Mississippi’s ‘Tower of Pork’ costs taxpayers $352 million


TOWER OF PORK: The A-3 rocket test tower at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi is a great example of a pork barrel project

By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog

One of these things is not like the other.

Tower of Power is a horn-driven funk band from the 1970s. The “Tower of Pork” A-3 rocket engine test tower sits idle at the John C. Stennis Space Center on the Mississippi Coast.

One asks, in a song, what’s hip? The other begs the question: Why does NASA need a $352 million rocket engine test tower for a cancelled program? The tower was finished in January and designed to test an engine for the Constellation program, which cancelled in 2010.

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., issues an annual report on federal government waste, the “Wastebook,” and NASA’s A-3 rocket test tower made the list of 100 “silly, unnecessary and low-budget” projects, which add up to $25 billion.

“Neither party is immune for supporting wasteful spending,” said Nicole Kaeding, a budget analyst at the Cato Institute. “Entrenched interests encourage policymakers to allow wasteful spending to continue. These sort of issues illustrate the idea of concentrated benefits and diffused costs; those who benefit directly from a project care more deeply about the outcome. So, these entrenched interests pressure policymakers to support the proposed projects, leading to unnecessary spending.”

The tower, which was supported by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., with an amendment slipped into NASA’s budget in 2010, will cost the agency about $1.5 million to $1.75 million annually to maintain the structure. It was designed to test the J-2X rocket engine at altitudes up to 100,000 feet.

But with the cancellation of the Constellation program and the associated Ares series of rockets that use the J-2X, the tower is unneeded. Now it gathers dust.

“The A-3 Test Stand has been completed and put into a safe and maintainable configuration,” said Paul Foerman of the NASA Office of Communications at Stennis.

But the “Tower of Pork” isn’t the only wasteful facility in the NASA inventory. According to a report by the NASA Inspector General’s office, the agency has identified 203 facilities the agency’s mission directorates had no use for after 2012. These facilities, located across all NASA Centers, include wind tunnels, test stands and airfields. They take about 1.9 million-square-feet and cost the agency nearly $14 million per year to operate and maintain.

The report cited political interference from Congress as a reason duplicate or wasteful infrastructure continues to be supported.

There’s nothing funky about waste.

“What I have learned from these experiences is Washington will never change itself,” Coburn said in the report. “But even if the politicians won’t stop stupid spending, taxpayers always have the last word.”

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