NASA Space Plan Isn't Helping Economic Recovery, Lawmaker Says
U.S. Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas).
Credit: U.S. Congress

WASHINGTON ? As the White House embarks on a summer road tour to promote its economic recovery efforts, Republican lawmakers are criticizing President Barack Obama's plan to scrap the nation's moon program and the thousands of highly skilled jobs that could be lost as a result.

In a July 2 letter to U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package signed into law in February 2009 had done little to stem job losses in Texas and other states hit by the ailing economy.

At that time our nation?s unemployment rate was over 8 percent and the administration projected that the stimulus, if enacted, would keep the unemployment rate under 8 percent,? Olson wrote. "Yet, since the stimulus was enacted our unemployment has hovered closer to 10 percent and currently stands at 9.7 percent."

In June Biden and other White House officials hit the road as part of the administration's "Summer of Recovery," a six-week tour of states expected to see an increase in economic development projects and job growth as a result of stimulus spending.

The White House estimates that through March of this year, the stimulus package saved or created as many as 2.8 million jobs. But Olson asserts Obama's plan to scrap NASA's Constellation program, a 5-year-old effort to replace the retiring space shuttle with new rockets and spacecraft optimized for lunar missions, threatens as many as 30,000 jobs across the country, including Houston, home to NASA's Johnson Space Center.

Olson also took issue with the administration's moratorium on offshore drilling as it grapples with a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, calling it "a devastating blow" to that region. "So as you begin your 'Summer of Recovery' activities, I invite you to come to Houston and see the impact the administration's policies have already had, and the negative consequences they pose should these policies continue," Olsen wrote.

Olson and 27 members of the Texas congressional delegation urged Obama in an Oct. 5 letter to redirect $3 billion in unspent economic stimulus money to NASA, a cash infusion the group said was needed to support a robust human spaceflight program and save jobs in Texas and around the country.

"Last year, a Presidentially-appointed commission which was created to analyze the various decisions facing NASA's human space flight program reported an influx of $3 billion would help put our human space flight program on a sustainable path," Olson said in the letter to Biden, referring to the findings of a blue-ribbon panel led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine. That panel concluded, among other things, that a funding boost to NASA's top-line beginning in 2011 that gradually ramped up to an additional $3 billion a year would enable the agency to explore beyond low-Earth orbit.

Nine months later, Olson said, "with billions of dollars unspent and as aerospace jobs are lost never to return, our letter remains unanswered."

In June Obama notified lawmakers that his administration would shift $100 million of NASA's $4.2 billion funding request for manned exploration programs in 2011 to the U.S. Commerce and Labor departments to pay for economic development initiatives in Florida and other states bracing for job losses when the space shuttle retires next year.

In a letter sent July 1 to Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Olson and seven other Texas Republicans argued there is no need for NASA to lose those funds to jobs programs administered by other agencies. Wolf and Issa are the ranking members of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, respectively.

The letter, co-signed by Rep. Ralph Hall, the ranking member of the House Science and Technology Committee, asserts that the Commerce Department alone was given $7.9 billion in 2009 economic stimulus funds for "job creation," of which $4.7 billion has yet to be spent.

"This $100 million should come out of that budget," the lawmakers wrote.

As of June 4, the federal government obligated a total of $397 billion in economic stimulus spending and provided an estimated $223 billion in tax relief for families, totaling roughly 78 percent of the $787 billion economic stimulus appropriation, according to a June 17 White House report on the status of Recovery Act spending.