Opening Statement by Rep. Bart Gordon - House Science Committee Hearing on NASA Earth Sciences

Press Release From: Rep. Bart Gordon
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2005

Good morning. I'd like to welcome the witnesses to today's hearing on NASA's Earth Science program. We have a distinguished panel of witnesses, and I look forward to their testimony.

NASA's Earth Science program has long been one of NASA's core missions. Yet NASA's core missions are increasingly threatened by the new budgetary priorities contained in the President's exploration initiative.

Just last month, the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee heard about the precarious state of NASA's aeronautics programs from a range of expert witnesses.

One month before that, this Committee heard from Acting Administrator Gregory that some 2,000 existing jobs at the NASA Centers would be eliminated by the fall of next year. Although we were unable to get any clear explanation of the rationale for the cuts or the process by which they would be made.

Today we are going to hear more bad news from a panel of expert witnesses.

The bottom line appears to be that NASA's Earth Science program faces the prospect of being marginalized in the coming years as the agency puts its focus on the President's exploration initiative.

Let me quote some excerpts from the National Research Council's just-released interim report on the Earth Sciences: "Today, this system of environmental satellites is at risk of collapse...NASA has no plan to replace its Earth Observing System platforms after their nominal 6-year lifetimes end...and it has canceled, descoped, or delayed at least six planned missions...

The NRC committee goes on to say: "These decisions appear to be driven by a major shift in priorities at a time when NASA is moving to implement a new vision for space exploration. This change in priorities jeopardizes NASA's ability to fulfill its obligations in other important presidential initiatives, such as the Climate Change Research Initiative and the subsequent Climate Change Science Program. It also calls into question future U.S. leadership in the Global Earth Observing System of Systems, an international effort initiated by the current Administration."

That is tough language, but it appears to be consistent with the facts.

I count myself among the strong supporters of exploration, but as I've said on previous occasions, we have to be willing to pay for it. We shouldn't try to implement it by cannibalizing NASA's other important programs.

Yet, the fact is that when the President cut $2.5 billion from NASA's funding plan for FY 2006 through 2009 relative to what he had promised just a year earlier, NASA imposed 75 percent of that cut on NASA's science and aeronautics programs and only 10 percent on NASA's Exploration Systems programs.

In reality, the FY 2006 funding request for NASA's Earth-Sun Science research program is $645 million lower than the funding plan for FY 2006 contained in the FY 2004 budget request. That's a reduction of 24 percent in just two years.

It's no wonder that the Earth Science program is canceling and delaying missions. And the problem has been compounded by NASA's apparent unwillingness or inability to date to develop a long-term vision for its Earth Science and Applications programs.

So where does all of this leave us?

Let me again quote the National Research Council's report: "Today the nation's Earth observation program is at risk."

I want to hear our NASA witness respond to the National Research Council's findings. Does NASA dispute the facts presented by the NRC? And if not, why has NASA let its Earth Science program reach this state of affairs? And most importantly, what is NASA's long-term commitment to Earth Science and Applications research, and what—if anything—is NASA prepared to do to reverse the current trends?

In closing, I again want to thank the witnesses for participating in today's hearing, and I look forward to your testimony.

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