Congress Demands U.S. Compete With China, Then Slashes OSTP Budget

For some reason, the lyrics to “The Flintstones” instantly flashed through my head when I read this:

Frustrated that White House officials have ignored congressional language curtailing scientific collaborations with China, legislators have decided to get their attention through a 32% cut in the tiny budget of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

I’m not sure why I immediately thought of Fred, Barney, Betty and whatshername? Maybe it’s my sense that the Republicans in Congress form some sort of “modern Stone Age family” with rocks in their heads instead of brains. And that they have some sort of innate aversion to the type of serious science that tells us that people and dinosaurs didn’t really walk the Earth at the same time. Not all Republicans, mind you. Just enough of them to have influence over vital national policies. And that even a single member with that type of power is one too many.

Allow me to explain. First, the back story.

Congress has placed a ban on NASA and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) cooperating with China on anything. The reasons were that the Chinese couldn’t be trusted not to steal our technology, and that the Chinese space program is run by the People’s Liberation Army. In short, we should compete with the Chinese, not cooperate with them, until they change their ways.

NASA complied with the ban. OSTP, which an arm of the President’s Office, ignored the restriction based on the opinion, which was backed up by the Justice Department, that it is an unconstitutional impingement upon the Executive Branch’s authority to conduct foreign affairs. Congress’s view was supported by the Government Accountability Office, which reviewed OSTP’s interactions with Chinese officials.

So, what we have here is a Constitutional dispute between two branches of government. Congress could have sought a ruling from the third branch of government, the judiciary. However, the parties worked out a compromise in this year’s budget that saved a lot of lawyer’s fees. The ban remains, but cooperation can go forward if NASA and OSTP certify to Congress in advance that cooperative activities will not result in the loss of anything vital to national security.

Sound reasonable enough. And you’d think that would have settled the matter amicably. But, no. Not in the fierce partisan divide that is the District of Calamity. Legislators led by Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia decided that OSTP had to be taught a lesson:

A 2012 spending bill expected to be approved later this week slashes OSTP’s current $6.6 million budget to $4.5 million. The cuts won’t mean layoffs or furloughs for the office’s 90-person staff, many on loan from other agencies or outside institutions. But it “will have real consequences on OSTP’s operations,” says OSTP spokesperson Rick Weiss, forcing OSTP “to prioritize existing activities” in fields ranging from science education to sustainable energy.

So, while demanding that the U.S. compete and not cooperate with China, Congress is slashing the budget of the office that coordinates and formulates the very science and technology programs and policies that we need to compete against that rising Asian juggernaut.


Repubs… Meet the Repubs,
They’re a modern Stone Age party.
With heads full of bedrock,
They’re a page right out of history.

These just can’t be the actions of anyone capable of coherent thought. No wonder why people have such a low opinion of Congress.

  • As much faith I place in the commercial space industry, progress in that area would have been, and will be much slower without NASA involvement. SpaceX and Elon Musk’s vision can only do so much.

    If left up to Congress, we’d just stop all space exploration altogether, so that we could focus what’s left of our tax dollars on farm subsidies and tax cuts of all kinds.

  • Paul451

    “Fred, Barney, Betty and whatshername”


  • Michael Turner

    All we need is Griffin. Then we can round out the Flintstones lineup with Brilliant Pebbles and Brilliant Bam-Bam.

  • warshawski

    Do not forget the CONgress desire to reduce the human spaceflight gap so they cut funding to CCDev and instead spend 6 times the amount on SLS/MPCV that even on the most optimistic estimates would extend the gap by 2-3 years.