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Why We're Writing the President (& Congress) Now

Posted by Casey Dreier

06-12-2013 1:37 CST

Topics: Explaining Policy, Space Policy

If you haven't seen it yet, Bill Nye just posted his open letter to the President arguing for an increased commitment to Planetary Science by NASA:

Stand with Bill and with the Society: write your own message to the President (and Congress)

I've seen a few comments to the effect of, "why write the President about this? It's Congress that funds things." Which is technically true, but ignores a lot of important stuff about the process.

First off, any message sent through our form to contact the President is also sent to your elected officials in Congress. So there's that.

But back to the President, how does he fit into this process?

Well, right now we're worrying about two fiscal years: the one that started in October – FY2014 – and the one starting next October, FY2015. Congress is hammering out their issues with FY2104 (remember the shutdown?) and a budget committee is set to do something by December 15th. The temporary funding for this year expires in January, and we want to make sure that they don't forget about planetary exploration. Both the Senate and the House have proposed legislation that funds Planetary Science at $1.3 billion, which is about $100 million more than the White House requested.

The other budget that we're worried about is FY2015. At the moment, this budget is embargoed by the White House as they finish drafting it. This budget request will come out sometime in the early spring and even though the President doesn't then actually fund anything, it does represent official Administration policy, the tune of which NASA marches to.

Unless the program is particularly political – health care, say – the funding levels proposed by the White House tend to act as a cognitive anchor and Congress usually doesn't stray too far from the initial numbers. You're in a much better position if a program has strong White House support that is reflected through the first budget request.

It's also the Administration that puts in formal requests for "new starts" of bigger projects. Do you want to see a mission to explore Europa? I do. But it requires NASA, the Office of Management and Budget, and the White House to all support it in order to put it in their budget. Congress can then approve the funding, but since Congress only works on a year-to-year basis, they can't initiate a major, decade-long project.

Until the White House decides to prioritize Planetary Science, we'll likely see this same story. Every year, the White House will propose cutting Planetary Science. The public, scientists, and organizations like the Planetary Society will work really hard to get people in Congress to restore funding. That's not sustainable until the White House changes its tune.

So that's why we write the President. We'll also forward these letters to John Holdren, the President's Science Advisor and to Charlie Bolden, the NASA Administrator.

Send Your Own Message to the President

See other posts from December 2013


Or read more blog entries about: Explaining Policy, Space Policy


telluric: 12/06/2013 02:49 CST

PS should add to the main page a one-click link - 'Add your Voice', besides the "Get Involved" menu. Add a bubble popup to it- 'a fast direct means to add your voice and impact the future of space exploration'. For every person that will go through the steps, there are 10 others that must trip over a fallen log to set them into action. On a single page, have pre-written statements on each PS's positions on Space issues ($1.5B, H.R.3625,etc). The citizen adding his voice simply checks boxes, adds name, zip, - minimal work. Offer 6 brief statements from which the Voice can select to personalize their message. This is your web site. Those choosing to use your site to get involved should add to your collective voice. Yes, the White House is low-balling Planetary. Revise your post on the delivered letter to the Prez and inform, as you did here, how it is being delivered. Cut the deadwood from these letters; less gee-whiz. DC is a cynical world. To the point statements are needed.

telluric: 12/06/2013 03:31 CST

Sorry but the link "Stand with Bill: Write the President and your Elected Officials" does not stand out enough. Furthermore, the form letter is good but needs to be cut in half and cut to the chase. One stop letters need to address not just the hot tamale- $1.5B but also the issues, bills, etc. impacting it. More than one concise letter should be active - addressing specific issues - made available for a Voice to send. Supporters need to be made aware that you are doing more than just asking for more money. State that your lobbying includes clear alternatives and solutions that will make $1.5B available to Planetary. Minor details that would raise more questions than answers are not needed, but Planetary and other groups need to take clear stands on issues effecting NASA as a whole - those in HEOMD as well as SMD. Itemize your stands on a page. Without some toughness, with just joining the DC political dance, the decades of poor decisions impacting NASA will continue for decades more.

Christina Cavalli: 12/06/2013 03:38 CST

Agreed. And on this page, the only link I see is in the first sentence of the last paragraph. Not obvious: So that's why we write the President. We'll also forward these letters to John Holdren, the President's Science Advisor and to Charlie Bolden, the NASA Administrator.

Paul McCarthy: 12/07/2013 01:23 CST

I suggest to bring it repeatedly to these elected officials' attention that, when they're retired from the excitement of high office and inevitably ruminating wistfully on what life's all about, one thing they will definitely wish they could know before they depart this mortal coil, is the answer to the question: "Is there any other life out there?", and that a well funded Planetary program has the real prospect of answering that at Europa, Enceladus, etc, within their life times - but only if they fund it NOW!!!

Paul McCarthy: 12/07/2013 01:25 CST

Self-interest is always the most likely thing to work! As telluric says: "DC is a cynical world."

Casey Dreier: 12/07/2013 11:11 CST

Thanks for the feedback, I've added a more prominent button to the action page. @telluric: Thanks for the specific suggestions! I'll try and work some of those into our content.

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