Penny4NASA: The White House Responds With Politics As Usual

By Brian Williams | 8 years ago

Born after Neil deGrass Tyson’s powerful testimony in front of the US Senate Committee on Commerce Science & Transportation, the penny4NASA campaign has picked up a lot of steam. The call to action centered around a statement that Tyson made in which he said the entire budget for NASA amounted to about half of a penny on the U.S. tax dollar. He surmised that if the United States were to double the budget to be just one penny on the dollar, that NASA could easily return to the powerhouse of wonder and creativity it was in the 1960’s and have the added benefit of stimulating the economy.

It is a popular idea. It spread over Twitter, was blogged about at almost every science friendly blog on the internet, and eventually penny4NASA.org put forth a petition to the White House to double NASA’s budget. The petition soared through the 25,000 signature threshold and was received at the White House.

Before anyone gets their hopes up that this actually had an effect on anything, you need to understand what the “We The People” petition system on WhiteHouse.gov is. The petition only gets read if it reaches whatever the current signature threshold is, right now that threshold is set at 25,000. Once it reaches 25,000 signatures is it read by the president? No. It gets filtered though White House staff (read gov’t interns) to the appropriate policy expert, who then issues a response. So the petition never really had a chance to do anything tangible, but what was the official response?

Phil Larson, the Communications and Space Policy Analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, first thanks us and then tells us what a great job the president is already doing…

Thank you for signing this petition. We share your view that NASA is a driver of innovation and economic growth, a creator of high-skilled and high-paying jobs, and a force for inspiration in the American people — especially our youth. That’s why President Obama has set NASA on course for a new and exciting chapter of American space exploration, one that will see more discoveries, scientific breakthroughs, and, ultimately, more Americans in space going to places never before visited.

Even in the face of tough fiscal challenges, the President’s plan charts a path towards continued American leadership in space by making every penny count. By investing in American companies — and American ingenuity — we are spurring free-market competition to give taxpayers more bang for the buck, while enabling NASA to do what it does best — reach for the heavens.

It goes on for a bit, mentioning SpaceX’s recent achievement and listing the great already funded projects that NASA has going on, like the Curiosity rover and James Webb Space Telescope (which still has yet to be finished). Then, after outlining the Presidents cool, yet incredibly murky plan to take us to Mars… maybe, he throws in what the White House really hopes you’ll take from his response…

Unfortunately, not everyone is supportive of this ambitious effort. Rather than making bold, targeted investments in our space future and embarking on new partnerships with the private sector to ensure every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely, the proposed Republican House budget plan, if spread evenly, would significantly cut NASA’s budget, forcing the deepest cuts to the space program since just after we landed on the Moon.

It’s all just a pat on the head and a plea for your support. That’s politics for ya. Sorry internet, but that’s not the way government works. If you really want to get a penny for NASA you’re not going to do it through online petitions. The only petition government listens to is the one you drop in the ballot box. So maybe it’s time we start demanding more active science leadership by electing more science minded representatives, instead of just ridiculing big ideas. You can read the White House’s full response here.

Maybe penny4NASA should organize a write-in campaign to get Neil deGrass Tyson elected. He’d have my vote.

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