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FYI Number 113: July 26, 2005

NASA Reauthorization Bill Passes House

"The Committee expects NASA to continue to support productive programs in human space flight, aeronautics and science, including space science, earth science and microgravity.... In making funding and programmatic decisions, human space flight, aeronautics and science programs must each be evaluated on their own merits." - House Report 109-173

By the large, bipartisan margin of 383-15, the House on July 22 passed a NASA reauthorization bill for fiscal years 2006 and 2007. This bill "for the first time [gives] congressional approval to the President's vision" for space exploration, said Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), Chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. However, Science Committee Ranking Minority Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) stated that the bill's passage "should not be misunderstood as a blanket endorsement of the Moon-Mars initiative" at the expense of NASA's other programs.

The bill, H.R. 3070, would authorize a total of $16.966 billion for NASA in FY 2006 and $17.727 billion in FY 2007. The FY 2006 authorization level is $769.0 million, or 4.5 percent, greater than the FY 2005 NASA appropriation (including supplemental funding) of $16.197 billion. The authorized level ranges from 2.9 to 3.6 percent higher than the Administration's request and the current FY 2006 House and Senate appropriations bills for NASA. Since appropriators in both chambers have already written their bills for FY 2006 with lower NASA funding levels, it is virtually assured that NASA funding for FY 2006 will not reach the level authorized in H.R. 3070.

The reauthorization bill passed by the House was a bipartisan compromise based on Calvert's original bill (see FYI #108) and incorporating some elements of a Democratic alternative. The main changes from the original version are: elimination of language mandating shuttle retirement by 2010; more specifics on utilization of the space station; more detail on authorization levels and an extension of the authorization through FY 2007; endorsement of, and funds authorized for, a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission; and language which makes it more difficult for NASA to shift funds from one account to another. Selected provisions of the bill, along with quotes from the accompanying report (H. Rept. 109-173) and the Science Committee mark-up, are provided below. The bill and report can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov/.

AUTHORIZATION LEVELS: The bill would create four separate budget accounts within NASA, and authorize funding levels for two years, as follows: Science, Aeronautics and Education: FY06 - $6,870.3 million; FY07 - $7,331.6 million; Exploration Systems: FY06 - $3,844.1 million; FY07 - $4,514.0 million; Space Operations: FY06 - $6,218.9 million; FY07 - $5,847.7 million; Inspector General: FY06 - $32.4 million; FY07 - $33.5 million. Within the Science, Aeronautics and Education account, $150.0 million would be authorized in FY 2006 for a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, unless the mission would compromise astronaut safety. Reorganizing NASA's budget accounts, said Space and Aeronautics Ranking Minority Member Mark Udall (D-CO), "will establish the proper protections to ensure that cost overruns in one account will not be taken out of another."

VISION FOR SPACE EXPLORATION: According to the report, the bill endorses "the broad goals of the President's Vision for Space Exploration," and encourages NASA to "strive to...return Americans to the Moon no later than 2020." It requires NASA "to construct an architecture and implementation plan for human exploration that establishes relative priorities" for possible program elements.

SCIENCE PROGRAMS: In addition to requiring NASA to submit, with its FY 2007 budget request, "a policy to guide NASA's programs in space and earth science," the bill now directs the National Academy of Sciences "to evaluate the performance of each discipline within NASA within six fiscal years and every five years thereafter." It also calls for annual cost-benefit analyses of extending science missions that have reached the end of their scheduled lives.

EARTH SCIENCE: In addition to requiring NASA and NOAA to coordinate their earth science activities and evaluate them for "potential applicability to NOAA's mission," the bill now calls for preparation of a transition plan for those found to have potential applicability, and prohibits such transfers until the transition plan "has been approved by both agencies and funds are identified in NOAA's budget."

EDUCATION PROGRAMS: The bill now calls for a National Academy review of the funding priorities, quality and effectiveness of NASA's educational programs, and "expects all future NASA education program grants to include an evaluation component."

SPACE SHUTTLE: The bill no longer mandates the shuttle's retirement in 2010, while continuing to urge completion of a Crew Exploration Vehicle as close to 2010 as possible. "While goals can be useful," Gordon commented, "it isn't wise to try to write them into law as hard deadlines."

INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION: The bill language was amended to provide more specific direction regarding the space station. It urges that, to the extent practicable, the station be utilized to carry out "a broad range" of basic, applied and commercial research, and calls for allocating at least 15 percent of station research funding "to research not directly related to the human exploration program." Because of the significant taxpayer investment in the station, Gordon said, "NASA should ensure...its potential to advance fundamental and applied science, not just to support the exploration initiative." "We all want to see [the space station] used to the extent possible," agreed House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), but he argued that it should only be used for research that "could not be performed better elsewhere and only to the extent that [it] does not consume funds that could be spent more productively elsewhere."

JOINT NASA-DOE DARK ENERGY MISSION: The report says, "the Committee has received inconsistent and conflicting information.... While this Act does not require [the mission] to be undertaken, the Committee encourages the mission because of its enormous scientific potential."

H.R. 3070 must now wait for the comparable Senate bill, S. 1281, to pass the Senate; then a House-Senate conference committee will meet to reconcile the two versions. During his committee's mark-up of H.R. 3070, Boehlert opined that "the Senate bill places far too much emphasis on the status quo," and cautioned that conference negotiations on a final bill "will not be easy."

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3094

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