John Douglass

President, Aerospace Industries Association


or many people, nine years at the helm of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) would be a fine end to a career that included 28 years in the U.S. Air Force, and three years as an assistant secretary of the Navy.

But John Douglass, named one of Washington’s top association lobbyists by The Hill newspaper in 2006, is not ready to retire.

When Douglass departs AIA at the end of the year, he intends to spend 2008 working full time getting a Democrat elected to the White House. Then, if the opportunity arises, he hopes to take a senior post in the new administration.

The retired Air Force brigadier general’s resume, which includes stints

on the White House National Security Council under Ronald Reagan and the Senate Armed Services Committee under Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn, makes him a natural fit for a top Pentagon job. But Douglass said he also has

been approached in the past about senior jobs on the civil side of the government.

“I am interested in one last opportunity in government,” Douglass said. “And that’s one of the reasons I told AIA several years ago that I wanted to leave at the end of 2007 – so that I would have a year where I was unencumbered by any conflict of interest with industry.”

Two days before leaving for the Paris Air Show – his last as AIA chief – with his wife and two sons, 9 and 11, in tow, Douglass talked with Space News staff writer Brian Berger about U.S. export control policy and other civil and national security space issues.

Why did AIA stop pushing for broad-based reform of U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR)?

You might say AIA got ITAR fatigue. But what really happened is we changed strategies when we hired a chief of international affairs

with some new perspectives. Instead of going directly to a completely new system we decided to pursue a phased approach. So for now we are focused on making the current system work as well as it can until we can get a new system in place.

What will it take to make those things


The political forcing function for the new system is probably the 2008 election, so that is when we plan to bring out the proposal for the new system. In the meantime, we didn’t want to do nothing, so we came up with 11 recommendations for how the administration could make the current system work better. Because getting past the hardliners in Congress has been such a big hurdle, none of the 11 recommendations need congressional approval.

Have any of AIA’s recommendations been adopted yet?

Not yet, but they’ve been fairly well received by the interagency groups looking at them. I met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte just a couple weeks ago and he promised the recommendations would be given serious consideration. It was clear he hadn’t really focused on this issue before, so it was an opportunity to do a deep dive into ITAR. We found him to be positive and responsive. So we think there are some things that can be done next year, but we don’t see a new wave coming until we get some commitments from these presidential candidates on broader reform.

Do you see much difference between Democrats and Republicans on ITAR reform?

You find hardliners and more enlightened people in both parties. Probably a little bit more of the old thinking on the Republican side, where Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), Henry Hyde and others have been thwarting progress. But it would be unfair to Republicans to paint them as the lone culprits.

Didn’t Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee strategic forces subcommittee, recently tell AIA members she supports ITAR reform?

Yes. She gets it. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer understands and I think House Speaker Nancy Pelosi understands. There are a lot of people in the new Democratic Congress that have a better grasp of what it is that ITAR, as it exists today, is doing to hurt our economy.

Is ITAR the toughest issue of your tenure?

It was up near the top, but the toughest was the Boeing and Airbus subsidy issue.

What was the thorniest space issue on your watch?

Work force. We have 630,000 aerospace workers in the U.S. designing, building and servicing our equipment. That’s less than one-quarter of a percent of the population yet they produce all of our military equipment, all of our space equipment and a $55 billion positive trade surplus for our economy. It’s only in the past year that we’ve been able to get the Bush administration and the Commerce Department to understand that it’s just good government to pay attention to maintaining and replicating that little slice of our population that delivers so much.

Were the 2002 recommendations of the Commission on

the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry

largely adopted or mostly ignored?

You’ll recall the report said the U.S. needs a vision beyond shuttle. And what happened? The administration actually came out with a vision beyond shuttle. The report helped influence that. The same thing is true with air traffic management modernization. We predicted that we would be where we are today – approaching gridlock – without a new system that has a large space component. The current national modernization effort, NextGen, came directl

y out of the commission report.

So the commission’s report has been the blueprint for what this administration has done in space and civil aviation. In national security, however, it’s fair to say that 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq shifted the focus of the Pentagon away from acquisition reform and other structural issues the commission identified.

What was your reaction to NASA Administrator Mike Griffin’s recent comments that global warming is a problem he’s not sure we need to “wrestle with”?

My first reaction was “I bet 10 minutes after this, Mike is going to regret he said that.” When you’re live on the radio, occasionally we all say things that upon a little more reflection we wish we hadn’t said. If Mike really believes that, I would be surprised, but I’d be saddened also.

With the current political focus on climate change, is it a given that the

United States will increase its spending on Earth science?

No question about it. We are going to be spending more money on Earth science.

Barring a bigger NASA budget, where will the extra Earth science money come from?

I won’t accept the thesis that there’s no top-line increase for NASA. We spend more in a few months in Iraq’s Anbar province than we spend here at NASA. That’s not the right national priority. I’m sorry, but it’s not. Those who say that the United States

, with its great industrial base and pioneering spirit, can only spend what we spend today on NASA are people who are walking away from the future. I don’t accept it in any way. If someone were to offer me that job tomorrow under the ground rules I had to live within the current budget, I would not take it.

That said, what is

Griffin’s biggest challenge in the time he has left?

Keeping the agency moving in a world where, he’s been told, he’s not going to get any more money out of this administration. Everybody knows they need more money. The worst kept secret in Washington is we cannot go back to the Moon on the level of funding NASA has today.

Are U.S. aerospace companies losing faith in the Vision for Space Exploration?

No. Our members want the vision to become reality. And if not this exact vision, something very similar. I don’t see the space community fracturing off in unproductive ways. But they want a realistic roadmap that gets us where we want to go and it’s going to cost more than the $17 billion we spend today on NASA.

Are you satisfied with the way NASA has refocused the aeronautics research program?

No. It’s woefully under

and it focuses only on basic research when there are lots of technologies that need to be brought to a more advanced level before industry can turn them into programs.

The reduction in aeronautics spending over the past six or seven years has been one of the great mistakes of the Bush Administration.

Does AIA’s support of Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) pit its smaller members against its bigger members?

You will find differing levels of interest among our members, but everybody understands this is something we need to do. We live in a dangerous world with other nations developing anti-satellite capabilities, and we have to be ready to deal with possible disruptions that would come from somebody doing something to our existing space-based capabilities.

This could involve standby satellites, more responsive launch, or a wiser way to network other systems together to make up for a loss. The ORS program is an embryonic effort for something that’s going to be more important as more and more nations develop capabilities to negate other nations’ space assets.

What’s AIA’s position on anti-satellite weapons?

As on all defense matters, we support robust research and development programs and generally stand by the decisions our government makes regarding the deployment of systems.