Few people, at least in the space community, had heard of the Institute for Liberty prior to their press conference earlier this week, in which the organization’s president, Andrew Langer, lambasted the House NASA authorization bill as a “travesty,” and called out space subcommittee Representatives Gabrielle Giffords and Alan Grayson by name as some of the chief perps behind it. I decided to see what this was all about, and interviewed Andrew earlier this week.
TM: So, what is this all about? How did the IFL get interested in space policy? Is it just about government waste, or is there more to it than that?
AL: I’ve been a space buff since I was a kid, Rand. When I was 11, and we had to do reports on famous explorers, I did mine on Neil Armstrong. In fact, I dragged my parents to the Neil Armstrong Museum in Wapakoneta, OH on a family trip to Indiana one summer.
IFL has long been interested in wasteful spending – and as an organization active in the Tea Party Movement, it’s a point we’ve been hammering. The public is deeply concerned about how their money is being spent.
So when I read Buzz Aldrin’s comments about the direction of the space program, I got very interested – especially when I saw Congresswoman Giffords’ name being mentioned. IFL has deep ties in the Tucson community – a good friend of mine, Jon Justice, does a morning drive-time talk radio show there, and I’m on just about every other week. The trials and travails of Gabrielle Giffords are well-known to me, and so after reading through the extensive reporting on HR 5781, we decided to get involved.
For IFL, this issue has lots of different elements. There’s the waste element, to be certain. But Space Pork goes beyond that – it’s also the idea that we’re spending money with ill-defined goals. When you’re on a road trip, if you don’t know the destination, you’re going to waste time and money just driving around. And that’s all well and good if you’re just on a Sunday drive, but it’s not the way to enact public policy.
See, I believe firmly in manned space flight. But I believe that Americans can’t rely on the Russians or Chinese to get us into space. Above all, we believe in American exceptionalism at IFL, and that our best days, even our best days in space, are ahead of us.
So this is about comprehensive reform. From a spending standpoint, and from a policy standpoint.
Oh, and let’s not forget the good-government aspects to it. I have a real hard time when I see an appropriations bill come to a member of Congress with one dollar amount, have that member add billions in, and find out that the member of Congress’ husband will benefit from those added billions….
TM: OK, then, to play Devil’s advocate, many would say (and have said) that it is the new plan that has ill-defined goals, with its dropping of the moon by a date certain (let’s ignore the reality that the date was slipping more than a year per year at growing costs), instead offering a “Flexible Path.” They would also say that (paraphrasing) in ending Constellation it was in fact an attack on “American exceptionalism.” There are good arguments against that notion, and I’ve been making them (or at least attempting to) for months in various venues, but what would you say? We understand from the presser yesterday that you’re opposed to the House bill, but what are you for?
AL: No, I agree – the new plan has ill-defined goals. But that’s all the more reason why we shouldn’t be adding in more funding into the approps process. We believe in setting defined goals, recognizing the reality of innovation in the year 2010.
Assuming for a moment that the goal should be landing men on Mars by a date certain (and we wouldn’t presume to suggest a date), it isn’t going to be the government, or big-box, staid contractors that are going to solve the problems of how to get there. Those solutions are going to come from the high-tech sector, and we believe that space policy ought to reflect that.
IFL’s core mission is small business and entrepreneurship, and while we are not suggesting that a small firm will get us to Mars, we believe that America’s entrepreneurs will.
As for the “flexible path” – again, if you’re uncertain about where you’re going, the only thing that is certain is that you’re never going to get anywhere.
TM: OK, so it remains unclear to me what you are for. The Senate bill? The original administration request? Disbanding NASA altogether? And when I say “you,” I mean IFL, not necessarily Andrew Langer.
AL: IFL is for the Senate bill. We’re certainly not for the disbanding of NASA altogether. We’re in favor of real leadership from the White House, and better guidance at NASA.
TM: Are there any particular IFL donors who are particularly interested in this topic? Or is it discretionary on your part?
AL: IFL never, ever discusses its donors. Sorry.
TM: I assumed that was the case, but some of my readers will surely be curious, and would expect me to at least ask.
AL: I will say that after we launched our NoSpacePork initiative by working to get those thousands of grassroots comments, we’ve gotten a number of inquiries from individuals interested in getting more involved with IFL. That’s always gratifying.
TM: Why go after Giffords and Grayson, but not (say) Pete Olson and Ralph Hall?
AL: As I said, we were tremendously interested in the intersection of this issue with Tucson because of our deep, pre-existing connection to Tucson and Tucson media. We watched with great interest when tea party activists in Tucson (along with my friend, Jon Justice) launched the “Where’s Gabby?” campaign last year. So that seemed like a natural fit.
Alan Grayson, well – like a lot of limited-government activists, I’ve been deeply concerned by this member. His outrageous statements, his votes. So when we saw his name attached to this, that moved his name up to the top of the list.
We’re a small activist group with limited resources, so our targets are going to likewise be limited. If we’re going to have an impact, then we need to pick targets that make sense — Giffords and Grayson made sense.
As NoSpacePork.com moves forward, we’re expanding our efforts to Olson and Hall. Pork is pork, and its even more damning when it’s Republicans pushing it. We didn’t know what kind of an impact our initial efforts were going to generate — now that we’ve helped move the debate, we feel comfortable broadening our efforts.
TM: Thank you for your time.