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November 14 , 2010

Government Beers


What happens when a quirky crew of NASA contractors submits a 1,200 page proposal that contains placeholder plans for a microbrewery? The 2009 stimulus bill sets the stage for enormous pork barrel spending that picks proposals not on their scientific merit, but on shovel-ready job creation potential. Government Beers is the humorous yet endearing story that tracks the unread proposal section from filler text to operational brewery. Every five years or so, depending on NASA’s priorities, a massive proposal opportunity comes along. It typically involves the design of a large satellite platform, with opportunities for scientists to propose instruments to make some sort of measurements tied to a common theme of the program. The proposals have to build a case for the potential of new scientific discoveries and/or answers to scientific inquiries in order to have a chance to be selected. Each instrument proposal is usually submitted by teams of scientists and engineers, and have to describe how the instrument will make measurements, beam the data down to earth, and have it processed to reveal changes in the atmosphere. But with this program, the stakes were raised. This time, the newly elected president and his administration had made it clear that global warming, now renamed "climate change," was a major area of focus for the science funded by his budget. As a result, stimulus dollars created a huge trough of funds for any company that was remotely related to climate change. Buried deep in the bowels of stimulus bill "H.R. 1- American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009," was a paragraph in Title II – Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies that spelled out $300 million to fund a space-based platform for performing measurements for research related to climate change. This earmark, put in by a congressman from Hampton, VA, was designed to keep the Climate Studies Division at NASA/LaRC from shutting down and losing 3000 jobs. The earmark was basically unchallenged, mainly because like most other earmarks, it was unread. When the formal Request for Proposals hit the streets, the website crashed from all of the Internet traffic. To atmospheric scientists, physicists and electrical engineers, this was the mother lode of all proposal opportunities. Here was the middle-class welfare path to retirement without having to step into the real world of capitalism. GORDON MILLER gets caught up in a vortex of circumstance as he becomes the accidental program manager of the 3,000 person program. A personal journey through the US Constitution consumes him as he tries to understand big government and wasteful bureaucracies. The story takes place at NASA Langley Research Center and surrounding historical areas of Hampton Roads, Virginia. Fighter jets from Langley Air Force Base and race cars at Langley Speedway frame the story as the plot dilemma becomes the rationalization and discovery of government funded beers used to help WESLEY LARKIN, an endearing 7-year-old with cancer who is fighting for his life.
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