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FYI Number 63: May 17, 2001

Goldin Testifies Before Three House Panels

Before members of the House Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics on May 2, NASA head Dan Goldin acknowledged that the quantity of human-tended science on the space station "will be greatly degraded" due to Administration actions to control station cost overruns. In the past two weeks, Goldin appeared before three subcommittees to defend his agency's FY 2002 budget request and explain the recent news of $4 billion in cost overruns to the station. He testified that, based on White House guidance, NASA will accommodate the additional costs by redirecting funds from some remaining station elements, including propulsion and habitation modules, some research capacity, and a crew return vehicle. While the Members generally expressed support for NASA's programs and a desire to provide higher funding levels, there were many serious questions about how changes to the space station plan would impact research on the orbiting facility.

Space and aeronautics subcommittee ranking Democrat Bart Gordon (D-TN) noted that NASA's new plan would limit the space station to just three crew members for the foreseeable future, requiring more than two astronauts to operate the station and leaving only one-half of one astronaut's time to tend the science experiments. The station "won't have the crew and resources to deliver the world-class research program that was promised," Gordon commented. "We'll be just up there maintaining ourselves and not getting anything done."

Goldin responded that the science and other deferred elements would be put on hold, not necessarily cancelled. He said NASA would seek advice from external scientific groups to prioritize the science, and would look for ways to add back more capacity over the years. He stated that NASA would provide the full 10 research racks and all other elements that were planned for the U.S. "core complete" facility between now and 2004. But he did not know how many of the remaining 27 intended racks NASA would be able to provide.

In other questioning, Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) asked why, with all the emphasis Goldin has placed on math and science education and strengthening universities, NASA was cancelling at least one of its collaborative programs with academia. Goldin replied that NASA's education budget had seen a large increase over the years, and it was time to pause, review the programs, and "prioritize."

Later that week, House VA/HUD appropriators expressed many of the same sentiments regarding the space station. Chairman James Walsh (R-NY) called the $4 billion overrun a "staggering increase, if true," and said, "I'm not sure that scaling back the the answer." Ranking minority member Alan Mollohan (D-WV) added, "To say we're not going to build all these capabilities on the space station is absurd. These are the justifications for the space station."

"What we are doing now doesn't preclude any future actions," Goldin stated. He explained that NASA was seeking to make up the $4 billion by delaying or stopping $2 billion in hardware development, taking about $1 billion from the research program, and trying to find another $1 billion in management efficiencies. The research performed "will be quality, but we'll do less of it," he admitted.

David Price (D-NC) questioned proposed FY 2002 reductions to the new Office of Biological and Physical Sciences, remarking that the current budget could only fund about 13 percent of proposals received. This office "will be the intellectual home for research done on the space station," Goldin said. While he agreed that it was "frugally funded" right now, with many excellent proposals going unfunded, he hoped that beyond FY 2002, it would be "one of the areas [for which] the American people see fit to increase funding." He steadfastly defended his agency's request and refused to entertain questions about what he could do with additional funding. "For FY 2002, I'm satisfied that we have an adequate budget," he declared.

In reply to a query from Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) about the Blue Ribbon panel considering the transfer of NSF's astronomy responsibilities to NASA, Goldin said "This is a democracy; we'll see how it goes. What's important is that the nation steps up" and builds the needed telescopes. Many of the other questions focused on NASA's role in aviation and air traffic control. Walsh also noted that funding would be cut for many of NASA's applications, education, and outreach programs. Goldin said much of the reduction for applications was due to the Administration policy of not extending congressional earmarks. "We also have priorities. We are a co-equal branch of the federal government," Walsh reminded him.

At a May 9 hearing of the Senate VA/HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, Chairman Christopher Bond (R-MO) chastised Goldin for "management by optimism" on the space station. Goldin explained that NASA had underestimated the costs of logistics, operations, and software integration problems, as well as schedule delays. Echoing a point made by her House appropriations counterparts, ranking Democrat Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said the overruns would make it harder to convince other Members to continue supporting the station. "It is Bond and Mikulski that have to explain this to our colleagues," she noted. She also questioned the more than 12 percent decrease to Earth Science funding in FY 2002 and a relatively flat five-year projection. The request reflects the phasing down of the first generation of EOS spacecraft, Goldin explained, and the ramping up of the second generation, which would require about the same level of funding. Seven new spacecraft were planned, he added, and he hoped to include several more as new starts in the FY 2003 or 2004 budgets.

Asked about shortages of scientists and engineers for the aerospace and high-technology industries, Goldin said, "I view this as the single biggest long-range challenge to the vitality" of the U.S. economy and defense. He described several pilot programs NASA has or is planning, including new scholarships in return for service at NASA, and peer-reviewed grants for research institutions in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and interdisciplinary research across the three fields, as well as in power and propulsion.

At all three hearings, Goldin received thanks and praise for his service to NASA. House space subcommittee chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) probably spoke for many of his colleagues when he said," We want to work with you in a cooperative...bipartisan way. We want the space station to be successful." House appropriator Walsh commented, "While we tend to focus on what goes wrong,...there's a lot that's right."

Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3094

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