Joe Biden's NASA Needs A Wake Up Call

Keith's note: There are a variety of advisory bodies set up for the purpose of soliciting expert advice for how America should run its space activities. One entity, the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) is supposed to be the prime focus on such advice collection. Given the whole pandemic thing, it should be expected that things have fallen behind. But while NASA does everything else, it seems to be unable to keep the NAC current or have it meet. You'd think that with a new Administration in the White House and all of the mounting challenges to NASA's large programs such as Artemis, that this advice is needed now more than ever. Guess again. The NAC is inert.

For starters, if you look at the group portrait of the NAC on its homepage you will see that "The Honorable Bill Nelson (former U.S. Senator)" and "Mr. Robert Cabana (Director, Kennedy Space Center)" are members and "Mr. James Morhard (NASA Deputy Administrator)" is still on the job at NASA. The last NAC meetings shown are from "March-May 2020" - more than a year ago. The last NAC meeting minutes that were posted are from November 2019.

If you go to the NASA OIIR Advisory Committee Management Division page you will see links to NAC and other committees that are either stale and/or link to sites where the committees have meeting information that is totally out of synch with what the OIIR has on its NAC page. And the "annual call for nominations" that they link to is from 2018.

As I noted a month ago in Sleepwalking Through Space Policy At NASA Headquarters the official NAC web page is out of date when it comes to meetings. While no one can tell you who is and is not on the NAC or when it will meet next, some of its subcommittees have managed to meet - even if the NAC home page is not aware of these meetings. Indeed, many of these NAC committees actually expired since the ANC staff at NASA apparently forgot to renew them.

As I noted in my earlier post: "The whole NAC thing is run by the Advisory Committee Management Division of the NASA Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR). The OIIR is not known for being up to date on things. As I noted a month ago NASA's International and Interagency Relations Team Doesn't Bother To Update. ... *all* of the policy links they have listed go to broken links that evaporated when the Trump Administration left office." Two months later and OIIR still can't do simple website updates so that all of the stakeholders, policy makers, media, and taxpayers can see what is going on.

Meanwhile, as the NAC remains stale and non-functional, the Vice President's office finally got around to naming an Executive Secretary for the National Space Council. But that's it. The enabling policies on the books stipulate who the pro forma members of the Space Council are. There is an interest in retaining the Users Advisory Group (UAG) but no one knows who the National Space Council staff are or who will serve on the UAG. And of course, the OIIR is the last place to look since they cannot even, manage to find a link to the Executive Order that brought the National Space Council back to life under the previous Administration.

As I noted recently in NASA Tries To Fix A Webpage By Breaking It NASA OIIR is really asleep at the wheel right now. The OIIR can't manage to maintain an accurate public-facing web page that explains the NASA Advisory Council; and the OIIR has no idea what the National Space Council is doing.

On a larger note, NASA has no real policy to guide what it is doing other than to not break anything that they were already doing under the Trump Administration. Even though inadequate budgets, SLS and spacesuit delays, and HLS protests now make the 2024 lunar landing target utterly improbable, NASA won't even state the obvious. Its hard to take NASA leadership seriously when they can't even admit what everyone already knows.

Early in his tenure, President Biden used to mention space and NASA accomplishments almost weekly - often as examples of American creativity and drive. Not any more. To be certain the pandemic, Afghanistan, a bad economy, and a failed insurrection have justifiably distracted his Administration. That said, the Biden Administration has a rather rich set of policy positions that resonate in many ways with what NASA does. Only climate change has gotten any attention with regard to NASA. Alas, despite promoting a "Build Back Better" meme, all that the Biden Administration seems to have allowed NASA to do thus far is to "Leave Things Broken".

NASA can be vastly better than this - but only if the White House starts to take NASA seriously - and expect that NASA will get off its butt and respond. Otherwise NASA will just rest on its laurels and say "space is hard" any time something doesn't go the way it is supposed to. That is the easy path - which is what NASA is sadly defaulting to right now.

Earlier Biden Space postings

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on August 24, 2021 8:32 PM.

Sorry Folks - NASA And Space Force Agree: Space Is Hard was the previous entry in this blog.

National Space Council's Chirag Parikh Says The Right Things is the next entry in this blog.

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