Editor's note: The following selection is repeated - verbatim - from an ongoing "Ask the Administrator" dialog with Mike Griffin, located on InsideNASA, and can be viewed by anyone at NASA:
Question(s): What are the agency plans to respond to the NRC Decadal Survey "Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond"? Is there a general opinion of this report and the impacts to NASA at this early stage? From:Steve Ambrose,Headquarters
Response (on 31-Jan-2007): As you know, the recently released NRC Earth Sciences Decadal Survey was the first of its kind, following a precedent begun by the astrophysicists in, if I recall correctly, 1960. This practice has since been adopted by our other major portfolio areas, Planetary Science and Heliophysics, to what I believe is their benefit. Now, at NASA we try very hard to follow research and mission priorities as recommended by the National Academy, without necessarily accepting budget recommendations made by that body. One reason for this is that, as I am sure you know, NASA receives budgetary instruction from the President and, ultimately, from the Congress. We are permitted to make recommendations as to what those budgetary allocations should be, but that is all.
As Administrator, I report directly to the President, so there is no possible way that I can endorse budgetary recommendations contrary to those in the President's budget. Moreover, even if we did not have the constraint above (which is common to all Executive Branch agencies), it would be difficult to heed advisory group recommendations regarding budgetary matters. I am sure that you will be utterly shocked to find that every discipline-specific advisory group believes that the portion of the Federal budget allocated to their discipline is inadequate! Thus, advice to me to increase the NASA budget in any specific discipline is not useful. Of course, as in many things of a political nature, there is a certain amount of posturing in play here.
The NRC advice is not really intended for NASA; they are fully aware that the choices are not mine to make. The real target for their advice is the Congress, which in the end has the final power to adjust the amount of money being spent by the nation on Earth Science.Thus, our response to the recent Earth Sciences decadal will be to respect, insofar as possible, their assessment of scientific priorities, while continuing to take direction on budgetary matters from the White House and Congress.