It seems like just about every high profile, government-funded endeavor in recent years has been met with repeated delays and constantly swelling budgets. Whether it’s the new Ford class aircraft carrier that came in at around $2.5 billion over budget, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that remains too expensive to operate, or NASA’s perpetually delayed effort to put Americans back into space aboard American rockets, the Space Launch System — America’s relationships with contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman sometimes seem rather one-sided, with huge sums of money heading into the coffers of these corporations, and nothing but delays and excuses offered up in return.
In a recent hearing of the House Science Committee, the frustrations surrounding these issues began to bubble to the surface, as discussions with Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush turned toward the delayed and massively over-budget James Webb Space Telescope — slated to replace the aging Hubble. While a number of the members of the panel pushed for ways the government and its contractors could work to avoid these issues in the future, some, like Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), wanted to see a greater level of financial responsibility placed on the contractors being paid. The James Webb telescope is now expected to exceed $800 million above the program’s original $8 billion budget.
“Would you agree to pay the 800 [million dollars] above capped costs?” He asked Bush. Of course, Bush refused the offer — citing the efforts his company is making to eliminate the human errors that have thus far led to a series of lengthy and expensive setbacks.
“Our view on that is that would create more of a fixed-price relationship on this program, which would significantly impede and impair the relationship between NASA and Northrop Grumman,” he responded. “As we are focused on mission success, we think that would be the wrong approach.”