FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

House Passes Bill Funding NASA, NSF, and NIST

Richard M. Jones
Number 79 - June 23, 2009  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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On a largely party line vote, the House of Representatives passed the FY 2010 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill. Tensions over the way in which amendments were allowed to the bill resulted in hours of delay and 53 roll call votes - a record - and no changes to the overall funding levels for NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Many subjects were discussed by Members during the two days of floor consideration of the $64.4 billion bill last week, ranging from federal prisons to terrorism to the upcoming census. There was considerable discussion about NASA funding, and the importance of the review by the panel headed by Norman Augustine. Members, not all of whom are shown below, engaged in a series of discussions with Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Alan Mollohan (D-WV) about the subcommittee’s decision to reduce the NASA request for exploration pending a review of the manned space flight program by Augustine and his colleagues.

REP. ALAN MOLLOHAN (D-WV): “The bill provides $30.6 billion for investments in science, technology, and innovation, an increase of $1 billion over comparable levels from last year. . . . The committee's recommendation continues to provide resources consistent with the doubling path identified for NSF and NIST in the COMPETES Act. It also considers the science and research conducted at NOAA and at NASA as critical to the Nation's science enterprise just as that performed by NSF and NIST.

“For NASA, the bill provides a total of $18.2 billion, an increase of $420 million over last year's level. Investments have been made in Earth science to further the decadal surveys. The recommendation, however, acknowledges, and this is important for Members to consider and take note of, that the administration has established a blue ribbon panel, Mr. Chairman, led by Dr. Norm Augustine, to review the current vision for human spaceflight.

“Funds are provided in this bill to continue investments in human spaceflight at the level of last year. Reductions from the budget request should not be viewed by this body as any diminution of certainly my support or the committee's support in NASA's human spaceflight activities. Rather, it is a deferral. It is a deferral taken without prejudice. It is a pause. It is a timeout.

“Call it what you will, it is an opportunity for the President to establish his vision for human space exploration, looking at the Augustine report when it becomes available in August, and then for his administration to consider what their vision will be, and then, most importantly, certainly for our committee, Mr. Chairman, to come forward with a realistic future funding scheme for the human space exploration program.

“We hope it is a vision worthy of the program, and we look forward to realistic funding levels, which we have never had, or haven't had for many, many years, for human spaceflight. It is also important to note that the total funding contained in this bill for NASA is an increase of $421 million over the fiscal year 2009 level, and, moreover, some $1 billion was provided in the Recovery Act for NASA activities.”

APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER FRANK WOLF (R-VA): “In the area of science, the bill includes important initiatives in science competitiveness. Our country is falling behind. We have about 95,000 engineers working for the space program, and China has about 200,000. The previous administration launched the American Competitiveness Initiative, which included a commitment to double the funding for basic scientific research over ten years and also to strengthen education and encourage entrepreneurship. I am pleased that the chairman has done this and also that the new administration embraced this goal.

“For the National Science Foundation, the bill provides $6.9 billion, a 6.9 percent increase above the current year for research that will set the groundwork for the development of new technologies and science education that will ensure we have a well-educated and skilled workforce to improve competitiveness.

“For NASA, the bill includes $18.2 billion. This includes the full request for aeronautics, the shuttle program and the International Space Station, as well as funding above the request for NASA science and education. However, the bill freezes funding at the current level for exploration activities pending the outcome of a blue ribbon panel review of future options. The result of this cut is a funding level that will not be sufficient to sustain the current development scheduled for the next generation of space exploration vehicles and would result in severe disruption to the Nation's human spaceflight program. I look forward to the recommendations, as the chairman does, of the review panel being led by Norm Augustine, and to working with the chairman and other Members to ensure that the final bill will include sufficient funds to continue the U.S. leadership role in human spaceflight.”

SUBCOMMITTEE MEMBER JOHN CULBERSON (R-TX): “Mr. Chairman, I want to sincerely thank Chairman Mollohan, Ranking Member Wolf for the bipartisan manner in which this bill was put together. Mr. Mollohan truly has, and Mr. Wolf, opened up this process to all members of the committee to participate. Majority and minority views are included, and it is, truly, the bill was put together in an open, bipartisan way, which I'm very grateful for.

“And I especially also want to thank [House Appropriations Committee] Chairman Obey, [House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member] Mr. Lewis, Chairman Mollohan and Mr. Wolf for the strong commitment that they have made to invest in the sciences, the National Science Foundation, the scientific work that's being done at NASA and NOAA. The scientific advancement that this Nation makes, and throughout our history, has been one of the most important factors in the advance of America throughout our history. And I'm very, very pleased at the investment the committee is making in scientific research.

“However, I do have some serious concerns about the bill's reduction in funding from the budget request for NASA's human spaceflight frame. Mr. Chairman [Mollohan], if I could engage in a colloquy [a pre-arranged discussion] with you, sir, to ask about the manned spaceflight funding and what the committee, what the country and NASA can expect as this bill moves through the legislative process. Mr. Chairman, I want to ask if you'd agree that the United States must maintain its world leadership in space exploration, and that, in order to lead the world, America must have a robust human spaceflight program; and also, that NASA's human spaceflight program must have a clearly defined mission, and that Congress and the Obama administration should fully fund that mission. And also, Mr. Chairman, that Congress and NASA should do everything possible to mitigate the five-year gap between the retirement of the shuttle and the initial operating capability of the next generation of human spaceflight.

“And then finally, Mr. Chairman, that the Appropriations Committee, we will all work together in an absolutely bipartisan and open way to fully fund the mission of NASA's manned space program as defined by the Augustine Commission, the Obama administration and this Congress.”

REP. MOLLOHAN: “I share the sentiments the gentleman just expressed. I should note that the bill before the House today does not cut human spaceflight programs in fiscal year 2010; rather, the bill level funds ongoing activities until such time as the Augustine Commission completes its review, and the Obama administration commits to the next generation of human spaceflight.”

REP. CULBERSON: “Mr. Chairman, I'm very confident that under the leadership of Chairman Mollohan and Ranking Member Wolf that these proposed reductions from the President's budget request will be reviewed once again after the Augustine report is completed in an announcement from the Obama administration on how to proceed in human spaceflight. We genuinely appreciate the chairman's commitment to fund that recommendation with, of course, the input of the authorizing committee and the Appropriations Committee, because for America to surrender the high ground of space exploration, Mr. Chairman, would be as dangerous today as it would have been for General Meade to surrender the high ground of Little Round Top and Cemetery Hill at the Battle of Gettysburg. If General Meade had surrendered the high ground, I don't think there's any doubt that the United States would have lost the Battle of Gettysburg. And just as certainly as America would be at the mercy of our enemies, in position to lose any future war, if America surrenders the high ground of outer space to other nations.”

REP. PETE OLSON (R-TX): “Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for this opportunity to participate in this colloquy with you here today. This Nation has been the leader in human spaceflight for 50 years, and the decisions we make today will determine whether we will continue to lead in the next 50. And I'm worried that as other nations look at the stars, we're staring at our feet. The proposed cut in the exploration budget threatens our economic, military and technological standing, and would lead to a loss of up to 4,000 jobs, extend up to two years the time needed to fully design and develop the Constellation system, and result in additional cost of up to $8 billion. Therefore, I have prepared an amendment to restore that funding. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your pledge to revisit the funding issues based on the outcome of the Augustine panel, and that if the panel agrees, we will work as a Congress to reassess appropriate funding levels. In light of that commitment, I will not offer my amendment, and look forward to working with you to meet the pressing needs of human spaceflight.”

REP. KEN CALVERT (R-CA): “I just want to echo my comments, my colleague from Texas, John Culberson, in regards to the current level of funding for NASA. And hopefully we can, as you said, we'll work with you to make sure that the $700 million, which obviously would be devastating to NASA if that cut stayed in, to make sure that we get that money back in the 2010 Commerce, Justice spending as enacted. As you know, as has been pointed out, the challenges that we have with other countries that are making major investments in space – China, India, Japan, Pakistan, Russia. And certainly we don't live in a world today where we're the only ones involved in outer space. So I support the chairman and what he's trying to do with the Augustine panel to wait to find out what the report is. But I'm optimistic we'll work this out with our fellow NASA supporters in Congress to provide necessary funding and the rules and tools it needs to realize the agency's human space exploration under President Obama.”

REP. SUZANNE KOSMAS (D-FL): “Mr. Chairman, I would like to clarify a point in the committee report related to the space shuttle program. It is my understanding that the committee's position relative to the retirement of the space shuttle is consistent with NASA's testimony and the administration's position that there is no hard date on shuttle retirement. This position that the space shuttle will fly until it completes its current manifest, even if it runs beyond 2010, has also been supported by this Congress, as demonstrated by the inclusion in this year's congressional budget resolution of shuttle funding in fiscal year 2011. We also expect the administration to fund the fly-out of the shuttle when it submits its fiscal year 2011 budget request. I hope you can clarify whether this is the committee's position as well.”

REP. MOLLOHAN: “ The gentlewoman is correct. That is the committee's position.”

REP. KOSMAS: “According to preliminary estimates, the funding included in the bill for exploration could cause additional delays of up to two years and could increase the cost up to $8 billion. These levels will also mean a greater reliance on Russia, a loss of our highly skilled workforce, and it could create a situation that could be detrimental to over 1,500 businesses that supply NASA and commercialized spinoff technologies. This level would result in thousands of layoffs in 2010. This will only exacerbate the challenges related to retaining our uniquely skilled workforce, many of whom are already working on both shuttle and exploration. So we must recognize that the investments in NASA have large multiplier effects, contributing $100 billion to our economy last year and employing nearly 300,000 people in 41 States.”

REP. RALPH HALL (R-TX): “Mr. Chairman, at this time of economic turmoil and of growing international technological competitiveness, it seems to me that America should be funding those things that advance our capabilities and that increase our standing in the world. As ranking member of the House Science and Technology Committee, I've always felt that NASA has done more to advance America's technological leadership than any other Federal agency, and this bill presently reduces NASA's funding in human spaceflight at a very critical time.

“The House Appropriations' reduction of $670 million in exploration systems represents a reduction of 17 percent from the President's FY 2010 budget request. With NASA on a path to retire the space shuttle after only eight more flights, America needs to rapidly develop the next generation of spacecraft. The $670 million reduction would have prevented NASA from completing the Constellation system before March 2015. In fact, because this reduction would occur in the peak design year when staffing is at its highest, NASA estimates that the work stoppages, inefficiencies and loss of key skills and capabilities would delay the Constellation program by as much as two years from that time.

“Moreover, the cut in exploration funding would increase costs by as much as $8 billion to the program, and it would reduce the Constellation workforce by more than 20 percent in 2010, or by approximately 4,000 contractors, mostly from the existing workforce. During this gap in human spaceflight capability, America must buy seats from the Russians to get to the International Space Station and fulfill our obligations to our international partners. I am really encouraged that Chairman Mollohan, though, and Ranking Member Frank Wolf are working to mitigate this loss. I am grateful to them, and I thank them both for the colloquy.”

REP. PARKER GRIFFITH (D-AL): “I, too, am concerned, but I appreciate very much the hard work the chairman and Ranking Member Wolf have entered into in trying to preserve the NASA budget. However, the decrease in funding is of some concern to us. The Aries I and the Aries V will represent what the Saturn was to us 50 years ago with spaceflight and in putting a man on the Moon. This is not just a matter of jobs; it's a matter of international security and of national pride. I believe, after the Augustine Commission is done, we'll find that the NASA program is underfunded and that the funding will return to a level that will put us on the Moon in 2020 and that will return us to manned spaceflight in 2015.”

REP. MOLLOHAN: “Let me first note that the bill before the House today does not actually cut human spaceflight programs in fiscal year 2010. Rather, the bill level funds ongoing activities until such time as the Augustine Commission completes its review and the Obama administration commits to the next generation of human spaceflight. In fact, the total in the bill before the House today provides an increase of over $420 million over the fiscal year 2009-enacted level across all NASA activities and programs.

“We're talking only about the human spaceflight program here. I believe that the Augustine panel is well-positioned to make an informed review of planned U.S. human spaceflight activities and alternatives to ensure that the Nation is undertaking efforts that are safe, innovative, affordable, and sustainable in the years following the completion of space shuttle manifests and its retirement. When that panel provides its information, its informed judgment, to us and to our new President and when we have had an opportunity to embrace the Nation's next human spaceflight program and to budget accordingly, we look forward to moving forward.”

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D-AZ): “ I am deeply concerned about the reductions from the request recommended for the NASA Constellation program in this appropriations bill. As you know, this bill provides the same level of funding as in the year 2009, and it's almost $600 million less than what the President requested for 2010. As the Chair of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, I strongly believe that NASA should be given the funding needed to carry out one of the most important missions, which is exploration. I am very concerned that the levels obtained in this bill will be viewed by the Augustine Human Spaceflight Review Panel as a lack of support for Constellation and for NASA's other human spaceflight programs, programs that have been strongly endorsed, as we've heard by the colloquies here on the floor, on a bipartisan basis in last year's NASA Authorization Act of 2008. So Chairman Mollohan, is it your view that the Augustine panel should not interpret the House's action today as any weakening of congressional support for the Nation's human spaceflight and exploration programs?”

REP MOLLOHAN: “That is absolutely correct. The funding deferral does not signify any weakening of the committee's support for human spaceflight and exploration. I would also direct the attention of my colleague to the bill's accompanying report that states this very fact.”

REP. GIFFORDS: “In addition, do you agree that it's imperative that the President . . . and Congress provide the appropriate resources that we can avoid cost increases and further delays in the initial operating capabilities of our Nation's next generation of human space flight architecture?”

REP. MOLLOHAN: “Yes, I do. And I stated as much at the subcommittee markup of this legislation. Again, I would turn my colleague's attention to the accompanying report where these sentiments are also expressed.”

REP. GIFFORDS: “And finally, do you agree with me that the Augustine Panel should not be bound by arbitrary OMB budgetary projections as it develops its best advice to the President and Congress on the future conduct of the Nation's Human Space Flight Program?”

REP. MOLLOHAN: “I believe that the Augustine Panel is well positioned to make an informed review of planned U.S. human space flight activities and alternatives to ensure that the Nation is undertaking efforts that are safe, innovative, affordable and sustainable in the years following the completion of the space station manifest and retirement. And when that panel provides its informed judgment to us and the President and we are able to evaluate it, our new President and our authorizers will have a chance to look at it and act on it, our new President--and we--will have an opportunity to move forward together on our Nation's future human space flight program and budget accordingly.”

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095