Jonathan Russ (05/12/04)
This week's class, the final class of the year, consisted of a discussion about President Bush's Mars initiative. Each member of the class presented his or her thoughts for five minutes, defending either Thesis 1 (arguing for presidential control over NASA) or Thesis 2 (arguing for congressional discussion with NASA to determine the future of the agency).
In my opinion, the setup of the class was not optimal for a good discussion of the subject. Since all of the students defending Thesis 1 presented before those defending Thesis 2, there was not a true opportunity for rebuttal and synthesis of each others comments into the discussion. What resulted were people presenting their predetermined ideas and often repeating each other.
Regardless, many important points were brought up that shed light on Bush's Mars initiative. The most commonly discussed subject was that of partisanship and bureaucracy; Thesis 1 stressed the imperfection of Congress, and Thesis 2 stressed that of the President. It is important to realize that both Congress and the President are a part of the same Washington political system and that governmental control, no matter where it comes from, will be subject to the outside forces that contribute to policymaking. Furthermore, as I stated in my presentation, the idea of “bypassing bureaucracy” (as Mike put it) is inherently undemocratic; control by presidential mandate would be akin to dictatorial power, and dictatorial power over anything in a democratic system is the first step towards the system's demise. In any case, it is impossible, given Congress' control over the federal budget.
I found Gil Gattan's point about keeping separate the issues of NASA's governmental control and the evaluation of the Mars initiative itself to be quite important. We can speculate all day about Bush's motivations for the initiative or the likelihood of adequate Congressional funding, but such speculation can only help us evaluate the initiative itself in limited ways. The politics surrounding the initiative can help us to determine the likelihood of its implementation and to predict possible changes, but they tell us nothing about the initiative itself.To close, I'd like to thank everybody involved with this course—Professor Head, Jay Dickson, and the rest of the class—for a great semester. I truly enjoyed the multidisciplinary approach towards the subject matter and the personal experiences of both the professor and guests made it quite easy to feel engaged in the real world of planetary science and policy. And Andrew's animation was great!