Democratic House threatens Webb cancellation


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The House, now controlled by the Democratic Party, has threatened cancellation of the James Webb Space Telescope should that project, already overbudget by $8 billion and 9 years behind schedule, fail to meet its present budget limits.

[The House budget] bill includes the full $304.6 million requested for JWST in 2019, but the report accompanying the bill offered harsh language, and a warning, regarding the space telescope given the cost overruns and schedule delays announced last year.

“There is profound disappointment with both NASA and its contractors regarding mismanagement, complete lack of careful oversight, and overall poor basic workmanship on JWST,” the report states. “NASA and its commercial partners seem to believe that congressional funding for this project and other development efforts is an entitlement, unaffected by failures to stay on schedule or within budget.”

The bill does increase the cost cap for JWST by about $800 million, to a little more than $8.8 billion, to address the latest overruns. “NASA should strictly adhere to this cap or, under this agreement, JWST will have to find cost savings or cancel the mission,” the report states.

I really don’t take this Congressional threat seriously. Our Congress is universally known in Washington as an easy mark for big money. The technique is called a buy-in, where you initially lowball the budget of your project, get it started, and then when it goes overbudget, Congress routinely shovels out the money to continue. Webb is a classic and maybe the worst example of this, but this game has been going on since the 1960s, with no sense that the Congresses of the last half century have had any problem with it.

And I especially don’t take it seriously from the Democrats who, even more than the Republicans, like to shovel money out.

The bankrupt unwillingness of both parties to care for the interest of the country for the past few decades in this matter explains why we have federal debt exceeding $20 trillion.

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15 comments

  • Phill O

    The definition of the redistribution of wealth – democrat style — “Take from the common and give to the wealthy who shelter in tax free accounts!

    Trump is a modern day Robin Hood.

  • Cotour

    BETTER AND MORE COMPREHENSIVE THAN I

    Not feeling 100 percent today and so I came upon this article in the Hill. America: The New Socialist Frontier, by Alexander G. Markovsky.

    https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/425970-america-the-new-socialist-frontier

    He very comprehensively lays out what I both think and know, and so while I shake and shiver barely able to type today I let him communicate for me. America is different and not the same as all other country’s on the planet throughout history for a reason, and that reason is not because it is not Liberal, Socialist or Communist enough.

    These now Leftists who pander to the softer and weaker sides of human nature, jealousy and envy resulting in confiscation, if played out with the help of a desperate anti and un American political party and their media sycophants and facilitators is how America and all you know and love ends. America is by design fluid and adaptive but is not designed or intended to surrender all of its founding principles. That conclusion is both irrational and desperate, a political party in search of the acquisition of and the retention of power for eternity.

  • Richard M

    “The technique is called a buy-in, where you initially lowball the budget of your project, get it started, and then when it goes overbudget, Congress routinely shovels out the money to continue.”

    The most famous (non-Defense) example of this phenomenon being, of course, the Shuttle Transportation System.

    But even the Shuttle’s cost did not balloon in relative terms anything like JWST has.

    The JWST has become the Telescope That Devoured Space Science. So many projects, like ATHENA, were scratched to make funds available for Webb.

    As much as I hate to dally with the Sunk Cost Fallacy, I still (reluctantly) favor getting the thing into space, since it’s mostly done anyway. But all future space telescopes – starting with WFIRST – need to be seriously reconsidered from the ground up, not just in procurement methods. A $9 billion telescope that cannot be serviced or replaced, and which depends on the success of a considerable number of ground breaking technologies to work properly, runs counter to any common sense program of exploration systems development.

    The JWST costs almost as much as the combined cost of three America-class amphibious assault ships. At least an America can be serviced and dry docked.

  • Edward

    Richard M wrote: “As much as I hate to dally with the Sunk Cost Fallacy, I still (reluctantly) favor getting the thing into space, since it’s mostly done anyway.

    I disagree. If Congress is actually changing its tune and is willing to cancel projects that are sucking up funds that could be better used on other projects, then cancelling JWST at this late date will send that message loud and clear.

    Unfortunately, the threat of Congressional cancellation is part of its current tune, a chorus that is repeated often with no actual action to back up the paper-tiger threat. It is rare for Congress to cancel a mismanaged, over budget, behind schedule project. JWST is safer from the chopping block than Congress is letting on.

    The JWST has become the Telescope That Devoured Space Science. So many projects, like ATHENA, were scratched to make funds available for Webb.

    Since JWST was supposed to cost $8 billion less and launch about a decade ago (2010), this means that $8 billion and a decade worth of space science projects were scratched. It is increasingly difficult to believe that the science we get from JWST will be worth the loss of the science from those other projects.

  • wayne

    Public Choice Theory
    Choosing in Groups: Analytical Politics Revisited
    Prof Mike Munger
    Cato Event 2015
    https://youtu.be/JxtgUKoHewE
    17:40

  • wayne

    Mike Munger on Public Choice
    2014
    https://youtu.be/PbhEDOX81Qk
    1:09:53

    “Mike Munger from Duke University speaks about entrepreneurship in markets versus entrepreneurship in politics.”

  • Richard M. The Shuttle is not a good example of a buy-in. The final cost for development was only about 10% to 15% above its original estimate, and was completed only about two years late, both reasonable numbers considering it was an experimental spacecraft pushing new engineering.

    The real area of waste with the shuttle came later. It was essentially a prototype of a reusable spaceship, and was instead sold as an operational airplane. That lie meant that NASA never did the engineering innovation with it to develop new technologies, that it should have. Instead, it became a jobs program, whose only real purpose was to perpetuate the jobs it created. No exploration project concepts need apply.

  • wayne

    Game Theory 101:
    Condorcet’s Paradox and Social Preferences
    (non-transitive nature of voting)
    https://youtu.be/jgZ-mEkE7aU
    9:55
    “It makes perfect sense for an individual’s preferences to be rational. But when we try to aggregate rational preferences together, the resulting group preference may be irrational. This problem is endemic to social preferences and thereby limits expected utility theory’s application.”

    Hey– who is watching the eclipse?
    A frosty 8 degrees in Michigan with an incredibly clear sky tonight.

  • wodun

    Are any of the sciency sites running stories about how the Democrats are anti-science or any of the other rhetoric they direct at Republicans?

  • Michael

    It goes well in Southern California. Weather started problematical but cleared up. I’ve been trying to take photos. I have been only partially successful.

  • wayne

    Michael-
    Good luck!
    Incredibly clear in Michigan– great view. (s-w Michigan coast) (supposed to bottom out at 4 degrees later.)

    Public Choice Theory:
    Why Politicians Don’t Cut Spending
    Learn Liberty 2011
    https://youtu.be/6uR4lqa7IK4
    2:19

  • wayne

    Friedrich von Hayek and James Buchanan
    ©1978 / 52 min.
    https://youtu.be/DP8Ymod_ses

    “Nobel laureates Hayek and Buchanan engage in a spirited discussion of Hayek’s controversial work, “Constitution of Liberty.””
    (Buchanan is considered the father of public-choice theory)

  • wayne

    Thomas Dolby –
    “She Blinded Me With Science”
    1983
    https://youtu.be/GllSfiwCEtY
    3:26

  • Richard M

    Hello Robert,

    “The real area of waste with the shuttle came later. It was essentially a prototype of a reusable spaceship, and was instead sold as an operational airplane.”

    It’s not wrong to say that STS development costs did not explode on the same scale as JWST’s have.

    But as you say, the real hit came later. The real hidden cost explosion was just shifted to operational costs. And that was not how it was sold.

    However you cut it, the Shuttle program ended up costing far more, when it was done, than was promised by NASA.

  • Edward

    Richard M,
    You wrote: “However you cut it, the Shuttle program ended up costing far more, when it was done, than was promised by NASA.

    This is true, but it is not the “buy-in” concept. As Robert noted, most of the extra cost was due to the nature of an experimental craft, rather than designing a new operational craft that could accomplish what the Shuttle was supposed to do until it revealed its months-long refurbishment requirement.

    We could have gotten so much more for our $200+ billion if NASA had spent a few billion developing a better version. We were supposed to get ten times as many launches per year (thus a corresponding ten times as much science and exploration) for our money, but NASA settled for what it had.

    Buy-in usually works by underbidding a contract, then making up for it every time there is a requirements change or, as happened with JWST, allowing Congress to fall for the sunk cost fallacy when there isn’t a requirements change. What could we have had if JWST were cancelled six billion dollars ago (and maybe restarted from scratch, done right this time)?

    As we can see, Congress will allow a project to get an order of magnitude more expensive and take more than twice as long. (ISS is another example of this, but it had requirement changes for the entire decade that it was supposed to be being developed, built, and assembled.)

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