Reports of a public row between NASA administrator Mike Griffin and Lori Garver, a member of Barack Obama’s transition team, has reignited speculation on the future of NASA’s manned Moon mission.
The Orlando Sentinel reported a “heated” 40-minute conversation between a “red-faced” Griffin and Garver at a book-publication party at NASA headquarters last week According to witnesses Griffin demanded to speak directly to Obama.
President Elect Obama has sent teams to every government agency in order to ensure smooth transition between administrations. Their job is to dig through budgets and plans to find anything that may cause problems for the incoming administration. The Bush White House has ordered full cooperation.
Griffin appears to consider this a personal insult. Witnesses to the “animated conversation” reported Garver as saying, “Mike, I don’t understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood.”
“If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar,” Griffin replied. “Because it means you don’t trust what I say is under the hood.”
Griffin was appointed by President Bush four years ago to lead NASA in the efforts for a return Moon shot by 2020 and then on to Mars. He has overseen the selection of Constellation, with its NASA-designed Ares I rocket and Orion capsule for the job. Griffin would like to stay on under the new administration, “under the right circumstances.”
Budgetary problems and technical issues with Constellation have been the subject of the transition team’s scrutiny. They have asked NASA how much could be saved by cancelling the Area I rocket. They have also asked about accelerating the program. The cancellation question has obviously worried Griffin.
The Orlando Sentinel also reports Griffin is orchestrating a campaign to defend Constellation. It says Griffin is:
“…scripting NASA employees and civilian contractors on what they can tell the transition team and has warned aerospace executives not to criticize the agency’s moon program.”
NASA’s Chief of Strategic Communications, Chris Shank denied there was an argument or that Griffin is trying to keep information from the Garver’s team. He denied that Griffin is seeking a meeting with Obama.
He did acknowledge that Griffin felt the team lack the expertise to assess some of the information they have been given. Griffin, an engineer, has said the Garver is “not qualified” to make decisions on NASA’s rocketry program.
Garver has refused to comment, but people close to her say she has confirmed “unpleasant” exchanges with Griffin and other NASA officials. Garver recently told a Washington meeting of aerospace representatives, “there will be change” to NASA policy. She hinted that there would be a new administrator soon.
Obama’s Shifting Position
The situation is exasperated by Barack Obama’s lukewarm support for the Moon shot during his election campaign. His position early in the primaries was to see more NASA spending on education at the expense of the Moon landings. He shifted several times during the campaign.
Obama only came out firmly in support of the new Moon shot when if became obvious that the loss of jobs in important battleground states such as Florida could derail his bid for the Presidency.
However, these pledges were made when the federal budgetary considerations was very different from those today. It would not be hard to find justification for cutting NASA’s budget.
The Open Rights Group (ORG) will not verify the result of London’s May elections. Saying, “There is insufficient evidence available to allow independent observers to state reliably whether the results … are an accurate representation of voters’ intentions.”
The elections for the Mayor of London and the 25-member London Assembly are among the most important local elections in the UK. An independent body, London Elects, organizes them.
This year’s elections were the first in London under a new UK law allowing for officially sanctioned, independent observers. ORG was one such group.
Counting of ballot papers in these elections has been carried out electronically since 1999. ORG’s objectives were to monitor the electronic vote count, for increased risk of fraud or a danger to the secrecy of the ballot. ORG has previously expressed concern over the use of technology in elections, worrying it obscures the workings of elections from voters and candidates.
In a report produced this week, ORG commends London Elects for, “delivering the May 2008 elections without significant procedural hitches.” Also for, “spirit in which London Elects has sought to enhance transparency.”
However, ORG states that on the day of the count, efforts towards transparency around the recording of valid votes were, “nothing more than pretence.” Screens beside vote scanners showed almost meaningless data. Many ORG observers concluded that they were unable to verify whether valid votes were being recorded.
ORG highlight a number of other concerns, which include:
- That due to disputes over commercial confidentiality, London Elects are unable to publish an audit, commissioned from KPMG, of some of the software used.
- That there was equipment directly connected to the counting servers to which observers had limited or no access to.
- The presence of error messages, bugs and system freezes indicating poor software quality.
The ORG report concludes, “Given these findings, ORG remains opposed to the introduction of e-counting in the United Kingdom, unless it can be proved cost-effective to adopt ORG‘s recommendations for increasing transparency around e-counting.”
Most people in the UK consider the UK election process to be clean. No one is challenging the results of May’s London elections. However for a governing body to have legitimacy, the electoral result must be independently verifiable. You do not have to go very far to see what happens if a defeated candidate does not accept the result of an election. An unverifiable, general election in which the opposition refuse to accept the result, would lead to political instability and chaos.
The UK government sees the introduction of e-democracy as a way to save money and increase voter participation. Yet, this is another election where there have been serious problems with the technology and procedures underpinning the democratic process. The government would do well to look into the issues raised by ORG.
Democracy on the cheap does not work.