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House Science Committee Democrats Question Wisdom of NASA's Plans to Cut and Restructure Aeronautics Research Program

Press Release From: Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democratic Caucus
Posted: Tuesday, September 26, 2006

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(Washington, DC) The House Committee on Science's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics today held a second hearing on the state of NASA's aeronautics research program. As noted at a previous hearing in July, funding for NASA's aeronautics programs is scheduled to decline under the Administration's plan by 32% between FY 2004-2007, with continued erosion in purchasing power at least through the rest of the decade.

"Ill-advised budget cuts and changes in NASA's priorities are putting the nation at risk of losing critical aeronautics research and development capabilities," stated Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) at today's hearing. "These are capabilities that we need now more than ever if we are to improve the safety and reliability of our air transportation system while increasing its capacity to meet projected demand, increasing its efficiency and performance, and reducing its environmental and energy impacts."

"Yet, instead of investing more in the highly productive aeronautics enterprise that has been built up within NASA and its predecessor organization over the last nine decades, NASA is in the process of dismantling those capabilities as it turns its attention elsewhere and reallocates resources to new ventures," added Rep. Udall.

A report released prior to July's hearing by the National Research Council of the National Academies entitled Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics: Foundation for the Future," outlined a set of prioritized research challenges developed by a distinguished independent group of aeronautics experts with extensive experience in government, industry, and academia. If implemented, those research challenges could provide a productive agenda for NASA's aeronautics program over the next decade.

The co-chair of the Decadal Survey, Gen. William Hoover (ret.), stressed the importance of such a comprehensive aeronautics research initiative at today's hearing noting that, "The U.S. air transportation system is a key contributor to the economic vitality, public well-being, and national security of the United States."

As witnesses reminded the Committee this summer, sustained cuts in NASA's aeronautics budget coupled with an overly constrained research program run the risk not only of endangering the future of the United States' leadership in the global aviation industry, but can also lead to gaps in critical technology development and undercut safety-related research vital to our nation's air transportation system.

NASA did not participate in the July hearing but the Associate Administrator of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD), Dr. Lisa Porter, was present today. Dr. Porter testified that current funding is sufficient and the restructuring of the agency's aeronautics program provides a meaningful research agenda. That assessment was contradicted by testimony at both today's hearing and the hearing held in July.

"I am sure that our NASA witness is making a good faith effort to put the best face on what is going on, but I am deeply concerned that NASA's aeronautics program is still coming up short," said Rep. Udall. "I don't believe we have passed the point of no-return, but we are getting close and the clock is ticking. Congress and the Administration have a lot of work to do to get NASA's aeronautics program back on a healthy and productive path."

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www.sciencedems.house.gov

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