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Association of American Universities Letter to Rep. Wolf Regarding FY 2007 Funding for NASA Science and Aeronautics

Status Report From: Association of American Universities
Posted: Tuesday, June 6, 2006

May 30, 2006
The Honorable Frank R. Wolf
Chairman
Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, and Commerce
U.S. House Committee on Appropriations
H-309 Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Wolf:

As president of the Association of American Universities (AAU), representing 60 leading U.S. public and private research universities, I respectfully request that, as you develop the FY07 Science, State, Justice, and Commerce Appropriation Act, you strive to appropriate no less than $5.5 billion and $959 million in federal funding for NASA's science and aeronautics mission directorates respectively.

We greatly appreciate your work in bringing to the attention of the White House the importance of science funding to maintaining our international competitiveness. Your efforts clearly played a major role in prompting the President to propose the American Competitiveness Initiative. As you know, this presidential initiative proposes to double funding for the basic research conducted at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. AAU stands strongly behind this initiative and we know you will do your best to see that it is fully funded. We are concerned, however, that NASA and the important science that it conducts was not included by the President as a part of the ACI.

As we have stated in previous meetings with Committee staff, we are strong supporters of NASA and its operations. Indeed, we support President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) and appreciate the importance of a vibrant space exploration program. However, in planning for the VSE, the development of the new Crew Exploration Vehicle, and U.S. support of the International Space Station, it is our view that NASA must strike an appropriate balance between funding its science, aeronautics, and exploration missions, as all three mission directorates are vital to the overall future success of NASA.

Unfortunately, the Administration's FY07 budget request does not strike the critical funding balance among NASA's mission directorates. As you know, the FY07 budget request calls for $5.3 billion in funding for the science mission directorate an increase of approximately 1.5 percent from the FY06 funding level. For the aeronautics mission directorate, the budget request calls for $724 million -- an 18 percent cut from FY06 funding levels. Unfortunately, these proposed funding levels for science and aeronautics fall well short of previous budget projections for NASA. Moreover, these proposed funding levels run contrary to the five-year budget plan that was released in concert with the Administration's VSE in 2004, the NASA Authorization Act of 2005, and previous National Academies of Science Decadal Surveys.

More specifically, I think it is important to note that the five-year budget plan released in 2004 called for programs within the science mission directorate to grow robustly from $5.5 billion in 2004 to $7 billion in 2008. In terms of funding for the aeronautics mission directorate, the budget plan called for an overall funding level of $959 million. These funding levels -- as called for in the budget plan -- are neither dramatic nor are they unfeasible. In fact, we believe the funding increases are a necessity if NASA is to achieve the important budgetary balance between its mission directorates.

Like the budget plan, the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 mandated higher levels of funding for both science and aeronautics. In particular, the bill authorized approximately $6.1 billion for NASA's science and education missions and programs. For the aeronautics mission the bill authorized $962 million. Again, these are funding levels that strike a balance among the mission directorates and allow for full funding of important science and aeronautics programs.

We certainly hope that, as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, you take into account the concerns addressed in this letter and appropriate an increased level of funding for NASA's science and aeronautics missions. Moreover, we hope that any increased level of funding will be used to conduct the following initiatives:

  1. Restore the 15 percent cut to NASA's Research and Analysis grants. NASA's R&A grants not only are important to maintaining the scientific vitality of the agency, but they also provide real opportunities for young scientists and researchers to analyze data garnered from current NASA missions.
  2. Provide an appropriate balance between NASA's flagship, medium and small missions, including renewing the financial commitment to vital programs such as Explorer and Discovery.
  3. Restore funding to NASA's aeronautics research and development program. Last year's appropriation and authorization bills stressed the importance of investing in NASA's aeronautics program. Yet, the Administration's budget request runs contrary to Congressional intent.

Before ending this letter, the AAU and its membership would be remiss if we did not mention our appreciation for the re-establishment of the NASA Advisory Committee (NAC). We very much hope that the advisory committee structure will improve NASA's science planning and budgeting in the future. While the NAC Science Subcommittee has just begun its work, we would like to note that their preliminary reports strongly support enhancing NASA's proposed budget for science in order to support the R&A program, technology development, small explorers, astrobiology, and the National Academies Space Studies Board's recommendations for program balance and continued community involvement.

AAU Recommendation

In this regard, AAU strongly encourages members of the House Appropriations Committee to fund NASA science and aeronautics at no less than $5.5 billion and $959 million respectively for fiscal year 2007.

Sincerely,

Robert M. Berdahl, AAU President
cc: House Appropriations Committee Members

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