Chairman Adam Smith and the Politics of Backward Evolution

May 21, 2019 Updated: May 23, 2019


Self-contradiction is so prevalent on Capitol Hill that it’s received its own euphemism: political evolution. Politicians love to evolve their issue positions—that is, contradict their previously stated fundamental beliefs.

In late March, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, made a policy evolution so glaring it may indeed be classified as a brand-new species.

On March 29, Smith sent a letter to Heather Wilson, the secretary of the Air Force, criticizing her branch of the armed services. Specifically, Smith attacked the Air Force’s handling of the Launch Service Agreement (LSA), which provides U.S. aerospace firms the opportunity to compete for national security launch contracts and create rocket prototypes that will replace older models, such as Russia’s RD-180 propulsion system.

This, in turn, allows the United States to reduce its reliance on potentially malevolent foreign powers—a critical need for the Air Force, as well as the United States’ national security dependence.

Yet, in the letter, Smith oddly expressed concern that the Air Force is pressing ahead too quickly regarding its LSA. He not only pushed for an independent review of the Air Force’s approach to the LSA, which would severely delay the program, but he also threatened to escalate the fight with legislative action if need be.

Smith’s letter is peak political evolution.

Two years earlier, the chairman penned a message to then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis, advocating for a radically different position. In the April 2017 letter, Smith urged Mattis to allow the Air Force to stay the course with its plans in creating an initiative to eradicate Russian dependence by developing new space launch systems.

He argued that the program was the best way to end the United States’ reliance on Russia’s RD-180 rockets and supported the system of competition among launch providers it created. What was the name of the Air Force initiative that Smith went to bat for? The Launch Service Agreement.

But what could’ve caused the Armed Services chairman to do a full 180? Has the situation surrounding the LSA dramatically shifted in mere months, or are there outside forces influencing Smith’s change of heart?

Changing Perspectives

The first, and most reasonable, explanation—that Smith’s political evolution reflects a genuine adjustment to changing circumstances—doesn’t hold much water. The Air Force created the LSA program to ensure the United States’ independence from Russian propulsion systems by constructing launch vehicles that could meet national security space requirements on their own. That priority hasn’t changed. If anything, the need for U.S.-made rockets has only grown stronger with time.

The Air Force is required by law to phase out its use of the Russian RD-180 rocket by 2022. Given that U.S. propulsion systems are currently reliant on that piece of technology, it behooves the U.S. government to swiftly eliminate that dependence. The LSA is being used to facilitate that transition.

From a policy perspective, it doesn’t make sense for the chairman to call for the program to slow down. Delaying the initiative only serves to increase the time crunch, as the LSA struggles to make up for lost time. The chairman must know this, and that makes his backward evolution all the more troubling.

The other—and perhaps more plausible—explanation for Smith’s self-contradiction is that the congressman is being influenced by outside forces, namely lobbyists. It’s no secret that some aerospace companies that weren’t selected by the Air Force have been advocating for substantial delays to the LSA program.

Blue Origin has been pushing for the Air Force to postpone its upcoming Phase 2 contractor selections until 2021. Similarly, SpaceX has corralled Washington lobbyists to advocate for an independent review of the Air Force’s methods for selecting contractors. Interestingly, in 2018 alone, Smith garnered more than $20,000 from SpaceX in congressional campaign contributions.

At a time when the United States is once again focused on the threat that is Russia, it would make sense to distance ourselves from any dependence on their technologies. After watching what happened with our energy dependence on shaky allies and enemies, Smith must decide which side he’s on.

These other interests aren’t putting America first, but rather the almighty dollar. Therefore, it’s the opinion of this former Russian linguist that it’s imperative that the Air Force press forward with the LSA program, since any delays pose a substantial risk to the foundation of U.S. aerospace and national security.

Hopefully, Smith once again recognizes this reality. It’s never too late for a political devolution.

Greg Young is the host of the nationally syndicated “Chosen Generation” radio show, which airs Monday through Friday on stations coast to coast. He served as a Russian linguist in the USAF. For more information, visit

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.