Don't punish NASA Budget cuts: The space agency has been doing a much better job living within its means.

April 29, 1996

ONE OF THE FIRST persons to admit that NASA hasn't always been as cost-conscious as it should be is the space administration's director, Daniel S. Goldin. Cost overruns, expensive redesigns and pork-barrel spending to gain congressional support for extravagant projects were common before he took over the agency in 1991.

Mr. Goldin said then that NASA must have "better, faster and cheaper" missions. And it has. NASA has seen its budget cut every year since 1992. Yet it has managed to conduct valuable scientific missions that have so reignited the nation's interest in space exploration that even a movie about a failed mission, "Apollo 13," became an instant box office hit.

But the budget cuts keep coming. President Clinton's proposed 1997 budget would trim less than $17 million from the $13.8 billion granted to NASA in the 1996 budget approved Thursday. However, much deeper cuts are in store for 1998 and 1999, especially if House Republicans get their way. Deficit reduction is fine, but don't punish NASA for its past extravagance.

Mr. Goldin long ago got the message. He has already announced plans to cut in half his headquarters staff in Washington by October 1997. By 2000, the headquarters staff will be 70 percent below its 1993 level of 2,200 employees. Mr. Goldin's plans are for $4 billion in savings to be realized by NASA within the next four years. Those cuts won't occur just at headquarters.

Labs at the Johnson Space Flight Center will be closed. The large rocket engine test program at Marshall Space Flight Center will be moth-balled. The Goddard Space Flight Center will lose 600 jobs. Increased automation will allow fewer workers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Work at the Dryden Flight Research Center and Langley Research Center will be consolidated. The private sector will take some space shuttle jobs now at Kennedy Space Center.

Mr. Goldin hasn't been complaining. He has been going about the business of ensuring NASA's viability in an era of budget constraints. He wants to limit the agency to projects with rich scientific potential that can be conducted in no more than three years and for less than $150 million. Congress should not cripple NASA's ability to serve this nation as its primary scientific explorer -- not as long as Mr. Goldin keeps spending NASA's money wisely.

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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