Most scientists wanted someone - anyone - other than George Bush in the White House. Not because of budgets, clearly they went up a lot for NASA, NSF and the NIH during the Bush years, but because there was a perception of an anti-science agenda that went beyond what was seen in the past, though that was primarily due to the rapid-fire ability of the internet to magnify problems and the viral ability of groups with agendas to mobilize their audience on the crisis du jour. In reality, Bush had no more to do with actual science policy than any other president since World War 2 and a lot less than most. But perception can become reality so Bush and Republicans were considered anti-science by a lot of people who weren't even in the science community before he got elected.
NASA administrator Mike Griffin doesn't think his successor is all that great either and, according to reports, is stonewalling policy wonks for Obama that he thinks lack the engineering knowledge necessary to make determinations about his programs. The exact complaint people had about Bush staffers.
Why would anyone who loves science like Obama supposedly does want to kill Griffin's beloved projects, such as the moon rocket program? Well, we are still talking politics and that program is over budget and behind schedule, like everything at the bloated bureaucracy that is modern NASA, and it is also a high profile project of George Bush.
Griffin, either insane or a paragon of integrity for standing up to a politician science has decreed as the greatest thing since, well, anyone, is sticking to his guns against what he feels are unqualified people asking the questions. One of the people he calls unqualified, meanwhile, is telling people Obama wants him fired for it.
There's never been a transition that has gotten this much attention (do you remember the Bush transition in 2000? Neither does anyone else) and the same internet that helped stoke a wildfire of enthusiasm for Obama (along with giving him more money for advertising than John Kerry and George Bush spent combined in the 2004 election) is also watching every move he makes. His '100 days' honeymoon period could be over before he even takes office if problems aren't managed properly. So his handlers are concerned
Conservatives should be happy that Obama transition teams are scouring for budget items to cut - less so if those cuts only apply to programs endorsed by Bush. What will Obama supporters think? There's been barely a mention that he has mostly Clinton-era holdovers at his table (including a Clinton) or Rahm Emanuel, basically the Dick Cheney of Democrats, as his Chief of Staff, along with too many UFO conspiracy theorists to name in contention for key spots (and yet the fine choice of Steven Chu as Energy Secretary got all kinds of internet buzz), so I think they will circle the wagons and insist Griffin is a loose cannon crank who should be fired. And that's too bad, since no one would feel that way if James Hansen were complaining about political pressure.
Griffin officially is playing the game, telling NASA staffers “to answer questions promptly, openly and accurately.” What he says in private may be quite different.
My opinion? Creating a program to go back into space 16 years from now, 8 years longer than it took to do it the first time when we only had basically the computing power of a 1985 Commodore 64, sounds like old-school porkbarrel projects. And Griffin stonewalling unless they play by his rules with no accountability sounds like new school porkbarrel. Scientists hate to hear a recommendation that any golden calf be slaughtered, lest a slipperly slope lead to other parts of science, but there is a finite amount of money and if worthy projects are going to be denied funding because NASA's appetite is never-ending, that seems a real shame.
So if Obama staffers are really 'looking under the hood' and not just wanting to kill a Bush-era program, I am all for it. At least until January 21st I can remain uncynical that is the case. It's worth discussing privatizing NASA too. But let's take baby steps.