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Opening Statement: Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich Hearing: "The National Academy of Sciences' Decadal Plan for Aeronautics: A Blueprint for NASA?

Status Report From: U.S. House of Representatives
Posted: Tuesday, July 18, 2006

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July 18, 2006

Thank you Chairman Calvert, Ranking Member Udall, and members of this subcommittee for the opportunity to speak today about aeronautics. Under your leadership, this Congress has been tremendously supportive of aeronautics and I am grateful for that. I am also grateful to my colleague, Representative JoAnn Davis who has fought for strong aeronautics programs.

NASA's role in aeronautics is fundamental. Its research is important because NASA is able to develop long term, high-risk enabling technologies that the private sector is unwilling to perform because they are too risky or too expensive. In fact, this has historically been the role of government-sponsored research. This is true not only with aeronautics but also with pharmaceutical research, defense research, energy research, and environmental research.

When the government sponsored basic research yields information that could lead to a service or product with profit potential, the private sector transitions from research to development in order to bring it to market. While it is not always as simple as this, it is clear that where there is no basic research, there can be no development. This research has resulted in monumental innovations that affect our daily lives. Its contributions are especially significant in the areas of national security, environmental protection, and airline safety.

NASA's aeronautics programs also contribute substantially to the nation's economy. The NASA Glenn Research Center in Brook Park, Ohio, for example, is a cornerstone of the state's fragile economy and a stronghold of aeronautics research. In FY04, the economic output of NASA Glenn alone was 1.2 billion dollars per year. It was responsible for over 10,000 jobs and household earnings amounted to 568 million dollars.

Civil aeronautics is also the major contributor to this sector's positive balance of trade, contributing $29 billion in 2005 alone. Aeronautics contributes to a stronger economy by lowering the cost of transportation, enabling a new generation of service based industries like e-commerce to flourish by performing the research that leads to inexpensive and reliable flights.

These are only a few of the reasons that the proposed cuts to aeronautics are so pernicious. Many of the recommendations by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) are already headed down the path of irrelevancy because we simply won't be able to pay for them. We will be feeling the effects of the proposed cuts - about 25% in FY07 alone - immediately in terms of economic jolts and then in the long term from the loss of innovation. In addition, the Administration's projected further decline of aeronautics research in the out years erodes our workforce by sending a clear signal that funding in the long term is unstable at best, a concern echoed by the NAS reports. Our NASA workforce is the reason for our aeronautics dominance. It is that simple. But the cuts are already causing us to struggle against rising expertise in countries like China as well as an aging scientific and technical workforce at NASA.

This subcommittee and this Congress have spoken unequivocally in the past few years on this issue by keeping aeronautics strong in NASA authorization and appropriations bills. Yet the NASA budget requests have not changed. We are still underfunding the Vision for Space Exploration, forcing the agency to take money from smaller programs like aeronautics, the first A in NASA. In the process, we run the risk of taking away one of NASA's great strengths - diversity. If NASA becomes a one trick pony focused almost exclusively on space exploration, NASA as a whole is vulnerable to political wind shifts.

Our priority should be to correct this. Earlier this year, I attempted to offer a bipartisan amendment to increase funding for aeronautics in the Budget Resolution by $179 million dollars, which would have left funding flat for FY07. But it was blocked by the Rules Committee. However, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported a bill last week that adds 1 billion dollars to cover the emergency costs associated with the loss of space shuttle Columbia. That would free up money for Aeronautics. It also included a ban on involuntary reductions in force, protecting the most valuable part of NASA, its world-class workforce. The House should support these provisions in conference.

In the long term, my hope is that this subcommittee will continue to defend aeronautics at NASA. I will most certainly do what I can to help.

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