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House Science Committee Debates NASA Budget

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006

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WASHINGTON - The House Science Committee today held a wide ranging discussion about the priorities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the agency's fiscal 2007 budget request with NASA Administrator Michael Griffin and Deputy Administrator Shana Dale.

The opening statements of Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are below.

Statement of Chairman Boehlert: "I want to welcome everyone here this morning for this important hearing on the future of NASA, the first of a number of hearings the Committee will hold related to NASA's proposed budget.

"Let me start, in what has almost become a ritual at these hearings, by praising Administrator Griffin.  In tough times and easy times, Mike Griffin has continued to be a steady model of competence and candor to which everyone in government should aspire.  And he has recruited to the agency an impressive team, including the Deputy Administrator, an alumna of this Committee, who is appearing with him today.  I want to thank him publicly, as the staff and I already have privately, for making the agency responsive and open to our inquiries, as demonstrated in this year's series of budget briefings for the Committee staff.    

"But to understand the budget is not necessarily to love it.  The Administrator did an excellent job of balancing the agency's missions given the box he was put in, but it's our job to examine the box as well as its contents.  And by "the box" I mean both the total funding for the agency and the missions that it's being mandated to perform.

"I am extremely uneasy about this budget, and I am in a quandary at this point about what to do about it.  This budget is bad for space science, worse for earth science, perhaps worse still for aeronautics.  It basically cuts or deemphasizes every forward looking, truly futuristic program of the agency to fund operational and development programs to enable us to do what we are already doing or have done before.

"Admittedly, that's a bit of a caricature, but I think we face some stark choices.

"Now maybe that's all we can do, given our options.  I support the Vision for Space Exploration, although I don't see any reason to accelerate it beyond the President's original plans.  But given that NASA is not yet sure that it can accelerate it, it's not clear that we can save much money on the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and its launcher compared to the proposed budget.

"As for the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs, we have a pretty clear decision to make.  We can either have these programs or we can end them.  There isn't any logical way I see to continue those programs for less money than NASA is proposing, and given the cost of shutdown, it's not clear how much money would even be saved through cancellation.    

"We can add more money to the total NASA budget.  And I'd be willing to support that as long as any additional money went to the unmanned side of the program, and as long as the money didn't come from other science agencies.  But money is not exactly "growing on trees" around here.  "So what to do is not clear.  Except for one concern, I'd even be willing to convince myself that this budget is just fine - a tough few years of transition to set the agency back on a sensible path in all its programs, which is, I think, how the Administrator legitimately thinks of it.  But that one concern is a big one - we may never escape from the pattern we set this year. "If science becomes secondary, if scientists leave the agency, if new missions don't keep young researchers going, then it will be hard to leave this pattern.  If the lunar programs, like all programs run by humans, can't live within the original cost projections, will money keep coming from science?

"And let me point out that science isn't just good for scientists, and its rewards are not just psychic.  Science programs, with their satellites and instruments, also push forward the technical frontiers.  And earth science programs help us figure out what policy choices we should be making here on earth.

"So the budget has just been out for a week, and I am still figuring out what to do.  Again, I want to point out that given the requirements that Congress and others have imposed on him, the Administrator has come up with a thoughtful budget - probably the best that anyone could under the circumstances.  But now the ball is in our court.  I said when our authorization bill passed that if NASA didn't receive as much funding as we authorized, we'd all face some tough choices.  Now we do. "Before I close, let me just update everyone for a minute on another NASA issue - one that shouldn't be as tough - and that's the question of scientific openness.  Since the concerns of Dr. Hansen became known, the Administrator, the Deputy Administrator, Mr. Gordon and I have been working together to ensure that NASA is a model of scientific openness.

"From the start, NASA has been responsive to our inquiries, and Mike Griffin began taking steps to rectify the problems.  NASA still has a lot of work to do to ensure openness - that's Administrator Griffin's view as well as my own.  But they have laid out a plan to do that work - starting with engaging in an open process to develop a clear policy on scientific communication.  We will be working with NASA and following the development of the policy and its implementation closely.  But I have high hopes that NASA will end up being a model of how agencies can guarantee scientific openness.

"When Administrator Griffin last appeared before us, I said that he had brought forth a Renaissance at NASA.  I want him to follow that up with an Enlightenment.  We need free and open inquiry, and an agency that recognizes that the greatest exploration takes place inside the human mind.

"And I look forward to continuing to work the Administrator and his team to make sure that Enlightenment occurs.  Thank you."

Statement of Chairman Calvert:

"Mr. Chairman, I want to welcome both Administrator Mike Griffin and Deputy Administrator Shana Dale.  Welcome back to the Science Committee, Shana!  You and Mike will make a great team.  You both know NASA; you both know Capitol Hill; and you both know all facets of the industry.  The American people are lucky to have such a well-qualified Administrator and Deputy Administrator for NASA during this exciting and challenging time.

"Last year, the Congress passed an authorization bill for NASA for the first time in 5 years.  That process underscored the lack of funding which is the key factor blocking the Agency from realizing its highest potential in all of its core mission areas - space, aeronautics, and science. 

"Dr. Griffin alerted this Committee during the November 2005 hearing about what is now calculated to be a $2.3 billion dollar shortfall in the NASA budget.  As a result the Agency has had to move funding from science and from exploration into the Space Shuttle program.  We understand that this shortfall is a result of miscalculations in costs for return-to-flight activities and operations for the shuttle through its retirement in 2010 - and exacerbated by the hurricane related costs.  These miscalculations were not made on Dr. Griffin's watch, yet must be resolved. 

"Hurricane Katrina's destructive path through the Gulf Coast left NASA with $760 million in damage to its Stennis Space Center and Michoud Assembly Facility.  Recognizing the severity of this situation and its implications on the Agency's already strained budget, Members of this Committee urged the Administration and Appropriators to increase recovery funds for NASA in the December supplemental.  While the $349 million that was included in the final package was an increase from the President's request of $325 million, the discrepancy only added more pinch to the already tight squeeze on the budget. 

"So this leaves us with the Fiscal Year 2007 budget request for NASA.  The Agency did receive a 3.2% increase over the FY 2006 -- or a 1.5% increase when including Katrina funding in Fiscal Year 2006 -- it is not enough to fully fund all the sectors of the Agency as everyone on this dais would like to see them budgeted. 

"Dr. Griffin, I know that hard decisions have had to be made.  The Agency has made some really difficult choices to keep the Exploration programs optimally funded so that our nation can move to a Crew Exploration Vehicle; to assure the safety of the Shuttle program; to meet the obligations of our agreements with the partners of the International Space Station; to have our Science programs working on an exciting, balanced program; and to have our Aeronautics programs producing forward-looking research and technology that will keep our nation globally competitive. 

"I congratulate you on putting together a finely-tuned budget request.  It is a much stronger budget than we have had in the past with the number of "placeholders" that we were given.

"One of the areas that is critical for you to address - as I know you are aware - is to get NASA's financial house in order.  As I have mentioned before, as a businessman, if I tried to run a business without a credible accounting system, it would be a disaster waiting to happen.  In all areas of your President's Management Agenda ratings, NASA is flying high-except in the financial management area.  I know that you have made improvements and have provided leadership in this area, but improvements must be shown as soon as possible.

"Now that the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 has been signed into law, we look forward to working with you to get the information that we need to have more effective and productive oversight.  With the Administration proposing its Competitiveness Initiative, I look forward to working with you to assure that NASA is contributing to this important national objective. 

"I know that the United States is beginning its long journey back to the Moon and then on to Mars trough the Exploration program, but I worry that we are not taking these challenges from other nations seriously.  The United States must maintain its global position. 

"We have heard that India is preparing for a lunar orbital mission in 2007; Japan plans to send a robotic rover to the Moon by 2013, and the European Space Agency has a probe that is orbiting the Moon.  Although these countries are talking about sending people to the Moon, only two - the United States and China - have set dates for manned lunar landings.  NASA is hoping to schedule its first manned mission in about 2018; China is heading for a landing as early as 2017. 

"While this is generally a lean budget year, we must maximize every penny to keep our great nation competitive.  I look forward to hearing from you, Administrator Griffin and Deputy Administrator Dale, on your plans to move forward with the FY07 budget request for NASA."

Administrator's Griffin's prepared testimony and other hearing materials, including an archived webcast of the hearing, are available on the Science Committee website: http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/full06/Feb16/index.htm.

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