Sunday, June 11, 2006

NASA getting robbed of budget because of pork projects.

Government: Gotta keep the congress critters happy.

NASA must slash science, engineering and education programs to pay for billions of dollars in congressional pet projects, most of which have little to do with the agency's mission to explore space. The price tag for politicians' "pork" has grown so large that NASA may have to delay the new spaceships and rockets needed to replace the space shuttles, to be retired in 2010. Instead, NASA will pay for: Construction or renovation of dozens of museums, planetariums and science labs for colleges. Computers, classrooms and lab space for colleges and schools across the U.S. A Web site and laboratory for the Gulf of Maine Aquarium. A sprawling headquarters building for a nonprofit research group in West Virginia created by U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan. The Democrat is now subject of a broader congressional ethics probe. Since 2001, congress has directed the space agency to spend more than $3 billion on special projects, most of them small endeavors sought by individual lawmakers for the benefit of their home districts, according to NASA and congressional records. "There is a real consequence to this. It's not a victimless crime," said David Williams, a vice president of the independent watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, which has complained for years about the number and cost of the pet projects. The cost of congressional add-ins has grown to about a half-billion dollars a year, or five times the total of a decade ago. The consequences are growing too, NASA says. The agency gets no extra money in its roughly $16 billion-a-year budget to fund politicians' local projects, so managers must redirect money from existing projects. What could go: Robotic space probes face delay or cancellation as NASA tries to shuffle money. The shuttles, International Space Station and new vehicles to carry astronauts back to the moon could see budget cuts. The last item is one NASA is now stressing to members of Congress. Education programs are being cut, including half of the funding for the agency program that helps ensure historically minority colleges and universities are represented in NASA projects and grant programs.

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