Eating the Seed Corn

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  Space News Business

Eating the Seed Corn

By JIM SECAN

posted: 24 October 2005
01:30 pm ET


[U.S. Sen. Wayne] Allard’s commentary [“The Greatest Threat to U.S. Space Dominance,” Oct. 3, page 4A] identified a key source of the Defense Department ‘s inability to bring space systems in on anywhere near budget: incorporating research and development (R&D) into the acquisition of new space systems rather than basing the new systems on completed R&D efforts.

What the senator failed to mention, or at least failed to expand on, was why this has happened. He does say something about managers learning that it is easier to get acquisition money than R&D money, but does no t get to the core issue. Over the past two decades, Congress, of which Senator Allard is a member, has systematically gutted Department of Defense R&D budgets in both basic and applied research.

We have for many years been eating our technological “seed corn,” and the cost and schedule overruns seen in today’s space acquisition programs are a direct result of short-sighted budget decisions made in Congress.

The senator’s comments remind me of the old Pogo cartoon lament: “We has met the enemy and he is us.” All concerned need to work on getting up-front funding for R&D back where it belongs in order to regain control of the space acquisition process.

Jim Secan, NorthWest Research Associates, Inc.

Tucson, Ariz.