IFPTE President Asks Congress for Independent Accounting of Shuttle Program
SILVER SPRING, MD – In an effort to help protect NASA's Science mission from planned across the board cuts in Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE) President Gregory Junemann has asked Congress this week for increased oversight of the Space Agency's budgetary and programmatic planning in an effort to find a better solution to NASA's financial woes.
In a November 17th letter sent by Administrator Griffin to Office of Management & Budget (OMB) Director Joshua Bolton, Dr. Griffin states that, "the budget allocation provided to NASA is insufficient." While IFPTE strongly supports the effort to bring in an additional $1 billion in FY 2007 to help NASA begin the critical transition to the next generation of space vehicles, the union also believes that the taxpayer must be assured that this money will not simply be sucked into a black hole of never-ending foam problems. Since the Columbia disaster, the American taxpayer has spent billions on a paralyzed and antiquated Shuttle program with little to show for it, yet NASA is cutting or planning on cutting important Life, Microgravity, Earth, and Space Science research as well as key Aeronautics Research and Development, while also eliminating many of its civil- servant scientific and technical experts in Ohio, Virginia, and California. In an effort to shed some clear light on this problem and to find a better solution, IFPTE President Junemann has asked both House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R, NY) and Ranking Member Bart Gordon (R, TN) to jointly request an independent audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of potential savings from retiring the Shuttle program earlier than the 2010 deadline set by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
Dr. Griffin currently estimates a $3-5 billion shortfall in NASA's plan to continue Shuttle until 2010 while simultaneously accelerating its development of new spacecrafts. He is proposing to close that gap by diverting more than a billion dollars from the Science account over several years and by laying off scientists and engineers, even though he admits "(w)e do not yet have enough information to assess adequately the budgets for these (Space Operations and Exploration) programs beyond FY 2007." IFPTE believes it would be irresponsible to proceed down that destructive path given that it does not actually solve the long-term shortfall problem. In his letter to Chairman Boehlert and Ranking member Gordon, Junemann states: "Given the dire financial circumstances facing NASA and the future of U.S. aeronautics and science research, we at IFPTE believe that NASA's cost analysis should be accompanied by an independent accounting provided by the GAO. ... (O)ther scenarios may produce substantial savings that could be harnessed to support the Administrator's Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) plan while also keeping Aeronautics and Science fully funded and protecting NASA's greatest asset, its workforce and brain trust."
"NASA is at a major cross-road. Its current decisions will seal NASA's fate for the next decade. Congress must become fully engaged in these decisions that will affect the Agency and the nation for years to come. It is in the best interest of the nation to proceed only after a thorough independent analysis of Shuttle retirement options together with potential timeline adjustments to Dr. Griffin's current proposal to accelerate his ESAS plan to fly the new Crew Exploration Vehicle by 2012... Congress needs to force NASA to make hard decisions now and needs this independent objective GAO evaluation to guide its oversight."
Full text of the Junemann letter to Congress, and the Griffin letter to OMB, can be viewed at http://www.ifpte.org.