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Democrats Withhold Support from NASA Authorization Bill - Legislation in Its Current Form "Doesn't Get the Job Done"

Press Release From: Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democratic Caucus
Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2005

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(Washington, DC) The House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics today gave initial consideration to H.R. 3070 - The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2005.

At today's subcommittee markup, nearly all Subcommittee Democrats withheld their support from the NASA Authorization bill drafted by the Majority, citing significant concerns with the bill's content as well as with the lack of time they were given to review the legislation.

Both the Subcommittee and Full Committee Ranking Members decried the lack of any policy provisions to ensure a productive balance would be maintained between the President's human exploration initiative and NASA's other core missions of aeronautics, space science, Earth science, and microgravity research.  In place of clear policy guidance, the Majority's bill substitutes an abundance of reporting requirements.

Committee Democrats indicated at today's markup that they want to work toward a more substantial NASA Authorization bill that will address the challenges the agency is facing in the coming years.  They intend to develop alternative provisions for consideration when the full Committee marks up the bill.

Below are the opening statements from Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN).

Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Udall:

Thank you.  I want to express my agreement with the sentiments expressed by Ranking Member Gordon regarding the process issues surrounding this bill.  However, as he has indicated, we also have some substantive concerns with the bill before us today.

These are concerns that I hope that we will be able to address when this bill is marked up by the Full Committee.  Let me mention just a few of them.

First, as we have communicated to our colleagues on the Majority side, this bill fundamentally does not address the issue of ensuring that a productive balance is maintained between NASA's core missions - science, aeronautics, and human space flight - including human exploration.

The bill expresses the sentiment that such a balance is desirable, but does nothing to make it a reality.  And since it is a one-year authorization bill with just a single funding number, it lacks the funding direction provided by a more traditional multi-year authorization; such is under consideration by the Senate.

In essence, the bill provides no meaningful policy or funding guidance to NASA with one major exception that I will mention in a minute, nor does it provide any meaningful constraints on NASA's actions over the coming year.

Basically, as long as NASA files the required reports - many of which simply codify things that NASA provides as part of its annual budget request - NASA can do whatever it wants to do over the coming year.

Rather than providing policy guidance to NASA, this bill simply asks NASA to tell us what they want to do.

There is one area, however, where the bill does lay out crisp policy guidance: namely, it codifies into law the major milestones of the President's exploration initiative.  Why does that matter?  Well, in the absence of any other binding provisions in the bill to maintain a balance among NASA's core missions, a provision that directs NASA to return humans to the Moon by 2020, for example, has the effect of making that the agency's highest priority.

And NASA would be perfectly justified in interpreting that provision as a license - indeed an imperative - to take money from NASA's other activities if necessary to ensure that that deadline is met.  That's not my idea of either a "go-as-you-can-pay" or a "balanced" approach to exploration - but that's what this bill would have NASA do.

There are other major concerns, but in the interests of time I will save most of them for another day.  Instead, I would just note that the bill does not include any of the provisions of H.R. 2358, the Aeronautics R&D Revitalization Act - a bill that I and a group of bipartisan cosponsors believe is urgently needed to address the crisis in aeronautics that is facing this nation.  I find this omission to be troubling and intend to work for its inclusion in the final version of the NASA bill.

Well, I hope my comments provide some insight into the decision by Mr. Gordon and me to withhold our support for this bill in its current form.  NASA is important to the nation.  I hope we can work together to craft a bill that will seriously address the issues facing the agency.

Committee Ranking Member Rep. Gordon:

I'd like to thank Mr. Udall for yielding to me.  I would like to take a few minutes to explain why I plan to withhold my support from H.R. 3070 at this Subcommittee markup.  Before doing that, however, I would first like to commend Chairman Calvert for his commitment to enacting a NASA Authorization bill this year.

I am in strong agreement with him that this Committee needs to meet its legislative and oversight responsibilities with respect to NASA if we are to be relevant.  And one of the fundamental ways we can do that is through the process of reauthorizing NASA's programs in space and aeronautics on a regular and timely basis.

So I applaud his desire to do a NASA Authorization bill, and I want to work with him and Chairman Boehlert to produce the best bill possible.  Unfortunately, the schedule we were presented with did not make it possible for Democratic Members of the Subcommittee to develop a thoughtful response to the bill in time for today's markup.

As you know, the Majority did not have a draft bill ready to be shared with our Members and other stakeholders until last Friday.  In addition, we were not able to hear from the NASA Administrator regarding his plans and priorities until yesterday.

That does not provide Members enough time to discuss and assess the Administrator's testimony.  Neither does it provide adequate time for Members to develop amendments to address areas of concern in the bill.  That should not be surprising, given that the Majority has informed us that it took them at least three months to develop the bill in front of us today.

Given that Democrats were not included in that bill preparation effort, it is understandable that we will need some time to prepare an appropriate response.  I would have preferred that this markup be delayed to allow thoughtful consideration of this bill.

However, I understand Chairman Calvert's interest in moving forward today.         Given that, I do not plan to try to block this bill today but instead will abstain from supporting it at this Subcommittee markup.  I then plan to focus my efforts on making the full Committee's consideration of this bill a productive exercise.

Before I close, I want to make it clear that my objections to the bill before us today are not just based on concerns about the process.  Mr. Udall and I have serious reservations about the bill in its present form, and I will yield back to him at this point so that he can outline some of the reasons we feel that way.  Thank you.

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