O'Keefe said he "didn't see a big substantive difference" between NASA and Congress, but late last month, in a rare bipartisan rebuke, the leaders of appropriations subcommittees in both chambers of Congress -- Walsh, Mollohan, Mikulski and Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) -- sent a letter to O'Keefe denying him the authority to reprogram 2004 funds in order to launch the new initiatives.
"NASA has not provided sufficient information" to justify the changes, the lawmakers said. Further, the letter added, "any activities that have begun without prior approval by the Committees . . . will be suspended," and any cuts in programs or staff "shall be subject to review of the Committees prior to approval."
By preventing NASA from making changes, the letter has brought the new programs to a dead stop. And by denying NASA the ability even to lay the groundwork, the letter ensured that no changes will occur should Congress fail to pass a new NASA spending bill this year and simply continue 2004 levels. There is a strong possibility that this could occur in an election year.
This face-off has left many proven NASA programs in limbo, particularly those in Earth science and aeronautics, and could also disrupt the timing of the Vision initiative. O'Keefe told the House subcommittee last month that 85 percent of NASA's 2005 budget increase was related to space station activities -- including the space shuttle -- and that the plan would "compromised" if budget increases were denied.
I place the blame, in part, on Congressional irresponsibility. Imagine, telling NASA on the one hand that it needs a new vision and on the other hand, when it's provided, getting so skittish about paying for it that the entire space agency is thrown into chaos.
I've now concluded that the President needs to intervene, sooner rather than later.
Addendum: Jeff Foust thinks that the Washington Post in engaging in a little hyperbole in its reporting on the Moon,Mars, and Beyond Initiative.