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31 March 2005 Letter From Reps. Eshoo, Honda, and Lofgren to Michael Griffin regarding NASA Ames Research Center FY06 Funding Issues

Status Report From: U.S. House of Representatives
Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2005

March 31, 2005

Dr. Michael Griffin, Administrator Designate
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Two Independence Square, 300 E Street SW
Room 9F44
Washington DC 20546

Dear Dr. Griffin:

We're writing to express our steadfast support for NASA Ames Research Center and its critical contributions to our nation's future.

For over half a century, NASA Ames has been one of the world's premiere research labs, leading the scientific community in a wide range of endeavors as it provides vital support to NASA's core missions. Located in Silicon Valley, our nation's cutting edge technology center, NASA Ames has created partnerships with leading universities and high-technology industry leaders, and brought the scientific, academic, and business communities together in multifaceted efforts to expand knowledge and explore the unknown. Like no other NASA center, NASA Ames has at its fingertips the best minds and innovators in the nation and is optimizing its unique position.

As NASA begins to rise to the challenges laid out in the new Vision for Space Exploration, we have serious concerns about the declining investment in NASA Ames core competencies of astrobiology, advanced supercomputing, intelligent adaptive systems, entry systems, and air traffic management systems. All but entry systems are uniquely resident at NASA Ames, and they represent the critical skills, facilities and people that are needed to meet NASA's mission, including the Vision for Space Exploration. Beginning this year, cuts in the core competencies at NASA Ames will severely and irrevocably harm its ability to be effective in carrying out its work on behalf of the Vision for Space Exploration. Even worse, in failing to adequately invest in this strategic asset, NASA risks losing the key partnerships and talent that NASA Ames has developed. In the end, this will reduce our nation's ability to lead the rest of the world in scientific and high-technology innovation.

Unless action is taken now to avert a financial disaster at NASA Ames in FY06, irreparable damage will be inflicted on the Center and its future viability. Three of Ames' most important core competencies are currently facing severe shortfalls which will require immediate assistance to enable them to fulfill the President's mandate of competition between NASA's Research Centers. The three areas are:

  • Astrobiology: $23 million is needed in FY06 to keep NASA Ames' leading astrobiology scientists competitive with their tenured counterparts in the academic community. As a result of the full-cost accounting implemented by NASA Headquarters, Ames astrobiologists must include the entire year's salary within the competitive grant applications, while tenured professors, paid ten months of the year by endowment or State governments, only need to include 1/6th of their salaries in grant proposals. To create a level playing field and allow them to compete effectively, NASA Ames astrobiologists need a stipend proportionately equal to that of their counterparts in the academic community. $23 million will accomplish that goal in FY06.
  • Basic Research in New Technology: $40 million is needed on FY06 to restore fiscal health to aeronautics, intelligent systems, nanotechnology, and thermal protection systems "seed corn" basic research projects. These areas have been cut drastically from previous years - greater than 50% in some cases. Top-notch staff is leaving and skills are eroding. Of particular note is the NASA Ames Center for Nanotechnology and the proposed Bio-Info-Nanotechnology Research and Development Institute (BIN-RDI), which will take a leadership role in the next great wave of new revolutionary technology. Both the statewide Blue Ribbon Task Force on Nanotechnology, and the Administration's Undersecretary for Technology at the Department of Commerce have recognized the need to keep this center fully funded and operating at full capacity. $40 million in FY06 will keep these systems running effectively
  • Life Sciences: $60 million is needed in FY06 to restore funding that has essentially been zeroed out in the NASA budget. This includes the elimination of the Space Science Biological Research Project, which is the last scientific research element of the International Space Station. Without this research we will forever lose the ability to understand fundamental aspects of long-term space flight, critical to fulfilling the President's Vision for Space Exploration.

These three areas represent the top priorities for solving the budget crisis at NASA Ames in this Fiscal Year. Guaranteeing their solvency will ensure NASA Ames' ability to continue to lead the nation in addressing and solving future challenges in science an aerospace, such as the Transforming the National Aerospace System (TNAS) project. As you know, TNAS is a major contributor to the National Plan being developed by the multi-agency Joint Planning and Development Office, particularly focused on establishing an agile air traffic system that accommodates future requirements and rapidly responds to shifts in demand. TNAS is critical to the future of our national airspace and NASA Ames, more than any other research facility in our nation is uniquely positioned to accomplish the lion share of this work, and we urge you to commit your fullest resources toward implementing this critical project.

We steadfastly support the highest possible funding for NASA Ames Research Center, and urge your immediate attention to the above critical shortfalls. NASA Ames' staff, expertise, and abilities should be considered a national treasure that deserves our fullest support as it continues to shape the technologies and understanding that will guide our nation in the 21st Century.

We look forward to working with you to address the critical needs of NASA Ames Research Center.

Sincerely

[Signed]

Anna G. Eshoo
Member of Congress

Michael M. Honda
Member of Congress

Zoe Lofgren
Member of congress

Cc:

Sen. Barbara Boxer
Sen. Diane Feinstein
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, Chairman, House Science Committee
Re. Bart Gordon, Ranking Member, House Science Committee
Rep. Frank Wolf, Chairman, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State Justice, and Commerce, and Related Agencies
Rep. Alan Mollohan, Ranking Member, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State Justice, and Commerce, and Related Agencies

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