Woods Hole Versus the Heritage Foundation

In summer 1980 (just as the GAO report was coming out), NASA’s aero­nautical leaders organized an independent review of its entire aeronau­tics program by the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB). ASEB’s members included some of the most influential people in United States aviation and aerospace history. Chaired by Neil Armstrong, the 24-member board included representatives from NASA (the former Johnson Space Center director), industry (vice presidents or technol­ogy directors at Douglas, Pan American, Sikorsky, United Technologies, Grumman Aerospace, Boeing, General Electric, and Lockheed), and academia (noted aeronautics professors from Stanford. MIT, and the California Institute of Technology). To discuss the state of aeronautics at NASA, the board held a workshop that ran from July 27 to August 2, 1980. at the National Academy of Sciences Study Center in Woods Hole, MA. Sixty experts were divided into five panel sessions. The chairman of the workshop, H. Guyford Stever. called it an “arduous and exhilarating week-long effort” to examine every facet of NASA and its role in aeronau­tics. I!t Its conclusions became known as the “Woods Hole Plan."

The Woods Hole Plan was unveiled to the public in a document titled NASA’s Role in Aeronautics: A Workshop. ASEB agreed that there had been a long and important relationship between the aviation industry and the Government, which started with the NACA and continued through NASA. This had been a positive relationship that had strengthened the American industry, helping it position itself better for competition in the world market. However, this historical strength had faced significant threats in recent years. The ASEB members at Woods Mole emphasized that there was an “urgent need" to counter these economic, social, political, and technological challenges facing the United States in aviation. The United States had lost 20 percent of the world’s aircraft market to European competition during the previous several years, in part because European governments collectively endorsed a plan to displace the United States as the world’s aviation leader. As a result of this government support, these European nations were able to cut into the dominance of the American transport market. To counter the ongoing European threat, ASEB called for greater U. S. governmental intervention and assistance, not less, in order to equip the aviation industry to compete.

Above all. the ASEB aviation experts said it was the worldwide con­cern about the cost and availability of fuel that would potentially have the most important influence over the future of aviation. It pointed to “dra­matic improvements’’ already attained in fuel efficiency through improved aerodynamics, materials, and propulsion, most importantly through the ACEE program. They concluded, "Wrorld leadership in aeronautics will be achieved, in all probability, by the nation or nations that seize the ini­tiative and move such technologies from their present research status. . . [to build] more efficient aircraft.” The only way to achieve this and reverse the “erosion of momentum” of the American aeronautical technol­ogy was to “clarify and strengthen NASA’s role in aeronautics.”14 NASA was extremely pleased with ASEB’s findings and believed that they would be most valuable should any criticism of its aeronautics program emerge. NASA would not have to wait long to confront the critics.

While the Woods Hole group was writing its findings, Republican campaign strategists began defining the shape of a future Reagan presi­dency. Although the election was still 2 months away, Edwin Meese. the Chief of Reagan’s campaign staff, said he wanted a low-visibility effort as far as planning making plans for a Reagan presidency that would not detract from the campaign. One of the key groups assisting in this planning was the Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit conservative think tank estab­lished in 1973.[263] [264] In October 1980. a spokesman for the organization said it would establish a “comprehensive game plan for implementing conserva­tive policy goals under vigorous White House leadership.’”1 This included, in part, reducing the budget, balancing it. and restoring “moral values.” It became what was called a “blueprint for the construction of a conservative government.” Meese told reporters that he would be relying heavily on it.

Fall 1980 was a time of great uncertainty for NASA. John Noble Wilford, a New York Times reporter, wrote in September 1980 about NASA’s launch of a Delta rocket at Cape Canaveral to place a weather satellite into orbit. Wilford said this launch might represent the “death of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as we know it.”[265] [266] [267] It was a difficult time for the Agency. There were numerous difficulties with the still unlaunched Space Shuttle. Of its first 17 scheduled missions, only 2 were defined by NASA, with the Pentagon taking significant con­trol of the others. The Department of Defense was investing in rocketry and satellites, and NASA was becoming more of a service agency that launched spacecraft for other nations. Budgets were being cut. and NASA was getting little support from either of the United States presidential can­didates. NASA’s Administrator. Robert Frosch, announced his retirement in October 1980, to be effective on Inauguration Day. January 20, 1981.2J NASA employees eagerly awaited the results of the presidential election and wondered how it would shape their future. They would soon find out.

Twelve days after Reagan won. the Heritage Foundation published a report, the Mandate for Leadership, which became the blueprint for the new presidency. Called by the Los Angeles Times a “quick strike a week after Reagan’s election,” the report began the process of dismantling 48 years of New Deal liberal policies.[268] It included such suggestions as abol­ishing the Department of Energy, reassigning most of the functions of the Environmental Protection Agency to the states or other Federal agencies, and increasing the defense budget by $20 billion. While some called it the most complete report on government ever written, one observer said,‘The political fall-out. . . will be great. Opposition will be savage.”[269] Meese’s strong endorsement of it was in part responsible for it appearing on the Washington Post’s bestseller list for 3 weeks in 1981. It became the bible of the Reagan Administration.[270] [271] [272]

The report argued that the Government should no longer play a role in the commercialization of technology. It contended that Government’s commercialization endeavors had been expanding in recent years, and while there were certain areas where this was necessary—such as weap­ons labs, uranium enrichment, and other areas of nuclear research—on the whole, these activities should stop. Aviation was not on the list of appro­priate areas for commercialization. The report concluded, “Generally it should not be the function of the Federal government to involve itself with the commercialization of technology.”2’ While ACEE was not explicitly a commercialization project, it did push the lines of development farther than most NASA aeronautics programs had in the past, and so it became vulnerable to cancellation by the Reagan Administration. Reagan’s sci­ence adviser from 1981 to 1985, George A. Key worth, explained that it was a “new era” for American industry, and specifically for industrial R&D, an area that it would offer new opportunities for industry to exercise its inven­tiveness and ingenuity, while at the same time challenging it to accept new roles and to fund research previously supported by Government on its own.24

A philosophy explicitly opposed to governmental support of aero­nautics research was more completely articulated in another Heritage Foundation report, the Agenda for Progress. It said that NASA was spending $500 million each year for research related to civil and military aeronautical technology and that it could find “no good justification for the federal government to spend money on this program." The founda­tion also criticized NASA for diverting skilled engineers away from profitable aeronautical ventures in industry and toward careers that supported a particular political agenda. The Heritage Foundation claimed that the continuation of the existing aeronautical policy would eventually “erode our leadership, not strengthen it." The report concluded by saying that taxpayers should not bear the burden for this program. The solution was for the aircraft companies to “finance their own research," and for the NASA aeronautics program to be “abolished

Although aeronautics engineers at NASA and in industry were extremely disappointed—some were enraged —they were not entirely taken off-guard. NASA countered the Heritage Foundation assertions with the Woods Hole report. One NASA official wrote to Donald Nored that the “Woods Hole Plan is a strong endorsement of NASA’s program, at an opportune time."[273] [274] NASA’s administrators used the report to raise public awareness and secure aeronautical support from Congress. In February 1981, NASA’s Acting Administrator, Alan Lovelace, wrote letters and provided copies of the Woods Hole report to members of all the con­gressional committees and subcommittees associated with aeronautics. Olstad, the Acting Associate Administrator for Aeronautics and Space Technology, initiated his own related campaign as well. He w rote, “We have been concerned for some time that the practices and guidelines used by NASA to carry out its aeronautical programs are not generally well understood."[275] He hoped the report would clarify that aeronautical mission with a concise public statement about this NASA responsibility and its importance to the Nation. Olstad then sent the report to NASA’s center directors, including Donald P. Hearth at Langley and John F. McCarthy at Lewis, and provided them with copies of the ASEB report.[276]

Despite these advocacy efforts, on February 5, 1980, the Reagan Administration announced plans to slash the NASA budget by 9 percent.

The Washington Post reported that these cuts “took NASA’s top man­agement by surprise.”’3 While the official hit list naming which programs would be targeted for reduction had not been established, the aeronautics engineers knew they were in jeopardy. With NASA as a whole fighting for survival, the aeronautics budget threatened, and the ACEE managers deeply concerned about the continuation of their program, Nored decided NASA needed to focus on marketing. In January 1981, Nored produced a document establishing advocacy guidelines for the aeronautics programs in NASA, writing that the “effective advocacy or ‘selling’ of new pro­grams is essential to the health of [NASA],” His document was used by the aeronautics directorate personnel within NASA to conduct an “effec­tive ‘marketing’ campaign which will eventually lead to approval of their proposed new programs by Congress.”’4 Walter Stewart, the NASA Lewis Director of Aeronautics, called this emphasis on advocacy and marketing “vital to our well being.”[277] [278] [279]

It was also very timely. In March 1981. NASA’s Deputy Administrator, Alan Lovelace, gave an impassioned plea on Capitol Hill at the NASA budget hearings. The No. 1 problem America faced was the national econ­omy, he said, and aviation’s role was to serve as a model for reestablishing worldwide economic leadership. He outlined some of his major concerns: for the first time, a major U. S. airline purchased a fleet of foreign-made aircraft, the French-made Airbus had begun outselling the most advanced U. S. transport by a 3 to 1 ratio throughout the world, and enrollment in aeronautics courses at colleges and universities was at an all-time low. In the midst of these threats, Lovelace said NASA faced curtailment of its aviation programs with a new governmental philosophy regarding the aviation industry: “let them go it alone."

Lovelace explained that the situation was dire and said, “Because I am not happy enough to sing," he w ould paraphrase the lines of a vintage Bob Dylan song. The pertinent lyrics were,“My friends the message is blowing in the wind; the message is blowing in the wind.” Lovelace testified that he believed the Woods Hole report stated well the reasons for support of NASA’s aeronautics program. He reiterated that American leadership in aviation has been sustained and cultivated by the work of the NACA and NASA, in collaboration with industry. NASA, in his opinion, and in the opinion of experts from Government, industry, and academia, needed to be able to continue its aeronautical research to help stimulate the air­lines industry and strengthen the American economy. The model had been successful for decades, and there appeared no reason to change it fun­damentally during a period of intense international threat to American leadership. Lovelace spoke directly to Ronald Reagan when he said, “My message, then, Mr. President, can be summarized by saying simply: Let us keep that beacon brightly lit and let us supply the fuel to do it.”S6

Lovelace’s plea had little effect. The resulting budget, presented after the hearings, was disappointing. Congress cut NASA’s funding by $219 million. While support for programs such as the Space Shuttle remained unchanged, aeronautics programs lost $33 million in funding as compared with the previous year. Of these, ACEE saw program reduc­tions of $7 million, including a $5.5-million reduction for the Energy Efficient Engine. Though funding was maintained for Laminar Flow Control, the budget postponed important ground evaluations for 2 years. Lovelace concluded that the effect of these reductions “will be signifi­cant.” but that they are not “crippling.”[280] [281] The most crippling threats were still to come.

Fighting to Save Lewis and Aeronautics at NASA

Significant problems remained on the horizon for NASA’s aeronautics efforts even after the budget reduction debate in March 1981. The OMB, under direction from the Reagan White House, continued pressing a plan that would fundamentally change NASA. In response, a variety of influential individuals from the Department of Defense and Congress fought alongside NASA to prevent the OMB from dissecting the Agency and amputating its aeronautics arm.

In November 1981, Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger became aware of the plan to eliminate aeronautical research at NASA. The specifics of the plan, according to Weinberger, would “result in the closing of Lewis Research Center,” as well as the loss of over 1 .(XX) aeronautics jobs at NASA. While NASA would be removed from civil aeronautics work, it would con­tinue to support the development of military aircraft. This was at a time when the Government had the green light to expand significantly the Nation’s defense, and Weinberger became concerned that the closure of Lewis and the changes to NASA at this critical moment would weaken the development efforts of the B-1B Bomber (and other military programs). So Weinberger wrote a letter to OMB Director David Stockman saying, “I am deeply con­cerned that the proposed reductions will adversely impact (these) programs, and are not consistent with DOD needs.”18 Before any action to close Lewis or to eliminate the aeronautics program was taken. Weinberger said, the Defense Department should review the consequences of these actions.

Weinberger was known as such a staunch cost-cutter in Washington that he was often called “Cap the Knife.’49 But this was one instance when he fought to keep a program intact. Weinberger had his Undersecretary of Defense, Richard D. DeLauer, immediately contact NASA Administrator James Beggs. In a letter dated November 30, 1981, DeLauer told Beggs that the OMB was “proposing major reductions” in the 1983 budget for the “aeronautics technology program." These reductions would change the landscape of NASA itself, including the “closing of Lewis Research Center" and also the “substantial reductions in aeronautics activities” at Ames and Langley Research Centers.[282] [283] [284] Thirteen hundred other aeronau­tics personnel would also be eliminated throughout NASA. DeLauer said many of the advanced Department of Defense programs were “critically dependent on a vital and productive NASA aeronautics program.”

Woods Hole Versus the Heritage Foundation

James M. Beggs was sworn in as NASA’s sixth Administrator at a White House ceremony July 10,1981. Officiating was Vice President George Bush. At center is Beggs’s wife. Mary. Beggs was previously an executive vice president and director of General Dynamic Corp. (July 10.1981). (NASA Headquarters—Greatest Images of NASA [NASA HQ GRIN].)

I le then made the essential argument for keeping NASA involved in civil aircraft work: "We should not lose sight of the fact that manufacture of civil aircraft contributes not only to the economy, but also the maintenance of the industrial base which is so important to DOD under surge conditions.” (It is interesting to note that NASA’s Administrator. Daniel Goldin, from 1992 to 2(X) 1 removed NASA from the DOD connections that represented such important support for the aeronautical program during the lean years. According to Joseph Chambers, "After NASA cut the cords, the DOD labs established their own specialists and forgot who NASA was. That situation exists today —in spades.”)[285]

NASA also garnered the support of the Army. On December 1, 1981, Beggs received a letter from Jay R. Sculley, the Assistant Secretary of the

Army. Sculley again confirmed the closure rumors and told Beggs that, in his view, the relationship with NASA was “essential to the Army to in furthering its R&D programs"4* The expertise that was resident at the various NASA Centers was as unique and vital as the aeronautical facilities under their control. If these were to disappear, the result would be a dramatic increase in funding requests by the Army to offset those NASA reductions. The net effect would be the expenditure of more money. From the Army’s perspec­tive. this was a counterintuitive and damaging step for the OMB to make.

This view was also supported by Dan Glickman, a Congressman from Kansas and the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Aviation, and Materials. In November 1981, he invited aviation indus­try leaders to a hearing to discuss “The First ‘A’” in NASA, which of course was “Aeronautics.” The hearing was held December 8, 1981, and its goal was to document the historic role of Federal support of aeronautics to determine if funding should continue. He told his invitees that “some in the Reagan Administration have suggested that the NASA Aeronautics program be drastically curtailed.”4′ This was. according to Glickman, a “radical departure," and all the consequences and ramifications needed to be understood. He sent letters to all the major commercial airframe and engine manufactures in the United States, including General Electric.

Though in the “First ‘A’” hearings NASA fought to retain a central piece of its heritage, the story did not merit enough attention to be covered by the Nation’s major newspapers. The only NASA news reports during this period discussed the status of the Space Shuttle and the hopes of some enthusiasts to send a probe to Halley’s Comet. But the hearings did draw the attention of the aeronautics industry and politicians in Cleveland, OH, the home of the endangered Lewis Research Center. Mary Rose Oakar, who represented Lewis’s congressional district, fought Capitol Hill for the preservation of 2,700 jobs at Lewis and the millions of dollars of tax rev­enue the Center generated for Ohio. She invited President Reagan to come to Lewis to see for himself how vital a laboratory it was. describing it as a “beacon of the highest form of technology research.”[286] [287] [288]

Thomas Donohue, the general manager from the General Electric air­craft engines group, provided a historical overview of the important aero­nautical work NASA and the NACA performed for the Nation and called for the Government to keep this tradition alive.4′ Other aircraft and engine manufacturers provided similar supporting comments, and after the ’“The First ‘A’” hearings. Glickman sent letters to the CEOs of each of these com­panies. In his communication with Jack Welch, at General Electric, he praised Donohue’s testimony and urged Welch to write to President Reagan and lend his endorsement that aeronautics deserved to remain within NAS A.4(1

One of the Heritage Foundation’s main arguments was that aero­nautics was a “mature” technology and therefore did not need active Government-supported research. ACEE program proponents refuted this stance. Brian Rowe, a General Electric senior vice president, wrote a response to this question by Victor II. Reis, Assistant Director, Office of Science & Technology Policy: “Is aeronautics a stagnant technology?” He said, quite simply, “No!” Rowe firmly believed that with continued research, the aeronautics industry would see a rate of progress over the next 20 years similar to that of the previous 40. He used as a specific example the important gains still to be realized in fuel efficiency, and he projected that the “the fuel consumed per passenger on an inaugural flight of an airliner in the year 2002 will be 40% to 50% less than that of the first revenue service of the new Boeing 767 later this year.”[289] [290] [291] [292] Aeronautics, in his view, was not a mature technology, and ACEE was spearheading many of the developments that would enable the United States to maintain its worldwide aeronautical leadership.

The results of these “First ‘A’” hearings were discussed at the critical February 1982 budget hearings for NASA’s fiscal 1983 fund­ing. Glickman said the hearings results demonstrated unanimous sup­port in rejecting the Reagan Administration’s plan to shift the burden of aeronautical research to industry and eliminate NASA from this work.4*

Despite the groundswell of support, the OMB pushed forward with the plan to slash aeronautics. A headline in Defense Daily stated that budget cuts were “Forcing NASA to Close Lewis Research Center” and many in Washington saw its closing as fait accompli.[293] [294] [295] Likewise, the headlines of an Aerospace Daily article read, “NASA Aircraft Energy Efficiency Program Marked for Elimination.”*’ Though the program had been achieving impressive gains at both the Langley and Lewis Centers, the funding cuts proposed by the OMB threatened ACEE because it was a pro­gram that directly benefited industry, and this went against the grain of the Reagan philosophy. But the announcements of the demise of Lewis and ACEE were premature. Though funding cuts were a significant loss for aeronautics in 1983, it was not an across-the-board termination of the program. The insistence of the Department of Defense, industry leaders, politicians, and NASA managed to counter the Heritage Foundation’s recommendation. The Reagan Administration allowed NASA’s aeronau­tics program and ACEE to limp forward.

NASA responded with an attempt to develop a strategic plan for the future of aeronautics. Hans Mark, the head of Ames Research Center, led the initiative. Jack L. Kerrebrock, the Associate Administrator for Aeronautics and Space Technology, said in February 1982 that the plan would provide long-term goals as well as short-term suggestions for the 1984 fiscal budget/’ The resulting document, the “Strategic Plan for Aeronautics,” included mission statements related to the importance of aeronautics to national policy and an emphasis on maintaining all the existing NASA Research Centers and their areas of expertise.[296] Nowhere was this goal more important than in Cleveland, OH.

In July 1982, Lewis Research Center organized a “Save the Center Committee” with support from the Ohio delegation to Congress and Ohio’s Senators, John Glenn and Howard Metzenbaum. It was at this time

Woods Hole Versus the Heritage Foundation

President Ronald Reagan shaking hands with Andrew Stofan, who served as Director of the Lewis Center (April 23.1986). (NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA GRC].)

that Lewis Center Director John McCarthy stepped down and Andrew Stofan from Headquarters replaced him. Although some were concerned about the timing of this decision. Stofan injected Lewis with a revital­ized spirit. Stofan had strong Lewis ties, having served as the director of its very successful launch vehicles program. Upon taking control, he initiated an extensive review of Lewis and started planning not only how to save it, but also how to make it more viable in the future.1′ Through his charisma, confidence, and powers of persuasion, Stofan kept Lewis alive. The strategic plan committee, headed by William “Red” Robbins [297] and Joseph Sivo, gave Stofan the task of winning five major new programs for the Center. When he returned from Washington having secured four of them, as well as an indefinite stay of execution for the Center, it was, Robbins said, “a damn miracle.”[298] One of the programs Stofan fought to retain funding for was the ACEE Advanced Turboprop Project. Aeronautics across NASA was much weaker than it had been from a budgetary standpoint, but it survived extinction. The two long-range and risky ACEE projects. the Advanced Turboprop (at Lewis) and Laminar Flow Control (at Langley) had opportunities to achieve success and program resolution.

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