The full House Appropriations Committee had been meeting for almost 3 1/2 hours yesterday when Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) rose to offer an amendment to provide $200 million for the James Webb Space Telescope in the FY 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill. A vote was pending on the House floor, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) was ready to take a final vote to pass the bill. After brief comments by Schiff and Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) a voice vote was called, and the amendment was rejected.
Schiff's amendment would have moved $200 million from NASA's Cross Agency Support budget, for which the bill allocated approximately $3 billion. This amendment was one of several that sought to transfer money from this budget category to other programs. All were rejected.
Early in the mark up session, Wolf had strenuously objected when an amendment was offered to increase funding for a student security program by moving money from the Cross Agency Support budget. He told the committee that this budget pays for programs such as cyber security, verification of critical software, and medical programs for NASA's employees. Wolf urged on a "no" vote on the amendment "if you care about NASA." When another amendment was brought up that would have shifted money from this budget, Wolf warned against "the slippery slope" of reducing funding for this account.
Schiff's amendment was intended to reverse the subcommittee's decision to terminate funding for the telescope. In the report accompanying the bill that was just released, the subcommittee explains its reasoning as follows:
"The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Independent Comprehensive Review Panel revealed chronic and deeply rooted management problems in the JWST project. These issues led to the project cost being underestimated by as much as $1,400,000,000 relative to the most recent baseline, and the budget could continue to rise depending on the final launch date determination. Although JWST is a particularly serious example, significant cost overruns are commonplace at NASA, and the Committee believes that the underlying causes will never be fully addressed if the Congress does not establish clear consequences for failing to meet budget and schedule expectations. The Committee recommendation provides no funding for JWST in fiscal year 2012.
The report continues:
"The Committee believes that this step will ultimately benefit NASA by setting a cost discipline example for other projects and by relieving the enormous pressure that JWST was placing on NASA's ability to pursue other science missions."
In opening remarks to his fellow appropriators, Wolf charged that NASA had "been hiding costs" associated with the telescope. He spoke of a new finding by the Government Accountability Office that estimated the telescope's cost at $7.8 billion, Wolf warning that it could rise to as much as $8 billion. "We want to do it, but we want to do it in the right way" he told the committee. Later Wolf said NASA had rushed ahead in its planning for the telescope, and cited a series of cost escalations.
In discussing his amendment, Schiff spoke of the importance of NASA's scientific research, and described the Webb telescope's greatly enhanced capabilities that would be widely available to university researchers. He acknowledged that the program has been mismanaged, but urged his colleagues to vote to continue funding for the telescope. Wolf spoke against reducing NASA's Cross-Agency Support budget to pay for Schiff's amendment, saying it would be a "disaster" and the "wrong thing to do." Wolf said he would work with Ranking Minority Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA) on the telescope as the bill moved ahead. Rogers called for a voice vote, and the amendment was rejected.
This bill will now go to the House floor, probably before the August recess. On July 7, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee released the following statement in response to the subcommittee's earlier action:
"Today the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies passed a bill that would terminate the James Webb Space Telescope, kill 2,000 jobs nationwide and stall scientific progress and discovery. It was a shortsighted and misguided move.
"The Webb Telescope will lead to the kind of innovation and discovery that have made America great. It will inspire America's next generation of scientists and innovators that will have the new ideas that lead to the new jobs in our new economy.
"The Administration must step in and fight for the James Webb Telescope."
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics