Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, I request your indulgence for a moment. I have a brief statement I'd like to make to bring up some issues that are troubling me. And then I have some specific questions for the administrator.
Mr. O'Keefe, I am pleased to see you. But I'm deeply concerned by the direction you are taking the agency.
As you know, I have a deep respect for NASA. The Johnson Space Center is close to my district and most of the people who work there are constituents. I have been involved in the goings-on of the Human Space Flight program since I came to Congress 18 years ago.
I was cautiously optimistic when the President tapped you as the new NASA Administrator. I was thrilled to see someone of your reputation and stature coming to head the agency. NASA was facing - and continues to face - some tough management and financial issues.
But I was concerned because I wasn't sure of your plan. I had all kinds of questions: Do you know anything about NASA? Are you coming in with a single goal of putting the books in order? Is there a passion for big picture of space? Do you care about exploration? Do you understand how important it is to continue sending people into space?
To be frank, my concerns have not been alleviated. If anything, you are only confirming my reservations.
From the big picture perspective, you seem to have a timid, anemic plan for Human Space Flight. Your budget projections for the out-years project a rapidly declining and limited program. Rather than pushing the envelope in space exploration, you seem to be pulling back. Additionally, your proposal for this year cuts 90 FTE's from Human Space Flight, and reduces funding by $550 million.
More specifically, I am absolutely astounded to learn of your plan for the X-38 and NSBRI.
On the X-38, last year, during conference consideration of the VA-HUD bill, I offered report language directing NASA to provide $40 million for the X-38. This amendment was accepted unanimously because the members of the committee want to see a fully functional space station.
Contrary to what the budget mistakenly says, this was not an earmark. This was a policy decision by the committee to support a lifeboat on Station to ensure a full-time crew of 6 or 7 people: three of them would spend most of their time operating and maintaining the Station and the others would do the scientific research that makes the Station the premier laboratory it's proposed to be.
Six weeks ago, I heard rumors that this program was being cancelled. My staff requested a status report from NASA headquarters. And only just last week, I received a one-page document that lays out a plan for "an orderly shutdown" of the X-38. Beyond the lack of timeliness, this really troubles me on a number of different levels.
First of all, you talk a good deal about the need to have science drive the agency. In your statement on Friday at Syracuse, you said that NASA's mission must be directed by science, not by destination. While I'm not sure I totally agree with that statement - Apollo would have never gotten us to the moon without a bold commitment by JFK to get us there within the decade. That was a destination-driven mission. But I do think you're missing that target when you don't ensure that we have a 6 or 7 person full-time crew aboard the Space Station.
The decision to kill the X-38 strikes at the very heart of the need to let science to drive the agency. With this plan, you deliberately constrict the science that can be done aboard the space station.
Secondly, I am really amazed that you would reject the committee's directions. I don't want to sound like Senator Byrd and lecture you on the Constitution, but Congress does control the power of the purse. And even if this were an earmark, I am really shocked that you would use the $40 million in the bill to shutdown a program that this committee so clearly supports.
Another issue is NSBRI. The National Space Biomedical Research Institute is a consortium of premier research institutions that have formed a partnership with NASA to conduct the research that only NASA can do - analyzing the effects of micro-gravity on the human body. They are learning a lot about treating diseases here on earth. Yet, in spite of your commitment to science, you propose to cut funding from $17 million to $10 million. Frankly, it just doesn't make sense to me.
Mr. Administrator, we have the same goals - at least I THINK we have the same goals. But frankly I am really disturbed by your blatant disregard of congress's involvement in the spending process and your lack of vision and funding for Human Space Flight. You face some serious challenges as you implement management reforms at the agency. But don't let the treasure of our space program fall victim. I see two unacceptable trends at NASA: First a blatant disregard for Congressional intent in the appropriations process. Second, a limited vision and insufficient funding for Human Space Flight.