Space Access Society Action Alert: Shelby Tries to Wreck Commercial Crew

Sen. Richard Shelby
Sen. Richard Shelby

Space Access Society Political Action Alert 6/4/14
Short Fuse – Action Required By 9 am EDT Thursday 6/5/14

Please Redistribute As Widely As Possible

In a subcommittee markup Tuesday, Senator Richard Shelby (R AL) inserted a requirement in the Senate NASA funding bill (formally known as the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2015 Appropriations Bill, “Senate CJS Appropriation” for short) to provide, he stated, “greater accountability and budgetary transparency in the commercial crew program and future commercial cargo missions.”

What this actually is, according to the story at, is this:

  • Language requiring NASA to ensure that companies participating in the competition for the development of Commercial Crew launch vehicles be required to submit certified cost and pricing data (consistent with FAR requirements)
  • Language requiring NASA to require certified cost and pricing data for the new round of contracts for future cargo resupply missions.

In other words, it’s a poison pill for Commercial Crew and Commercial Cargo, two programs whose ongoing success threatens to undermine the justification for Senator Shelby’s missionless and massively wasteful hometown government mega-rocket project, SLS.


Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew already do a great deal of cost reporting, according to NASA’s own voluminous Commercial Space Transportation Document Library. Senator Shelby’s assertion that this is about ensuring “that taxpayers get the best value for their dollar” is patent nonsense – by NASA’s own study, one Commercial Cargo launcher development came in at a tenth or less NASA’s likely in-house costs, and Commercial Crew looks set to follow in saving massive amounts of taxpayer dollars, with one bidder talking about prices as low as $20m a seat (versus the current Russian price of over $70m a seat and climbing, not to mention retired Shuttle’s costs of well into the hundreds of millions per seat).

These two programs are on course to save massive amounts of taxpayer dollars, unless Commercial Cargo & Crew end up crippled by deliberately destructive contracting requirements.

To be absolutely clear, imposing full FARs cost-plus contract-type accounting controls on a commercial-style operation increases costs from 50% to 200%, depending on the size and details of the commercial operation. It will also delay the commercial operation for months or longer while the intensely detailed account-for-every-rivet procedures are being imposed.

It also potentially reveals to both domestic and international rivals a great deal of competition-sensitive confidential commercial information.

The FARs, section 15.403-1, “Prohibition on obtaining certified cost or pricing data”, section (b), actually says “The contracting officer shall not require certified cost or pricing data… ..when a commercial item is being acquired.”

The Cargo Resupply Services (and until quite recently also Commercial Crew development) contracts are commercial fixed-price contracts, and as such FARs-type “certified cost and pricing data” is none of the government’s business. By law, and for good reason, the government isn’t allowed to ask for that in such contracts. If there is to be any hope for both programs to continue as astonishingly efficient and affordable as they’ve been so far, they must continue on a commercial basis.

If Senator Shelby’s narrowly targeted modification to the FARs stands, we modestly propose that it should be broadened to apply to all the other suppliers of Station services to NASA – the various international partners, and the high-cost Russian Soyuz providers in particular.

What’s that you say, the Europeans and Japanese and Russians wouldn’t stand for NASA insisting on detailed tracking and cost-accounting for every rivet?

OK, to be totally fair, let’s expand this requirement to all US government purchases of commercial supplies and services. You say it would cause a major part of the US economy to grind to a halt?

Well, yes, it would. Which is apparently the point of targeting Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew with it. Senator Shelby looks here to be engaging in straightforward sabotage against rivals of his massively wasteful home-town government rocket project. (Which, we might add, is less than a model of efficiency and cost transparency.)

We try to maintain a sense of humor about the ongoing waste of money that is SLS, as long as it doesn’t directly interfere with anything useful at NASA. This bill language is way across the line, and cannot be allowed to stand.


The full Senate Appropriations Committee marks this bill at 10 am tomorrow, Thursday. The time to contact your Senator (if any) on the Committee and raise (polite) hell is today, tonight, and tomorrow morning before 9 am EDT.

If you’re from a state with a Senator on the following list, go to this page for their phone number or web contact info, then give their office a call (preferred) or write them a message. If you call and get a live answer, ask for whoever handles NASA appropriations. If you then get that staffer live, tell them who you are and where you’re from, give them your message briefly and politely, answer any questions they have, thank them for their time, and ring off. If you get shunted to voicemail (as seems most likely, especially tonight) state the message, briefly and politely, then ring off.

The gist of the message (put it in your own words if you can): “I’m [your name] from [your town in that senator’s state.] I’m calling about a problem with the Senate NASA Appropriation. NASA’s Commercial Crew and Commercial Cargo programs will be required to do full detailed cost-plus accounting despite being commercial programs. This will damage both programs by imposing delays and increasing costs. Please fix this in Thursday’s markup. Thanks for your time.”

Committee Members

Mikulski, Barbara A. (MD) , Chairman
Leahy, Patrick J. (VT)
Harkin, Tom (IA)
Murray, Patty (WA)
Feinstein, Dianne (CA)
Durbin, Richard J. (IL)
Johnson, Tim (SD)
Landrieu, Mary L. (LA)
Reed, Jack (RI)
Pryor, Mark L. (AR)
Tester, Jon (MT)
Udall, Tom (NM)
Shaheen, Jeanne (NH)
Merkley, Jeff (OR)
Begich, Mark (AK)
Coons, Christopher A. (DE)

Shelby, Richard C. (AL), Ranking Member
Cochran, Thad (MS)
McConnell, Mitch (KY)
Alexander, Lamar (TN)
Collins, Susan M. (ME)
Murkowski, Lisa (AK)
Graham, Lindsey (SC)
Kirk, Mark (IL)
Coats, Daniel (IN)
Blunt, Roy (MO)
Moran, Jerry (KS)
Hoeven, John (ND)
Johanns, Mike (NE)
Boozman, John (AR)

Space Access Society

  • Peter

    I wrote Senator Dan Coats. Love how this Socialist under-handedness is coming from a ‘Republican’…

  • therealdmt

    This Shelby is a slimeball.

    I wish I were from one of those states — if you are, please phone in as requested.

  • windbourne

    Every last one of these members that voted for this should be tried for treason.
    Is it any wonder why America is falling apart?

    HOPEFULLY, Musk, Bigelow, and Bezos will spend money on the opponents of these trash.

  • windbourne

    There is no real difference between either GOP or dems.
    They both stink.

    I regularly knock the house republicans, but that is because I know more about them in Colorado. And they are CORRUPT.
    And from what I have seen of the dems, they are inept.
    However, both are blocking 3rd parties, which is killing America.

  • Wayne Martin

    Senator Richard Shelby is a true Political Prostitute Thru and Thru! I watched him spew his bought and paid for whorish Self out at the U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing about competition in national security satellite launches on March 5, 2014. Obviously Boeing and Lockheed owns this piece of Work Lock Stock and Barrel !!!

    He calls himself a Republican but he has shown his true colors on that very day of the 5th of March to profess a political position of Less Government and Capitalism via the Republican Party yet he said at that very hearing that ULA’s non-compete 36 Core Block buy was not an issue that had anything to do with MONEY!!! He also said that what mattered was assured access to space and the security of the United States… He Out and Out basically “Said” that competition and our Tax dollars meant absolutely nothing as it relates to what ULA is charging for it’s Launch services which just so happens to be about $380 Million a SHOT!!!

    So… Now he all of a sudden says the COST does in fact Matters???

    Really? I’m Thinking (Both Side of His Mouth from which he speaks is in your Face!)

    Does he truly think no one can connect the dots here?

    How Blatantly Pathetic He is!!!

  • Hoplon

    Calling Shelby a slimeball is a profound insult to all slimeballs.

  • Michael J

    How does voting for this give aid and comfort to the enemy? People, before you use “treason” understand what it encompasses beforehand.

  • Astroraider

    Are these senators brain dead or what. What bribes they must have taken to get to this point. The “good ole boys network” must be strong in Washington. If you pay enough, you are on the inside, if not … bleah …

  • Astroraider

    All these politicians … it is about GREED GREED GREED POWER POWER MONEY

  • windbourne

    You mean sending 2B to putin to launch Americans while working to kill off American private space?
    I would call that giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

  • James

    That’s simply called politics.

  • James

    I’m from TN Lamar is a real career politician and will do what give him power so..

  • James

    Hate to say it but it is in many ways a form of treason. A small treason but…

    I’d rather call it blatant stupidity and corruption.

  • delphinus100

    No, it’s merely…wrong. *Very* wrong in this case, but it’s not the T-word.

    Hype won’t help.

  • Hoplon

    Anything that weakens us as a nation is, by definition, giving aid and comfort to all of our enemies. Commercial Crew and Commercial Cargo vastly strengthen our space program, as well as strengthening the concept and the practice of of free enterprise and free market capitalism. Taxpayers’ money wasted on the SLS Monstrosity is simply billions of taxpayers’ money down the drain.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    Well this has really got the tempers up hasn’t it?
    My view is similar however since I’m not a U.S. citizen, it’s not quite so close to home.
    Of course, since I’m for the CC program and believe SAAs are the way to go, then I’m concerned as well.
    My concerns however aren’t possibly as great as others since I have some faith that SpaceX will continue on regardless of what Congress do in efforts to prevent it.
    If, for example, SpaceX don’t get the next round of funding, then it’ll just take them longer. If they do, and it’s a FAR, then there is wriggle room in FAR contracts that NASA may exploit to assist companies move on with less interference than a strictly enforced FAR. Of course, SpaceX for one, may voluntarily reject a FAR and do it on their own.

  • windbourne

    Let me point out that ppl like Shelby, wolf, etc regularly refer to Russia as the enemy. Now if somebody claims that another is the enemy and then sends billions to them to keep our own private space from succeeding, what exactly would you call it?
    It is treason in every sense of the word.

  • Avedis Ghazarian

    You are totally right man. That is exactly what I hear from these politicians man. This country needs some new blood to run this “Bush Era” corrupt government and fire all the old conservative idiots out of congress and the senate. This is our generation and the future belongs to us, not the capitalistic money wasting pigs in congress!