A high-level panel chartered to propose ways to make the U.S. aerospace sector
more competitive in the global marketplace delivered a set of recommendations
that, critics said, are unlikely to result in concrete action to help the industry.
The “Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry,”
jointly appointed by Congress and the Bush administration in 2001, issued its
final report in November.
The report included nine recommendations to Congress and the administration
on how to ensure the U.S. world leadership in aerospace. The panel, however,
failed to provide enough details about how to execute its vision for U.S. aerospace
dominance, said commissioner John Hamre, a former deputy secretary of defense
and current president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
He said that the report is so imprecise that it is unlikely to be of assistance
to the industry. “This report is too general and diffuse to have the impact
I believe is needed,” Hamre wrote in a dissenting viewpoint published
as an appendix to the report.
Among the recommendations was that the United States bolster its commitment
to aerospace technology, commerce and exploration, as well as improvements of
the U.S. air transportation system.
The air transportation system has experienced a “meltdown” since
the September 11 attacks, said commissioner John W. Douglass, who is the president
of the Aerospace Industries Association. “The combination of the economic
downturns and post 9/11 government policy decisions produced an untenable situation
for the industry,” he said.
Douglass recommended that further action beyond the report’s recommendation
be taken by the government to “assume the full costs and responsibilities
for assuring the protection of our aviation system against terrorist attack.”
The third recommendation was to “create a space imperative.” According
to the report’s chairman, one-time Rep. Robert Walker, R-Pa., “We
need to focus less on where we want to go [in space], and more on propulsion
Robert Stevens, a commissioner who also is the chief operating officer of Lockheed
Martin Corp., said that this recommendation “does not fully address the
continuing deterioration of the space launch industry base … To date,
there have been only two commercial satellite sales during 2002, with limited
prospects for additional sales,” he said.
Stevens stressed that the United States must address the critical state of
the existing launch industrial base, and take steps to sustain assured and reliable
access to space.
Additionally, the commissioners recommended that the country adopt a policy
to invigorate the aerospace industrial base. F. Whitten Peters, the commission’s
vice-chairman and a previous secretary of the Air Force, said that the age of
the aerospace workforce is rising, and as those workers retire, “with
them will go a tremendous amount of know-how and technical competence.”
Peters recommended that the United States deal with this problem by investing
in education and helping students improve their skills in math and science.
Next, the panel recommended a more integrated approach to the development of
national aerospace policy, a process currently dominated by military service
and agency “stove-piping.”
“We need horizontal decision-making,” said Walker. The panel suggested
the establishment of a government-wide management structure, as well as a joint
committee in Congress.
Sixth, the commission recommended the reform of U.S. export control policy
to “enable the movement of products and capital across international borders
on a fully competitive basis and establish a level playing field for U.S. industry
in the global marketplace,” the report said. “We have to change
attitudes about how to function in a global environment,” said Walker.
Hamre agreed that the export control process needs improvement, but said the
problem was much worse than the report indicated. “The entire aerospace
industry is choking under a blanket of inefficient and increasingly obsolete
export control and technology regulations. Government regulations now are effectively
isolating American industry and limiting its competitiveness,” he said.
Tillie Fowler, a former Republican congresswoman from Florida, said she was
particularly concerned about the national security implications of any export
policy changes. Though she said she supported a review of the State Department’s
Munitions List and a more expeditious export license review process, “I
firmly believe that national security interest must always take precedence over
economic or foreign policy considerations in application of the export control
process,” she said.
Next, the commission recommended that a new business model be established to
promote a healthy U.S. aerospace industry. “I believe that the American
aerospace industry is in deep trouble,” said Hamre. “Satellite and
space-launch manufactures are in serious financial difficulty and the industry
is near collapse.”
R. Thomas Buffenbarger, a commissioner who serves as the president of the International
Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said that a new business model
might not bode well for industry workers. He said the report “fails to
recognize that private sector business goals do not always coincide with the
public interest or governmental program goals. As a result, proposals in this
area would result in layoffs and the erosion of basic wage and benefit standards
for workers and a concomitant loss of service to the public. … The U.S.
aerospace industry is about more than corporate profits,” he said.
The eighth recommendation was that “the nation immediately reverse the
decline in and promote the growth of a scientifically and technologically trained
U.S. aerospace workforce.”
Buffenbarger said that in states with high concentrations of aerospace jobs,
the downturn in the industry has been devastating to local economies. Especially
in Washington, California and Texas, job losses have been significant. “The
failure to address these job losses in a meaningful way signals an ominous future
for U.S. aerospace workers. It is estimated that nearly 180,000 additional aerospace
workers could lose their jobs by 2010,” he said.
Finally, the panel recommended that the federal government significantly increase
its investment in basic aerospace research.