Think of a federal government agency that annually receives billions of dollars in “no-strings-attached” funding with no metrics for success; and, that squanders unaudited money on contractors or grantees with no more than a hope and a prayer of advancing the agency’s mission, which has been undefined for five decades, and without competitive bidding. Think of an agency whose undemanding threshold for receiving funds is a capacity to look up at the Cosmos and to dream about a space odyssey.
That antiquated agency is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Among the constellation of federal agencies, NASA is a museum piece—like a cavalry unit in the United States Army. If NASA were an individual, it would have been superannuated years ago NASA’s capabilities have regressed since 1963. It cannot currently send a man to the moon. It is the government counterpart to the fanatic—it has redoubled its efforts after having lost sight of its aim. Congress has fueled NASA’s lunacy by crowning it with virtually unfettered discretion to do anything that might be said to be a third cousin of “SPACE.” Congress has supplied no metrics by which to measure performance, which is the very definition of crony capitalism.
The NASA Space Act Agreement Program authorizes NASA to contract out the entirety of its facilities and to virtually privatize itself with no oversight.
NASA has de-evolved in the organizational sense since the 1969 moon landing—its crowning achievement. It is no longer capable or even disposed of fulfill its organizational purpose. NASA should be destroyed and replaced by a useful substitute.
NASA has become a clearinghouse for political favors and cash grabs for favored insider profiteers incapable of launching even a test rocket with regularity. They soar like the Dodo when it comes to performance. Unique among government agencies NASA doles out dollars and contracts unconstrained by the Federal Acquisition Requirements (“FAR”). It establishes procurement protocols for the acquisition of provision of goods and services by contract with appropriated funds by all executive agencies.
NASA has obtained an exemption through the Space Act, Pub. L. No. 111–314, 124 Stat. 3328 (Dec. 18, 2010), that permits awards of contracts and provision of services to favored, essentially un-vetted, contractors lined up at the feeding trough. The only requirement for these “non-reimbursable deals” is that the Handout Hopeful convince NASA that its projects will “benefit the government” without more. The estimated nominal annual cost to the taxpayer for these private bonanzas exceeds $36,000,000.00 – excluding the $1.1 billion in funding for ongoing non-reimbursable deals for the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CciCap) awarded to Boeing, SpaceX and the other usual suspect profiteers sans performance. Congress squints at NASA’s operations because all Members who are permitted to chair or sit on relevant oversight, appropriations, or authorization committees generally represent districts or States where NASA facilities are located. As former House Speaker Tip O’Neill quipped, “All politics is local.”
NASA has become an agency that has lost its way; could never survive any cost-benefit analytical scrutiny; and, cannot likely replicate its crowning achievement accomplished nearly two generations ago. To the extent it has a handful of useful functions, they should be transferred to sister agencies.
Draining the swamp should begin with NASA.
W Bruce DelValle is a litigator and founding member of the Washington, D.C. constitutional law, commercial and civil litigation firm Fein & DelValle PLLC. He is a native Texan who grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida. DelValle graduated from Penn State University and worked as a nuclear engineer prior to attending Washington and Lee School of Law.