Within 24 hours of STS Columbia’s demise, the US government established an investigative commission headed by a former US Navy employee, ex-Admiral Harold Gehman, Jr., and seven other grand brains culled from the US Air Force and US Navy. They will be supported by the for-profit United Space Alliance (USA), shorthand for a Lockheed Martin and Boeing partnership, in their investigation. In short, another military-industrial panel to investigate what was billed as a civilian “scientific and research mission.” No Richard Feynman’s–the deceased Nobel Prize winning physicist who discovered the cause of the 1986 Challenger disaster–need apply here. Conversely, over 365 days passed by before an investigative commission to examine the September 11, 2001 attacks would be convened in January of 2003.
Conspiracy? No. It’s simple, really. On 911, US civilians and commercial interests bore the brunt of death and destruction. Their interests are secondary to the current Regime. On the other hand, on February 2, 2003, the good old boys and girls of the US military-industrial complex and their paymasters in the Pentagon and NASA were running the show. Seven of their own went down. It’s abundantly clear that the Regime and its military-industrial interests supercede those of the American populace. So, it’s going to be yet another cover-your-ass (CYA) investigative operation headed by ex-military types who seem to be finding seats on investigative commissions of all types. Gehman’s first order of business will be to control the flow of information to the public. In short, stymie the press corps or what remains of it.
The mighty military-industrial complex lobby has pressured Congress to force many federal organizations like NASA to privatize-outsource its functions. In NASA’s case, close to 90 percent of NASA’s funding gets turned over to contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and the USA which, on January 31, 2003, received a contract extension worth close to $3 billion. Those billion dollar contractors run the day-to-day operations of NASA’s Shuttle program yet they receive little scrutiny other than a feel-good NASA Inspector General audit that they quickly ignore. And when tragedies like those of February 2, 2003 happen, it’s the federal agency and the taxpayers that have to foot the bill for the shoddy performance of private industry. Fines and prosecutions mean little to Lockheed Martin and Boeing as they view the occasional government spanking as a business cost. And, besides, organizations like NASA and the Pentagon have no where else to turn for their unique products. It’s a murky business indeed.
According to propaganda on USA’s website “… USA has continued to maintain safety and reliability as top priorities while successfully reducing the overall costs of operating the Space Shuttle fleet. Mission objectives – including preparation for flight, on-time launches and safe landings – are consistently met under USA’s management.” Yet, as has been widely reported, the General Accounting Office, mid-level NASA engineers and Congressional Oversight panels had chided NASA and Lockheed Martin and Boeing for cutting corners on safety by gutting quality assurance programs, ignoring structural issues associated with aging STS’s, and–in a broadside aimed at NASA–incompetent contract oversight by NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe and his prime contractors.
NASA’s contractors have been cited for safety violations and have visited courtrooms more than they want the American public to know. Testifying before the US Congress on March 15, 2001, Roberta Gross, NASA’s Inspector General, indicated that “We found that ground workers were using potentially hazardous materials without exercising proper control and safety precautions. Improper use of these materials is hazardous to ground workers and increases the risk of damage to Space Shuttle payloads, including International Space Station hardware and equipment. We recommended that NASA increase surveillance of the Boeing safety office’s compliance with inspection procedures and direct Boeing to analyze its use of materials that do not meet requirements for flammability and electrostatic discharge. Management concurred with our recommendations and has implemented a number of procedures to control the use of these noncompliant materials. However, in an ongoing audit, we are finding similar problems with potentially unsafe materials used by United Space Alliance’s shuttle processing operations.”
Gross’ testimony went on to point out that Boeing subcontractors were criminally prosecuted for everything from unauthorized aluminum battery alignment guides used by astronauts to replace batteries on the International Space Station. One company made unauthorized welds to repair their manufacturing errors and attempted to hide the welds. In another instance, investigators found that a subcontractor did not properly heat-treat parts, causing them to be weaker than required. The company was fined $1.6 million and the company’s general manager was sentenced to 55 months in prison. She also pointed out that a NASA and DOD contractor had consistently illegally stored and burned hazardous waste on its property. Federal criminal and civil cases are underway, but the company has already paid a $500,000 fine to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. In another case currently in court, a company shipped hazardous materials from a NASA Center and forged shipping documents to show that the drivers were certified to drive hazardous material cargoes, when, in fact, they were not.
Finally, according to the US Department of Justice, on November 9, 2000, Boeing and USA agreed to pay the US government $825,000 and relinquish rights to $1.2 million in unpaid invoices to settle allegations relating to false claims submitted to the government between 1986 and 1992 under the NASA’s Space Shuttle and Space Station Freedom programs. NASA’s Bohemian
Sean O’Keefe is another Bush I holdover having served in that administration as Secretary of the Navy and Defense Comptroller at Dick Cheney’s Pentagon. He has ties to Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy and in 1994 he participated in a roundtable for that group and argued vociferously for increasing funding for the B-2 bomber, currently priced at $2.2 billion a piece. He was a paid consultant and advisory board member for the manufacturer of the B-2, Northrop Grumman, and also Raytheon. Prior to becoming NASA’s administrator, O’Keefe had no background in the sciences involved with space flight. Rather, he was counting beans at the Office of Management and Budget until Bush II nominated him–no doubt at Cheney’s insistence–to the head NASA position. O’Keefe’s also a member of the manly and very elite San Francisco Bohemian Club that meets now-and-then in the summer months in the Sonoma County Redwoods to discuss, among other things, matters of planetary and national governance. Hank Kissinger, Bush I and Bush II and like-minded folks have attended these bonding activities. According to Peter Phillips, a sociology professor at Sonoma State University, lakeside chats provide Bohemian attendee’s with keen insights like these:
“The Bohemian Grove offers daily lectures known as “lakeside chats.” The Under-Secretary of the Navy may give an off-the-record speech on military budget issues, or the President of Mexico may address global free trade. Whatever the topic, those present emerge with a sense of insider awareness of high-level policy issues and political situations which are often yet-to-be, or perhaps never-to-be, publicly articulated.
One such chat in 1994, given by a University of California political science professor, warned of the dangers of multi-culturalism, Afro-centrism, and the loss of family boundaries. He declared that “elites based on merit and skill are important to society. Any elite that fails to define itself will fail to survive… We need boundaries and values set and clear. He went on to conclude that we cannot allow the ‘unqualified’ masses to carry out policy, and elites must set values that can be translated into ‘standards of authority.”‘
O’Keefe’s stated before the House Science Committee that his number one priority for NASA, was to have it be the “leading agency in the federal government for implementing the President’s Management Agenda.” That meant outsourcing, cutting costs and reforming the management of NASA. In testimony before the US Senate, O’Keefe went on to say that “…technical excellence at any cost is not an acceptable approach. Managing the program within cost and schedule must be elevated in importance…” That from a proponent of the B-2 bomber which has shattered records for cost overruns and requires astronomically expensive retrofits.
In an endeavor where technical excellence means the difference between life and death, it would seem that any cost is a fair price to pay for the men and women who undertake the most dangerous mission of all–the exploration of space.
Did Columbia’s magnificent seven have to perish for the President’s Management Agenda?
JOHN STANTON is a Virginia-based writer specializing in national security matters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org