now trading for less than $1 for the first time since the green energy company went public in 1995. SunEdison’s market value fell from $10 billion in July 2015 to around $400 million today.

The news also comes after the SEC announced it was launching an investigation into SunEdison’s disclosures to shareholders regarding the company’s liquidity. SEC enforcement officials “are looking into whether SunEdison overstated its liquidity last fall when it told investors it had more than $1 billion in cash,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

…The pro-labor union group Good Jobs First reported last year that SunEdison and its subsidiaries got nearly $650 million in subsidies and tax credits from the federal government since 2000. It was the 13th most heavily-subsidized company in America. This includes nearly $4.6 million in subsidies from the Department of Energy and Department of Treasury. Watchdog.org reported in October 2015 that SunEdison had gotten nearly $4.6 million from the Obama administration, including funding to build semi-conductors. A SunEdison bankruptcy could leave taxpayers on the hook for more than $2 billion.

But hey, what’s a few billion here or there, if the cause is worthwhile?

SLS software over budget and behind schedule

Surprise! The launch control software NASA is writing from scratch for its SLS rocket is way behind schedule and way over budget.

Development of this new launch control software is now projected to exceed $207 million, 77 percent above 2012 projections. The software won’t be ready until fall 2017, instead of this summer as planned, and important capabilities like automatic failure detection, are being deferred, the audit noted. The system is vital, needed to control pumps, motors, valves and other ground equipment during countdowns and launches, and to monitor data before and during liftoff.

NASA decided to write its own computer code to “glue together” existing software products a decade ago — while space shuttles still were flying and commercial shippers had yet to service the space station. Both delivery companies, SpaceX and Orbital ATK, rely on commercial software, the audit noted. [emphasis mine]

In other words, even though NASA could have simply purchased already available software that other launch companies were using successfully, the agency decided to write its own. And that decision really didn’t come before the arrival of these commercial companies, because when it was made a decade ago that was exactly the time that SpaceX was beginning to build its rocket.

This is simply more proof that SLS is nothing more than a pork-laden waste of money designed not to explore space but to generate non-productive jobs in congressional districts.

New Horizons’ future research goals

On Monday at a planetary science conference Alan Stern, the project scientist for New Horizons, outlined the science goals in studying the Kuiper Belt should the spacecraft’s mission be extened through 2021.

The main goal will be the January 1, 2019 fly-by of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, estimated to be between 12 to 24 miles across. However, the proposal also includes the following:

“In addition to making a close flyby of MU69, we’re also going to be close enough in range to study quite a number of other small KBOs, and some large ones that are on the Pluto scale,” Stern said. New Horizons will be able to study them in ways that could never be accomplished from Earth. The closeness of the spacecraft will enable high resolution observations, and the ability to look for satellites that cannot be seen from Earth observatories or with the Hubble Telescope.

“Because we are looking back on the rest of the solar system, at the Kuiper Belt and the Centaur Population,” Stern said, “we’re going to be able to study another 18 or 20 small bodies to determine whether or not the recently discovered rings around the centaur Chariklo are a common occurrence, or something anomalous. And I don’t know of any other way over the next several years, except through New Horizons, that we can develop a data set like that.”

What I find amazing is that it appears from Stern’s remarks that NASA has not yet approved this proposal. Before the team discovered 2014 MU69, I would have been more skeptical about extending the mission, but since they will be able to do a close fly-by of a type of object never before seen, and considering the time and cost it takes to get to the Kuiper Belt, it seems foolish now to not approve this mission extension.

House proposes killing Commerce Department

In a just released budget resolution, the House budget committee has proposed eliminating the Department of Commerce in an effort to cut costs.

The biggest potential shift from the status quo would be breaking up the $9 billion commerce department. DOC is one of the least-known, and most unloved, of all federal agencies. But it nonetheless oversees a huge scientific portfolio that includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Census Bureau. Under the heading “options worthy of consideration,” the budget committee suggests moving NOAA to the Department of Interior, placing NIST within NSF, and assigning the Census Bureau, including the massive decennial census, to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another commerce agency, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, would become an independent agency.

The obvious goal would be to eliminate the expensive upper management positions at Commerce and thus reduce cost. Such changes however are going to face opposition in the privileged science community. While that community has been unable to sustain the growth of its funding in the past decade, it has successfully prevented the elimination of any program or any significant reduction in the science budgets. We shall see if that record will hold in the coming years, with the electorate appearing to steadily shift more and more to the right.

The article, by Science reporter Jeffrey Mervis, also included this wonderful example of yellow journalism:

The proposed budget resolution talks repeatedly of the need to reduce spending and, in particular, curb the clichéd “waste, fraud, and abuse” that is allegedly rampant across the federal government by killing duplicative or unnecessary programs. [emphasis mine]

I’ve noted Mervis’s agenda-driven writing in the past. In the sentence above he illustrates his unreliability as a reporter. For any educated journalist to consider waste and fraud in the federal government to be “alleged” is to be a person either with his head in the sand or having so strong a bias that he is intentionally misreporting the facts. Sadly, in the case of Mervis and many in today’s so-called elite intellectual community, I think it is both.

The cost of delaying the Mars InSight mission two years

NASA now estimates that it will cost about $150 million to delay the troubled InSight Mars lander two years until 2018 in order to fix the spacecraft’s primary instrument.

The extra money has to come out of the planetary program, which suggests that NASA will be forced to only fund one new planetary mission this year rather than the hoped-for two.

India’s space agency ISRO gets a budget boost

In its new budget approved by India’s government the country’s space agency ISRO was the only science agency to get a significant budget increase, approximately 7.3%.

In the short run this is good, as ISRO has been using its funds wisely and accomplishing a lot for a little, while trying to encourage private development in India’s aerospace industry. In the long run, however, this will not be good, as government agencies always grow more than they should while sucking the innovation and creativity from the private sector. This is what NASA did in the U.S.

Hopefully, India will see how things are changing in America with private enterprise reasserting itself after a half century of government stagnation in space development and copy what we are doing.

Experts: NASA’s SLS Mars proposals bunk

The death of SLS begins: At House hearings this week, congressmen listened to several space experts who lambasted NASA’s asteroid and Mars mission proposals.

Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute and an expert on lunar science, was especially harsh.

“America’s civil space program is in disarray, with many aspirations and hopes but few concrete, realizable plans for future missions or strategic direction,” he said, adding that NASA lacks what it needs to pull off the mission (and throwing some shade at the agency’s strong Twitter game). “We pretend that we are on a ‘#JourneytoMars’ but in fact, possess neither the technology nor the economic resources necessary to undertake a human Mars mission now or within the foreseeable future. What is needed is a logically arranged set of short-term, realizable space goals–a series of objectives and destinations that are not only interesting in and of themselves, but whose attainment build space faring capability in the long term.”

The testimony claimed that it could cost anywhere from $500 billion to $1 trillion for NASA to get humans to Mars, numbers that are reasonable based on using NASA’s very costly and overpriced SLS/Orion rocket and capsule. The congressmen were of course interested in this, not because they want to get to Mars, but because they see gobs of pork for their districts in these numbers.

However, I expect that when SpaceX begins successfully launching its Falcon Heavy rocket in the next two years while simultaneously putting humans in space with its Dragon capsule, and does both for a tenth the cost of SLS/Orion, those same congressmen will dump SLS/Orion very quickly. Though they want the pork, they also know they don’t have $500 billion to $1 trillion to spend on space. The private sector gives them an option that is both affordable and of strong self-interest. The more realistically priced and designed hardware of private companies will give them a more credible opportunity to fund pork in their districts.

National debt tops $19 trillion

The coming dark age: The national debt has hit $19 trillion, and the increase from $18 trillion was the fastest on record.

It took a little more than 13 months for the debt to climb by $1 trillion. The national debt hit $18 trillion on Dec. 15, 2014. That’s a slightly stepped-up pace compared to the last few $1 trillion mileposts. It took about 14 months for the debt to climb from $17 trillion to $18 trillion, and about the same amount of time to go from $16 trillion to $17 trillion.

The facts here also illustrate the complete failure of the Republican leadership to do what they promised when the voters gave them control of Congress.

But increasingly, Congress has instead allowed more borrowing by suspending the debt ceiling for long periods of time. That allows the government to borrow any amount it needs until the suspension period ends. Back in November, the debt ceiling was suspended again, after having been frozen at $18.1 trillion for several months. As soon as it was suspended, months of pent-up borrowing demand by the government led to a $339 billion jump in the national debt in a single day.

Under current law, the debt ceiling is suspended until March, 2017, meaning the government can borrow without limit until then. Obama is expected to leave office with a total national debt of nearly $20 trillion by the time he leaves office.

It was the Republican leadership that suspended the debt ceiling and allowed spending to rise so fast. This is also the reason that their favorite candidates for President, led by Jeb Bush, have done so poorly, and why the outsiders (Trump and Carson) and the new generation of tea party politicians (Cruz and Rubio) dominated the Iowa caucuses. And I expect that domination to continue in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and beyond.

Corruption uncovered in federal environmental project

Government marches on! A federal environmental project costing almost a half billion dollars is over budget and has had its management company removed over accusations of accounting irregularities.

During its five-year construction phase, NEON has encountered a series of high-profile problems that have raised concerns about the programme, which is funded entirely by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). In June 2015, the network came under fire from the NSF and Congress after NEON, Inc. — the non-profit organization that manages the project — reported that it was running $80 million over budget. Amid revelations that the company had spent federal money on parties, Congress levied charges of mismanagement and convened hearings with officials from NEON and the NSF. Events came to a climax in December, when the NSF decided to take NEON, Inc. off the project, citing a lack of confidence in the company after years of delays and questions about accounting irregularities.

The agency will now seek another operator to complete construction and take over the project’s management. One of the toughest tasks will be winning the support of ecologists; some researchers felt alienated during the project’s planning phase and have been critical of the way the observatory network is turning out. [emphasis mine]

The accounting irregularities included “$25,000 for a party and $3,000 for T-shirts.”

I highlight the last sentence because this gigantic federal project not only has financial and corruption issues, its big governmental design has less to do with science research and more to do with pork and getting federal dollars.

Scott Collins, an ecologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, was the first NSF [National Science Foundation] program director for NEON back in 2000. Collins says that the idea for a large ecological observatory sprang from NSF staff who were seeking ways for biologists to get a slice of the agency’s big-science money: the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction budget. “That put us on a very different footing from the start because this was not something that the community and vocal ecologists had wanted,” Collins says. [emphasis mine]

Based on reading the entire article, I would recommend that Congress end the entire project. The science produced will be questionable and not worth the money. Considering the federal deficit it makes no sense to spend money foolishly right now.

Budget bill lifts ban of Russian engines on Atlas 5

The giant omnibus budget bill negotiated and announced by Congress today includes language that effectively lifts the limit on the number of Russian engines that ULA can use in its Atlas 5 rocket.

John McCain (R-Arizona) is very unhappy about this, and is threatening to ban the use of any Russian engines on any further Atlas 5 in future bills.

On the record, I make this promise. If this language undermining the National Defense Authorization Act is not removed from the Omnibus, I assure my colleagues that this issue will not go unaddressed in the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Up to this point, we have sought to manage this issue on an annual basis, and we have always maintained that, if a genuine crisis emerged, we would not compromise our national security interests in space. We have sought to be flexible and open to new information, but if this is how our efforts are repaid, then perhaps we need to look at a complete and indefinite restriction on Putin’s rocket engines.

Whether McCain will be able to do this however is somewhat questionable. He is up for election next year, is very disliked in Arizona, and is likely going to face a very tough primary battle that he very well might lose. Even so, it really won’t do ULA much good if they get the right to keep using Russian engines. As I said earlier today, ULA’s future as a rocket company is extremely limited if it doesn’t develop a cheaper rocket. Continued use of the Atlas 5 and these Russian engines does nothing to get that cheaper rocket built.

Budget deal boosts NASA budget

The gigantic $1.1 trillion omnibus budget deal announced today by Congress leaders would increase NASA’s budget by $1.3 billion.

The increase to the NASA budget goes mostly to SLS and the planetary program. Congress also decided this year to fully fund the administration’s budget request for the commercial space budget, the first time this has happened since the program began back in 2006.

Though the increase to the planetary program as well as the funding to commercial space is good news, the fact that the Republican leadership in Congress agreed to increase spending at NASA illustrates everything that is wrong with Washington. These Republicans leaders promised they would bring fiscal common sense to Washington, cutting the budget to bring the deficit under control. You don’t do that by funding everything.

SLS/Orion is a waste of money. It will accomplish little if nothing, as it is so expensive that we can’t afford to finance any actual missions using it. It should be eliminated entirely. Instead, these guys raise its budget 68%. If they were serious about cutting the budget, they would have recognized the inefficiency and impracticality of SLS/Orion and cut it, allowing them to fund the programs at NASA that are working (science and commercial space) while simultaneously reducing the budget.

Sadly, they are not yet serious about regaining control of the budget. The public has been screaming for this to happen, and their failure to do as the public wants is a further explanation for the success in this election cycle of outsiders like Trump, Cruz, and Carson.

Russia’s ten-year space budget slashed again

The uncertainty of budgets: Russia has once again cut the ten-year budget for its space program, forcing its space agency Roscosmos to reconsider its ten-year plan running through 2025.

Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos will receive just 1.5 trillion rubles ($22.5 billion) in government funding over the next ten years, less than half of estimated figures cited by space officials earlier this year, a Roscosmos statement said on Monday evening. The space agency was planning on receiving around 3.4 trillion rubles as part of the Federal Space Program 2016-2025 (FSP), a decade-long planning document that lays out Russia’s goals in space and allocates funding for them.

But Russia’s economic crisis and a broad readjustment of government spending across all sectors has forced Roscosmos to redraft its 10-year proposal several times over the past year.

This is not necessarily bad news for Russia’s space program. The cuts will force them to function like a private company, lean and mean, rather than a bloated wasteful government operation. They therefore might actually be more competitive as a result.

Government overpayments going up by billions

Government marches on! A GAO report has found that since 2003 the federal government has wasted almost a trillion dollars in improper overpayments, with the numbers increasing by 20% in 2014.

The GAO said three programs were most at fault: Medicare, Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). These three government programs were responsible for a full three-quarters of the nearly $19 billion in erroneous payments the federal government made in fiscal 2014, the GAO said. “Improper payments remain a significant and pervasive government-wide issue,” the congressional watchdog unit warned.

The Earned Income Tax Credit program was the worst offender. The Internal Revenue Service estimated that the program erroneously handed out $17.7 billion worth of “improper” payments. That amounts to a whopping 27.2 percent of the total $65.2 billion in EITC refund checks that the IRS sent out in fiscal 2014. And that means the federal government is now fast approaching the day when one out of every three earned income tax credits is erroneous.

Medicare was nearly as bad. The program, which covers about 54 million elderly and disabled beneficiaries, incorrectly doled out $59.9 billion in fiscal 2014, which is about a tenth of its $603 billion budget. So, one out of every $10 that Medicare spent last year was erroneous, the GAO found. Medicaid made $17.5 billion in mistaken payments out of its $304 billion budget, for a nearly 6 percent error rate.

It is obvious that the solution to this government problem is to give the government more power and money. How else can they reduce this waste but by spending more money!

NASA pulls funding from private asteroid hunter

Because of a failure to meet its developmental deadlines, NASA has cut its ties with the privately funded Sentinel satellite, designed to spot 90% of all near Earth asteroids that might pose a threat to the Earth.

The problem for the B612 Foundation, the private company committed to building Sentinel, is that they haven’t clearly laid out a way any investors could make money from the satellite. Thus, they have so far raised only $1.6 million from private sources. They need almost half a billion to build it, according to their own budget numbers.

Republican-led Senate proposes big budget boost for NIH

This is fiscal restraint? The Senate, under the leadership of the Republican party for the first time since 2006, has proposed a $2 billion increase in the 2016 budget for National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The House Republican leadership hasn’t shown much restraint either, proposing $1 billion boost in the 2016 budget. And this in the context of a flat budget for NIH during the period from 2006 to 2014 when Democrats controlled either both or at least one house of Congress.

Since Congress completed a 5-year doubling of the NIH budget in 2003, the agency’s funding level has fallen more than 20% below the 2003 level after taking into account the rising costs of biomedical research.

This is once again evidence to me that the Republican leadership in Congress really has little interest in reining in the out-of-control federal budget. They talk a conservative game during elections, but when it comes time to write the budgets, the Republicans in charge of committees become spendthrifts to support the pork in the government agencies they are assigned to manage, and are almost always centered in their own districts.

ULA to trim management by 30%

The competition heats up: In order to make itself more efficient and competitive, ULA has decided to cut its management by 30%.

ULA CEO Tory Bruno has said ULA must shrink to remain successful under reduced U.S. military budgets and with Elon Musk’s SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.) being certified to compete against ULA for national security mission launches. “To achieve that transformation, we are reducing the number of executive positions by 30 percent and offered a voluntary layoff for those interested on the executive leadership team,” said ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye. “It is important for ULA to move forward early in the process with our leadership selections to ensure a seamless transition and our continued focus on mission success.”

This news should be looked at in the context of a proposed Senate bill that requires the Air Force to significantly cut funding to ULA.

Not only would the bill cut an annual $1 billion payment from the Air Force to ULA, it would put severe restrictions on the number of Russian engines ULA could use in its Atlas 5, which in turn will limit the number of launches the Air Force can buy from the company.

House Appropriations reveals its proposed NASA budget

Details here.

As usual, the pork of SLS gets a boost while commercial space gets squeezed. The squeeze however continues to get less with each budget, and as I’ve said before, better a slight squeeze than a blank check. That way the commercial companies will have to stay lean and mean and will avoid getting bloated, like SLS.

$10 billion wasted on military projects

Government marches on! In the past decade the Pentagon’s Missile Defence Agency has wasted $10 billion on defense projects that were either impractical and impossible.

I can’t provide any single quote about the absurd stupidity of these projects because the article is filled with so many. Read it all and weep. However, here is one quote which indicates who we should blame:

President George W. Bush, in 2002, ordered an urgent effort to field a homeland missile defense system within two years. In their rush to make that deadline, Missile Defense Agency officials latched onto exotic, unproven concepts without doing a rigorous analysis of their cost and feasibility. Members of Congress whose states and districts benefited from the spending tenaciously defended the programs, even after their deficiencies became evident.

You are probably thinking the fault lies with Bush and Congress for proposing foolish programs and then funding them even after they were revealed to be obviously foolish, because they provided pork for congressional districts. You are wrong. Though Congress and Bush certainly share the guilt, the really guilty party is the American public, which has been voting in favor of pork for decades.

We get the government we deserve. Until we stop electing candidates (from either party) who promise pork, we will continue to get pork, and waste, and a society that is steadily going bankrupt.

The GAO discovers another out-of-control NASA project

Government marches on! A new GAO report has found that NASA’s effort to upgrade the ground-based portion of its satellite communications system, used by both military satellites and manned spacecraft, is more than 30 percent over budget, with its completion now delayed two years to 2019.

Worse, the GAO found that this problem program was actually one of three that have had budget problems. And that doesn’t include the disastrously overbudget James Webb Space Telescope.

In its latest assessment of NASA’s biggest programs, the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified the Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment (SGSS) as one of three — not counting the notoriously overbudget James Webb Space Telescope — that account for most of the projected cumulative cost growth this year. The others are the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, which launched March 12, and the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, mission, the congressional watchdog agency said.

The last two projects are part of the climate focus that Obama imposed on NASA.

Republicans pass the first budget resolution in six years

For the first time in six years both Houses of Congress, now controlled by the Republicans, passed budget resolutions outlining their plan for the 2016 budget.

The Senate and House plans still have to be reconciled. Also, they call for eventually balancing the budget in 10 years, hardly my idea of good fiscal policy, though certainly an improvement from past budget battles.

The most important aspect of this however is this fine detail:

In addition to aiming to eliminate deficits within 10 years, both documents seek to ease the path for a repeal or replacement of President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law. … [D]ifferences between the two documents still need to be worked out and a combined budget passed next month by both chambers. Doing so would allow Republicans to invoke parliamentary rules to repeal “Obamacare” with a simple majority in the Senate rather than a tough-to-achieve 60 vote threshold.

In other words, the Republicans have set the situation up where they can use reconciliation to pass an Obamacare repeal, the exact same legislative sleight-of-hand that the Democrats used to pass Obamacare in 2010.

No one in favor of shrinking the power of the federal government and its budget should be too enthused by this budget, however. All it is is a start. Or as Churchill once said, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

What we have now running Congress is a Republican leadership that wants to balance the budget in as painless a way as possible, so they will not upset any of the DC bureaucratic special interest groups, including the leftwing press. What we will eventually need is a Congress being run by people who don’t care if that DC bureaucracy and its water-carriers in the press get upset, and instead acts to make the rest of the country happy. We are moving in that direction, but we have a long way to go to get there.

GAO denied access to Webb telescope workers by Northrop Grumman

In a report as well as at House hearings today the GAO reported that Northrop Grumman has denied them one-on-one access to workers building the James Webb Space Telescope.

The interviews, part of a running series of GAO audits of the NASA flagship observatory, which is billions of dollars overbudget and years behind schedule, were intended to identify potential future trouble spots, according to a GAO official. But Northrop Grumman Aerospace, which along with NASA says the $9 billion project is back on track, cited concerns that the employees, 30 in all, would be intimidated by the process.

To give Northrop Grumman the benefit of the doubt, these interviews were a somewhat unusual request. Then again, if all was well why would they resist? Note too that the quote above says the cost of the telescope project is now $9 billion. That’s a billion increase since the last time I heard NASA discuss Webb. If the project was “back on track: as the agency and Northrop Grumman claim, than why has the budget suddenly increased by another billion?

Sloppy biosafety procedures found at federal disease center

Does this make you feel safer? An investigation of a federal center for studying dangerous diseases in primates has found serious biosafety procedure violations.

Concerns arose at the center in Covington, Louisiana, after two rhesus macaques became ill in late November with melioidosis, a disease caused by the tropical bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. In January, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Department of Agriculture investigators traced the strain infecting the primates to a vaccine research lab working with mice. Last month, as the investigation continued, CDC suspended the primate center’s 10 or so research projects involving B. pseudomallei and other select agents (a list of dangerous bacteria, viruses, and toxins that are tightly regulated). Meanwhile, a report in USA Today suggested the bacterium might have contaminated the center’s soil or water.

…In addition, workers “frequently entered the select agent lab without appropriate protective clothing,” the release says. No center staff has shown signs of illness. On 12 March, however, Tulane announced that blood tests have found that one worker has low levels of antibodies to the bacterium, suggesting possible exposure at the center, according to ABC News.

Is there any area of government expertise that isn’t screwing up royally these days? As far as I can tell, the answer is no. The sooner we as a people can cut back on the government’s resources so that they won’t have the ability to do us harm, the better off we will be.

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