Spacelift Washington: Bush Delays Threaten Aerospace Commission

Spacelift Washington
Spacelift Washington Archive

With eight months to go before it automatically sunsets (i.e. 'expires' in Washington lingo), a Congressionally-mandated commission charted to assess the status of the U.S. aerospace industry is still waiting for the six appointments to be made by President George W. Bush - appointments which were expected some five months ago. Even the normally glacial-paced U.S. House and Senate have made their six selections.

While industry support groups like the Aerospace Industries Association remain hopeful that Bush will act soon, White House seeming indifference to the commission's work will make it difficult for the group to do any detailed rendering on the state of U.S. aerospace in just half the time originally allotted. Along with lack of a national space policy, space council, or new NASA chief, the failure to act is sending clear signals that this White House, like the last, has little interest in civil space.

Last year, the House added language to the FY01 Defense bill that created a commission to assess the future of the U.S. Aerospace industry. The organization was to consist of 12 members; six to the appointed by the president, and six others to be evenly divided between the Senate and the House. The bill became law before the Presidential Transition even began. The first appointment, made February 5th, saw the naming of former Deputy Secretary of Defense (under Clinton term II) John Hamre by then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). Hamre was followed on March 6th by Robert J. Stevens and William Schneider, Jr., who were named by then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS). Stevens is the president and chief operating officer of Lockheed Martin; Schneider is former Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science, and Technology.

The House moved next, in late March, naming F. Whit Peters, Tilly Fowler, and Tom Buffenbarger to the final Congressional slots on the panel. In the 16 weeks since, the Bush administration has yet to make its selections. By law, the panel ceases to exist in March, 2002 with a report to Congress on long term trends in aerospace, and possible federal policy solutions to industry ills. Increased federal commitment to research and development is seen as a key element of any federal plan to aid the industry.

While Congress could pass a modification to the bill's language that extends the date the commission can work, the ultimate solution is for the administration to match its campaign 2000 rhetoric and address aerospace and space issues. The first half year of the Bush presidency is history now. The only civil space given attention thus far has been cost overruns, the failed management of projects started under the Clinton administration, and now Daniel S. Goldin's "War Room". While Bush has been excused from acting on space during this formative period, many industry observers are asking why a caretaker administrator is spending agency personnel resources to track his reputation on the Hill.

Does Goldin know something the rest of us don’t?

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