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FYI Number 103: August 9, 2001

Update on NASA Appropriations; Language on Space Station Overruns

Before leaving for August recess, both the House and Senate passed their versions of the FY 2002 VA/HUD appropriations bill. While FYIs #88 and #95 provided early indications of what the House and Senate VA/HUD subcommittees recommended with respect to NASA funding, some changes were made to the House version before passage. In particular, the House bill would provide $1,516.7 million for Earth Sciences, an increase of $1.8 million above the request. Additionally, $25.0 million was added to space station research within Biological and Physical Research (BPR), bringing the total recommended level for BPR to $710.9 million, and raising the total recommended NASA budget to $14,951.4 million in the House bill. The total Senate recommendation for NASA was $14,561.4 million. When Congress returns after Labor Day, conferees will meet to reach agreement on a final version of the bill.

Accompanying each version of the bill is a committee report. Both House and Senate reports include extensive language on the Administration's proposal to handle projected space station cost overruns by redirecting funds from a crew return vehicle, habitation and propulsion modules, and research capacity. This would affect the number of permanent crew and the amount of human-tended research that could be done on board the station. Below is selected text on this issue, from the House and Senate committee reports:

House Report (H. Rpt. 107-159):

"The Committee shares the concerns expressed in the budget request with regard to the cost increases in the International Space Station [ISS] program. The cost increases which have come to light in the past few months are disturbing and suggest an underlying problem with the management and execution of the program.... The Committee is trying to find the answers to many basic questions, such as the exact size of the cost increase, what caused the increases, what lapses in oversight occurred and what actions are necessary to ensure they will not recur, and to what extent previously noted concerns were not addressed. In an attempt to fully understand the nature of the problem, the Committee has initiated an investigation which will serve to answer many of these questions and provide the Committee and the Congress with the information it needs to make the best possible decisions regarding the future of the program. The Committee has taken this approach because changes to the ISS program proposed as part of the budget request, if endorsed without question, would lead the program down a path which would significantly alter the goals and accomplishments of the ISS.

"The Committee believes that the key problem with the proposed budget is that it deletes the capability of the ISS to support a permanent crew of six or seven persons and causes a scaled-down research program. This result comes from the recommendation in the budget request to delete development of the seven-person crew return vehicle which would replace the three-person Soyuz capsule, and the deletion of the habitation module. In addition, the budget proposal included a significant reduction of funding for the research segment of the ISS program which would further undermine the basic reason for building the station, the achievement of world-class science. The Committee is not able or prepared to reverse all the actions proposed in the budget request, nor is the Committee prepared to endorse the actions proposed in the budget at this time. Instead, the Committee has included in its recommendations a series of actions which will elicit more complete information and retain options which will allow the Congress to make an informed decision as part of the fiscal year 2003 authorization and appropriations process.

"Crew Return Vehicle- The Committee recommendation includes $275,000,000 for the development of a crew return vehicle, with capacity for no less than 6 persons, for use with the international space station.... [T]he Committee does not anticipate providing additional funds for this purpose unless it is made clear that the Administration and the international partners are committed to the International Space Station as a research facility. For this reason, the language included in the bill would rescind the $275,000,000 unless the Administration requests at least $200,000,000 for the crew return vehicle in the fiscal year 2003 NASA budget request. In addition, the recommendation fences the availability of the $275,000,000 provided until August 1, 2002. By March 1, 2002, the President shall submit to the Committees on Appropriations of the House and Senate a comprehensive plan that meets the following terms and conditions: First, a clear and unambiguous statement on the role of research in the International Space Station program. Second, a detailed outline of the efforts being pursued to provide habitation facilities for a full-time crew of no less than six persons.... Third, the anticipated costs of the crew return vehicle program by fiscal year.... Fourth, the relative priority of the crew return vehicle development program in the context of the International Space Station. The Committee does not intend to provide any additional funds or approve the release of any of the $275,000,000 provided in this bill, until all conditions are fully satisfied.

"Research- The Congress has always supported the International Space Station because of the promised world-class research the station was expected to generate. The Committee is concerned that the proposed answer for the cost increases in the station would place that research goal in jeopardy by undermining the development of a cadre of ground-based research efforts leading to eventual flight and by scaling back the facilities on-board the station. The Committee recommendation includes moving the research program out of the Human Space Flight account in order to insulate it more effectively from the ramifications of future cost growth in the hardware segments of the station. The amount of funding moved is $283,600,000.... The Committee is concerned that this amount may not be adequate and as a short-term measure has added $35,000,000 which is to be used to augment the Fluids and Combustion Facility Integrated Rack. The Committee directs NASA to withhold any final determination of the research program which will be achieved on the ISS until the Congress has made a final determination on the permanent crew size of the station. Until that time, NASA is directed to develop an interim research plan which protects the option to return to the research program envisioned as part of the ISS prior to the latest cost increases."

Senate Report (S. Rpt. 107-43):

"The Committee is deeply troubled by the latest major cost overrun on the International Space Station program. The Committee appreciates the complexity of this program.... However, the Committee has lost confidence in the program's ability to responsibly manage the budget and avert the type of crisis that the program has created. In February 2001, the program reported a stunning $4,000,000,000 overrun over 5 years. Then...the Committee learned in June 2001 that the overrun increased by another $800,000,000, bringing the total overrun to $4,800,000,000. This represents a stunning 114 percent overrun for the development and operations of the program.... Currently, even after proposing to eliminate hardware to support more than three crew members and cutting research equipment by $1,000,000,000, the program still reports it is $500,000,000 short in fiscal year 2004 through fiscal year 2006.

"The Committee is deeply concerned that this mismanagement is not only a threat to the completion of Station, but represents a grave risk to other important programs within the agency. The Committee will not accept any proposal that seeks to fund Station cost growth through offsets taken from other NASA Enterprises....

"Despite this fiscal mismanagement, the Committee is committed to completing a Space Station; one that is capable of supporting world-class research. The Committee supports the Administration's approach to reining in Station cost growth, reforming program management to avoid cost overruns in the future, and creating an independent panel to validate the budget estimates and management reforms."

"...[I]n order to ensure world-class research aboard Station, the Committee: (1) adds $50,000,000 to NASA's $283,600,000 request for Station research to increase funding for life and micro-gravity research; (2) transfers the $333,600,000 Station research budget, which includes the $50,000,000 increase for research, from the Human Space Flight appropriation account to the Science, Aeronautics, and Technology appropriation account; (3) places Station research under the management of the Office of Biological and Physical Research (OBPR); (4) directs OBPR to rebalance funding, as appropriate, between ground and flight activities while minimizing funds for lower priority supporting activities; (5) directs NASA to award during fiscal year 2002 one or more definition studies for a non-government organization to manage the Station research program; and (6) provides bill language that limits transfer authority into the Science, Aeronautics, and Technology (SAT) account; no funds may be transferred from the SAT account to the Human Space Flight account.

"Finally, in order to ensure adequate crew time for Station research, the Committee directs NASA to create a special task group, with members independent of the Space Station program and reporting directly to the NASA Administrator, that will develop and assess low cost options for enhancing crew time for Station research above the 20 hours per week projected for a three-person crew, particularly in the post-2005 time frame. No option should cost NASA more than $300,000,000 in aggregate from fiscal year 2003 through fiscal year 2007. Options should include operational approaches that allow the three crew members to spend more time on research; extended Shuttle visits that allow the Shuttle crew of five to seven astronauts to spend more time aboard Station; and opportunities with the international partners...that allow additional full time crew members above the three planned. In particular, extended Shuttle visits may allow additional habitation space for increased science research while providing crew return capability."

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics (301) 209-3094

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