Oh here’s some must reading for the president-elect!

I know Obama has a lot on his plate these days, but i hope someone close to him takes careful note of The New York Times this morning. It is running a whistle-blowing piece from a former high-level NASA administrators that certainly has the painful ring of truth to it. I suspect the basic principles beautifully outlined in this article apply in spades to military spending, as well as many other government projects.

The focus of the article is NASA and it begins:

A CANCER is overtaking our space agency: the routine acquiescence to immense cost increases in projects. Unmistakable new indications of this illness surfaced last month with NASA’s decision to spend at least $100 million more on its poorly-managed, now-over-$2 billion Mars Science Laboratory. This decision to go forward with the project, a robotic rover, was made even though it has tripled in cost since its inception, it is behind schedule, there is no firm estimate of the final cost, and NASA hasn’t disclosed the collateral damage inflicted on other programs and activities that depend on NASA’s limited science budget.

But while I’d like to see the NASA program brought under control for the good of science, I think what is described in these next two paragraphs is a wonderful model of how cost-overruns occur:

Endemic project cost increases at NASA begin when scientists and engineers (and sometimes Congress) burden missions with features beyond what is affordable in the stated budget. The problem continues with managers and contractors who accept or encourage such assignments, expecting to eventually be bailed out. It is worsened by managers who disguise the size of cost increases that missions incur. Finally, it culminates with scientists who won’t cut their costs and members of Congress who accept steep increases to protect local jobs.

The result? The costs of badly run NASA projects are paid for with cutbacks or delays in NASA projects that didn’t go over budget. Hence the guilty are rewarded and the innocent are punished.

Hmmmm. . .seems like useful advice for Detroit, Wall Street, and all the other big spenders who have helped to put us in the mess we’re in where we end up punishing the innocent for the mistakes – and sins – of the guilty. The combination of lazy, over-paid fat cats protecting their territories, with a politicians protecting their power base is deadly. And, of course, the blame can be spread beyond thesde two groups – but the model is interesting to say the least.

Of equal importance, Congress should turn from the self-serving protection of local NASA jobs to an ethic of responsible government that delivers results.

Oh boy – great idea. How do we do it? How do the democrats avoid going down the exact same path the Republicans went down – being the party in power and abusing that power to try to sustain it?