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Science Democrats Forge NASA Compromise That's Credible, Practical and Conferenceable

Press Release From: Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democratic Caucus
Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2005

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(Washington, DC)  Science Committee Democrats today joined their Republican colleagues to support a significantly improved H.R. 3070, The NASA Authorization Act of 2005.

When the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee marked up the legislation in late June, Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) expressed considerable concerns that the Democratic Caucus of the Committee had about the bill as introduced.

Democrats voted 'present' at subcommittee, withholding support for H.R. 3070 until agreements on several key principles could be reached.

At that time, Democrats listed several principles not in the original bill that they would seek to incorporate, including:

  • Clear policy and funding provisions to insure that NASA remains a multi-mission agency with robust R&D activities in science, aeronautics and human space flight.
  • Support for the goal of human space exploration beyond low Earth orbit and guidelines to insure it is properly paid for, and not funded at the expense of other important NASA programs.
  • Establishment of priorities within NASA's exploration program, as well as in other agency accounts.
  • Funding and policy to make certain that the International Space Station (ISS) realizes its potential for fundamental and applied scientific and commercial research, not just for exploration-related tasks.
  • Goals that are flexible rather than rigid, to allow for changing situations at NASA - whether they be technical, operational or budgetary in nature.

Earlier this week Science Democrats introduced H.R. 3250.  With input from all Democratic Members of the Committee, the multi-year alternative legislation reflected these principles and laid out clear, directed priorities for the space agency.

"The provisions in our bill provided the basis for very constructive negotiations with Chairman Boehlert and Chairman Calvert over the last week," said Ranking Member Gordon.  "As a result, many of the provisions from H.R. 3250 are now incorporated in part or in total in the Manager's Amendment adopted today."

"We had a rocky start, but I believe we've ended up with a good bill," added Rep. Gordon.  "This significantly improved bill better meets our responsibility to NASA and goes a long way toward achieving balanced, feasible priorities."  The Manager's Amendment passed by a vote of 36-0.

With the adoption of the Manager's Amendment, H.R. 3070 now includes:

  • Multiyear funding guidance.
  • Legislative language and restructured budgetary accounts to help provide funding firewalls and ensure balance is maintained.
  • Increased funding for NASA's science programs.
  • Funding for fundamental, applied, and commercial microgravity research.
  • Funding for a Hubble servicing mission.
  • Funding for a revitalized aeronautics R&D program at NASA, with policy guidance from Rep. Udall's aeronautics bill (H.R. 2358).
  • Provisions to address workforce and infrastructure issues.
  • Priorities for the Human Exploration program.
  • Flexible goals rather than hard deadlines.

Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Mark Udall remarked, "This bill provides a balanced policy directive to NASA that will allow the agency to continue to work toward the Moon/Mars initiative, but also continue its vital research in the agency's other core areas such as science and aeronautics.  I am pleased to see this Committee has recognized the importance of revitalizing our investment in aeronautics, and in the Hubble Space Telescope.  Progress in aeronautics is crucial to the health of the Nation's air transportation industry, which in turn is crucial both to the continued strength of our domestic economy and to our international competitiveness.  At the same time, Hubble has provided inspiration worldwide to young and old, scientists and non-scientists alike.  Hubble is one of the most important astronomical instruments in the history of NASA, and has made extraordinary contributions to scientific research and the inspiration of our youth."

Amendments offered by Members were largely withdrawn on assurances from the Majority that issues would be raised in conference.  Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) offered three such amendments.

"Ever since the tragic Colombia Space Shuttle accident safety must be the number one priority at NASA.  Therefore, I am pleased that this NASA Authorization includes provisions for a Presidentially-appointed commission to investigate safety abroad the ISS.  This provision is based upon legislation that I introduced in the 108th Congress.  I am also very pleased that this Authorization will include language that will help ensure equal access to NASA education programs for minority and under-privileged students.  Now is the time when we need greater diversity in the fields of space and aeronautics and I believe this Authorization furthers that goal," added Rep. Jackson Lee.

Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL) offered two amendments aimed at assuring the preservation of NASA's experienced workforce - one was defeated by a tie vote, the other was accepted.  "I am again dismayed by the Majority's insistence that it is more important to protect international trade laws than American jobs.  It is hard to convince our students to pursue scientific and technical careers when they see the jobs leaving the country, and our economy will suffer for this."

"I appreciate the Committee's commitment to Enhanced Use Leases as we move forward with a strong NASA program.  Enhanced Use Leases will afford facilities like Michoud Space System's Assembly Facility in New Orleans the flexibility they need to keep providing good jobs to their communities," added Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA), who offered and then withdrew his amendment once the Majority committed to support the matter in conference.  "These leases will enhance the economic effectiveness of NASA facilities while taking a burden off our federal budget, and I'm pleased that I was able to help bring the committee to a consensus on this important aspect of NASA's future."

Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) emphasized bill language he worked to include that makes the promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education a NASA priority.  "I am pleased that the consensus bill authorizes the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program," said Rep. Miller.  "The Space Grant Program helps to promote strong science, mathematics and technology education from elementary school through graduate school.  It is a key tool for NASA to attract and train its next generation of scientists."

"I am pleased that this bill enables us to move forward in the area of exploration and also provides funding for other activities such as scientific research and aeronautics," concluded Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA).  "I support the provision that calls for honoring our existing international partnerships on the ISS, particularly those partnerships involving life science research using the centrifuge.  There are many worthy scientific pursuits supported in this bill that can only be done using the centrifuge.  I am also hopeful that the renewed focus on science programs will ensure that existing scientific and technical collaborations between NASA centers and outside partners such as universities continue as previously envisioned."

A vote by the full U.S. House on the Committee-passed bill is expected next week.

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