Thanks to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), taxpayers are footing a $500 million bill for a NASA rocket that the agency has no plans or desire to continue developing. The Orlando Sentinel reports that pork legislation inserted into a spending bill by Shelby earlier this year is requiring NASA to spend millions on the canceled Ares I rocket program through March, even while the agency can’t find funds to begin a much-needed modernization of the famed Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida:
At the root of the problem is a 70-word sentence inserted into the 2010 budget — by lawmakers seeking to protect Ares I jobs in their home states — that bars NASA from shutting down the program until Congress passed a new budget a year later. […]
But Congress never passed a 2011 budget and instead voted this month to extend the 2010 budget until March — so NASA still must abide by the 2010 language.[…]
The language that keeps Constellation going was inserted into the 2010 budget last year by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who sought to protect the program and Ares jobs at Marshall Space Flight Center in his home state.
His office confirmed that the language was still in effect but did not respond to e-mails seeking details.
Nearly all of the money for the program will go to two defense contractors building the Ares rocket, Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and Lockheed Martin, with ATK receiving the bulk. Defense contractors have been a consistent source of financial support for Shelby’s campaigns, contributing to him at higher rates than to other politicians in his state. In particular, Shelby’s 2010 reelection campaign was the top recipient of funds from ATK’s PAC, receiving the maximum $10,000. And the company’s employees appear to have given more to Shelby than to any other politician in the 2010 election cycle.
Shelby certainly has a flair for the dramatic when it comes to extracting pork money for defense contractors in his state. In a “nearly unprecedented” move in February, Shelby placed a blanket hold on every single presidential nominees being considered by the Senate — more than 70 in total, including “top Intelligence officers at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security as well as the number three civilian at the Pentagon” — in order to pressure to Obama administration to do the bidding of Northrop Grumman on a $40 billion contract for which they were being considered.