Opening Statement by Rep. Bart Gordon - House Committee on Science and Technology Hearing: NASA's Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Request

Status Report From: Rep. Bart Gordon
Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2007


March 15, 2007

Good morning. I'd like to begin by welcoming Dr. Griffin to today's hearing. We look forward to your testimony.

You always have been straightforward with me and this Committee, and I appreciate it. And in that same spirit of candor, I will say what I've said before--that I'm afraid that NASA is headed for a "train wreck" if things don't change.

Your testimony outlines some of the challenges NASA is facing as a result of the FY 2007 Joint Resolution. We will explore those in more detail during today's hearing, but it is clear that NASA's problems run much deeper.

Let me just list a few of them:

First, the FY 2008 budget request continues a pattern of Administration requests that fail to ask for the level of funding that the White House had said NASA would need to carry out the exploration initiative and its other core activities.

Specifically, in the three years since the President announced his exploration initiative, the White House has cut NASA's five-year budget plan by a total of $2.26 billion. And based on this year's budget submittal, that shortfall will worsen by another $420 million in FY 2009.

The impact of that $2.7 billion shortfall is compounded by the Administration's underbudgeting of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs in that same five-year budget plan. That underbudgeting forced you to take some $3.7 billion out of the rest of the agency's programs to cover that shortfall.

Which brings me to the FY 08 budget request and its five-year budget plan. That budget plan includes an estimated shortfall of $924 million in ISS crew and cargo services funding—a shortfall that will have to be made up one way or another. The budget plan does not include funds to address Space Shuttle program termination and retirement costs past FY 2010, although NASA concedes there will be additional costs.

The budget plan doesn't include funds for the required upgrade of the aging Deep Space Network, although NASA says it will need to start funding it in FY 2009. The budget plan reduces the amount of Space Shuttle reserves available to address remaining Shuttle program threats during the remaining missions.

The budget plan contains almost no funds to initiate the series of new missions recommended by the National Academies' Earth Science Decadal Survey. The budget plan defers a significant amount of the research to be done on the International Space Station and provides no grounds for optimism that the research will be adequately funded prior to NASA's planned withdrawal from the ISS program.

The budget plan continues the Administration's underfunding of NASA's aeronautics program. The budget plan continues to cut back on NASA's long-term exploration technology program. For example, NASA will eliminate its lunar robotic program—the precursor program for its human lunar initiative after just one mission—LRO—has flown.

And even before the Joint Resolution impact is factored in, NASA personnel were looking at a six-month slip in the Crew Exploration Vehicle schedule to 2015.

I could go on, but I think it's clear we have budgetary situation that bears little resemblance to the rosy projections offered by the Administration when the President announced his "Vision for Space Exploration" three years ago—a vision that is now increasingly blurred…

Dr. Griffin, in your testimony you mention the negative impacts of the Joint Resolution passed to deal with the unfinished FY 2007 appropriations left to us by the previous Congress.

I agree with you that those impacts are not good, and I urged that increased funding be made available for NASA. However, I'm afraid you were left hanging by your own Administration when it said nothing about NASA in the Statement of Administration Policy that it sent over to the House.

The Administration's silence unfortunately sent a message that was not helpful.

I will not kid you that it is going to be easy to get the funding you are requesting in this year's request, especially if the White House remains disengaged.

Yet based on the items I've already listed, I'm worried that even getting the President's requested level is just going to push the looming budgetary problem down the road until after the next election.

And so today, I'd like to find out at least the following:

Given your assessment of the negative impact of the Joint Resolution, did you ask the White House to weigh in with the House of Representatives? If so, why didn't they?

Do you think submitting a budget request with a shortfall of almost a billion dollars in ISS crew and cargo funding embedded in it makes sense? Was it your idea or OMB's?

Given the agreement I thought NASA had with OMB on ISS and Shuttle funding last year, why did this year's budget request come over with shortfalls and reduced reserves in the Shuttle and ISS accounts—did you shift the money, or did OMB change the agreement?

Well, we have a lot to talk about today. Once again, I want to welcome you to this hearing, Dr. Griffin, and I look forward to your testimony.

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