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NASA Authorization Act of 2005

Sections incorporated into Public Law 109-155,
signed by the President December 30, 2005

The Democratic Alternative

Reviewing the proposed NASA Authorization Act introduced by the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics (Mr. Calvert), Members of the Democratic Caucus were left with a number of concerns. The Republican proposal did not do enough to support core NASA research in aeronautics and the space sciences, and Democratic Members were concerned that budget pressures would be focused on agency programs that did not support the new Exploration Initiative without regard to their contributions to other national priorities. At the Subcommittee's markup, Rep. Bart Gordon (Ranking Member of the Science Committee) and Rep. Mark Udall (Ranking Member of the Space Subcommittee) explained that there were other items the Authorization needed to address, and until that was done Democratic Members would withhold support for the bill.

Then on July 12, 2005, Democrats introduced H.R. 3250, a bill laying out the policy items and guidance Democrats considered critical to meeting NASA's needs.  The Democratic alternative provided the resources to move forward on the Moon-Mars mission without sacrificing other critical science and technology responsibilities of NASA.  The bill borrowed important language from S. 1281, which had already passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, but some major differences exist.  For instance, the House bill authorizes NASA for an additional 3 years, whereas the Senate authorized the Agency for 5 years.  The Democratic alternative also included a section directing that funding reductions NASA might suffer must be shared proportionally across all agency functions.

Ultimately, the NASA authorization was passed by the Committee and then by the House. What follows here is a discussion of that process and a description of the provisions from H.R. 3250 that were ultimately incorporated into the bill now awaiting conference with the Senate.

Subcommittee Consideration

H.R. 3070 was marked up by the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee on June 29, 2005, and was adopted by a roll-call vote (Yes-10, Present-6).  As noted, nearly all Subcommittee Democrats voted "present", citing significant concerns with the bill's content as well as with the lack of time they were given to review the legislation.

Both the Subcommittee (Mr. Udall) and Full Committee (Mr. Gordon) Ranking Members decried the lack of any policy provisions that would ensure a productive balance between the President's human exploration initiative and NASA's other core missions of aeronautics, space science, Earth science, and microgravity research.  Committee Democrats indicated they would work toward a more substantial NASA Authorization bill that realistically addresses the challenges facing the agency in the coming years.

Democrats listed several principles not in the original bill that they would seek to incorporate, including:

  • Clear policy and funding provisions to insure that NASA remains a multi-mission agency with robust R&D activities in science, aeronautics, and human space flight
  • Support for the goal of human space exploration beyond low Earth orbit and guidelines to insure it is properly paid for, and not funded at the expense of other important NASA programs
  • Establishment of priorities within NASA's exploration program, as well as in other agency accounts
  • Funding and policy to make certain that the International Space Station (ISS) realizes its potential for fundamental and applied scientific and commercial research, not just for exploration-related tasks
  • Goals that are flexible rather than rigid, to allow for changing situations at NASA - whether they be technical, operational, or budgetary in nature

Ms. Jackson Lee offered the only Democratic amendment, language requiring NASA to provide annual budget information focused on the agency's safety programs and personnel. The amendment was adopted by a voice vote.

Full Committee Consideration

On July 14, 2005, Science Committee Democrats joined their Republican colleagues to support a significantly improved H.R. 3070.  A substantial number of the provisions from H.R. 3250 were incorporated.  As a result, the Manager's Amendment passed Committee unanimously, on a vote of 36-0.

Due in large part to Democratic input, H.R. 3070 now included:

  • Multiyear funding guidance
  • Legislative language and restructured budgetary accounts to help provide funding firewalls and ensure balance is maintained between NASA programs
  • Increased funding for NASA's science programs
  • Funding for fundamental, applied, and commercial microgravity research
  • Funding for a Hubble servicing mission
  • Funding and policy guidance for a revitalized aeronautics R&D program at NASA
  • Provisions to address workforce and infrastructure issues
  • Priorities for the Human Exploration program
  • Flexible goals rather than hard deadlines for NASA's human spaceflight program

Democratic Amendments Considered
Melancon Withdrawn
Amendment to provide enhanced use leasing authority at NASA facilities
Jackson Lee Withdrawn
Amendment provides funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities education programs
Jackson Lee Withdrawn
Amendment establishes the Dr. Mae C. Jemison Grant Program
Costello Failed (Yes-18, No-18)
Amendment would strike language in the Substitute on "Consistency with International Agreements"
Jackson Lee Withdrawn
Amendment provides clarifying language to the Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute
Costello Adopted (voice)
Require NASA to provide a report on contracts performed overseas and the amount of purchases by NASA from foreign entities in that fiscal year

Floor Action

H.R. 3070 was approved by a vote of 383-15 on July 22, 2005.  The following Democratic amendments were debated just prior to the vote:

Democratic Amendments on the Floor
Velazquez Adopted (voice)
Requires NASA to submit a quarterly report to Congress on the NASA Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, which shall include a description of the outreach activities of the Office and the impact of such activities on the participation of small businesses, including small businesses owned by women and minorities, in NASA contracts
Jackson Lee Withdrawn
To restore funding for Historically Black Colleges and universities
Velazquez Failed (Yes-192, No-206)
To require NASA to establish and carry out a pilot program to make grants to minority institutions for the development of physical facilities and infrastructure to be provided to NASA prime contractors
Jackson Lee Adopted (voice)
Requires the NASA Administrator to transmit to Congress a plan describing steps to be taken by NASA to protect the employment status of NASA employees who raise or have raised concerns about a potentially catastrophic risk to health or safety

Press Release Announcing House Passage

Intense, constructive negotiations produced NASA Authorization legislation that today received widespread bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives. H.R. 3070, the NASA Authorization Act of 2005, passed by a vote of 383-15.

"We've come a long way with regard to providing clear policy and funding direction in this bill," stated House Science Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN). "The large margin of passage today reflects the House's wisdom in funding the Administration's exploration initiative in a way that doesn't undercut NASA's other core areas. Make no mistake, overwhelming passage should not be misunderstood as a blanket endorsement of the Moon-Mars initiative. Rather it is strong policy guidance from the House that aeronautics, education and scientific research are key NASA areas that are at least as important as human exploration."


109th Congress