NASA’s Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Proposal
Opening Statement By Hon. Bart Gordon
Good morning. I’d like to join the Chairman in welcoming Mr. Gregory to today’s hearing.
I’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge and welcome all of the new members of the Committee on both sides of the aisle, as well as extend my good wishes to Rep. Calvert and Rep. Udall as they embark on their responsibilities as Chair and Ranking Member of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. In those capacities they will be dealing with NASA-related issues on a regular basis, and I have no doubt that they will do a good job.
Mr. Chairman, today’s hearing is likely to be one of the most important ones we hold this session. More than a year has now passed since President Bush announced his space exploration initiative.
I for one support the President’s proposal if it is paid for and is sustainable. However, since the time the initiative was first announced, there has been little opportunity for Congressional scrutiny or debate of the proposal. And there has been no opportunity to develop a consensus on what Congress thinks of the initiative, which is very important if this Committee is to successfully convince our colleagues to continue its funding for several years during tight budgets.
While some have argued that the funding provided to NASA in the Fiscal Year 2005 omnibus appropriation constituted a Congressional "mandate" for the President’s initiative, others would disagree. In point of fact, Congress was being asked to vote up or down on a $388 billion spending bill funding a wide range of agencies and activities - with no opportunity for amendments. NASA’s funding accounted for only about 4 percent of the total funding in that bill. And despite the fact that NASA received close to its FY 05 request level, $1.5 billion of the funds provided to NASA in the Omnibus are going to be needed to pay for things - like the increase in Shuttle return-to-flight costs - that weren’t in the original FY 05 request.
So, it appears that we are entering this year with Congress’s position on the exploration initiative still unresolved. It also appears that Congress is going to have to address some fundamental issues as we assess the President’s proposal, notably:
- What priority should the President’s exploration initiative have relative to NASA’s other important missions?
- Are we prepared to maintain the funding and schedule of the President’s initiative even if it results in the loss of opportunities in space and Earth science, in aeronautics research, in microgravity research and applications, in research into low cost/high reliability launch technologies, or in other significant research areas?
- What role do we want NASA’s Centers to play in the future?
- What type of workforce do we envision for NASA?
- In that regard, are we prepared to shed highly skilled scientists, engineers, and technicians from NASA’s workforce if they do not directly support the requirements of the President’s initiative?
These are not idle questions - they go to the heart of what we want from our nation’s civil space and aeronautics program. Moreover, I do not believe that Congress has the luxury of deferring consideration of these questions any longer.
One thing is clear from NASA’s FY 06 budget request and from recent actions taken by the agency: In the absence of any clear Congressional direction, NASA is proceeding to move out aggressively to implement the President’s initiative.
As a result, we are starting to get a clearer picture of the Administration’s vision for NASA. For example, just one year after President Bush launched his space exploration initiative, the Administration has already started backpedaling on the multiyear funding profile it had proposed for the agency.
As a result, the Administration is planning to cut a total of some $2.5 billion from the budget plan for FY 06 through FY 09 that it had proposed for NASA just a year ago.
It is instructive to see how NASA proposes to allocate that cut - it would allocate 75 percent of the required cuts to NASA’s science and aeronautics programs with just 10 percent having to be absorbed by NASA’s Exploration Systems programs.
What other clues to NASA’s new priorities are displayed in this year’s budget request?
- As we have all heard, NASA is eliminating the funding for servicing the highly productive Hubble Space Telescope.
- NASA is cutting the funding it contributes to the national interagency initiatives in Nanotechnology, Networking and Information Technology, and Climate Change Science.
- NASA is eliminating funding for hypersonics research.
- NASA is reducing Space Shuttle operations reserves in FY 06 and FY 07 in order to support the funding requirements of the exploration initiative.
- NASA is cutting the funding for its science mission operations account - an action that will force the termination of some ongoing scientific spacecraft missions within the next year.
I could cite other examples, but you get the picture.
Contrary to the image it has fostered of a measured, "go as you pay" approach to exploration, the fact is that NASA is protecting the funding for its exploration initiative at the expense of its other programs.
I think it’s reasonable to assume that unless directed otherwise, NASA will continue that approach in the future as deficit concerns increasingly squeeze the agency’s budgetary bottom line.
As I have previously stated, I am a strong supporter of exploration. I think it’s important for the nation’s human space flight program to have challenging long-term goals. And I agree with the President that a step-by-step plan for exploration makes the best sense.
At the same time, I’m very concerned that the approach NASA is taking to exploration is not going to be sustainable. I’m speaking as one who has to convince other Members of Congress of the value of investing in NASA at a time when a host of other national priorities are competing for those same dollars.
It doesn’t make my job any easier when Members see NASA cutting its commitment to aeronautics research that could reduce aircraft noise and emissions or improve the efficiency and safety of the air traffic management system, or cutting its commitment to research that could help us better understand the impact of the Sun on our weather and climate, or eliminating research on the International Space Station that NASA has long asserted would benefit the health and welfare of our citizens back here on Earth - especially if they suspect that NASA is making those cuts in order to shift money to an exploration initiative whose budget doesn’t match its goals.
It becomes even more difficult when those same Members look at what NASA’s been doing as part of its exploration initiative and start asking questions:
- Such as, how could NASA first make the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) mission its showcase flight demonstration of the initiative’s nuclear technology program and then wind up having to shelve it because of "...concerns over costs and technical complexity…"?
- Or, why did NASA make purchasing Russian Soyuz crew transfer and rescue services a basic element of its human space flight plan when current law prohibits such purchases? And now that NASA’s done it, what’s it going to do next to make it work?
- Or finally, how does NASA justify its apparent willingness to spend U.S. taxpayer dollars to support European aerospace companies as part of the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) program?
I don’t have good answers to those questions, and I hope that Mr. Gregory will address them at today’s hearing.
Now before I close, I would like to raise one additional issue. NASA is starting to make sweeping changes to its workforce and Centers, with the potential for several thousand of its employees to be let go, numerous facilities to be consolidated or done away with, and one or more of its Centers to be privatized or even closed.
Yet neither Congress nor NASA’s own employees are being given a clear picture of what is planned. I don’t think that’s the right way to treat the dedicated men and women of NASA’s workforce. And I don’t think it is an appropriate way to deal with Congress.
Mr. Chairman, we have important issues in front of us that need our attention.
We can start to address them at today’s hearing, but I hope that we will not stop with a single hearing. We need to devote whatever time and oversight effort is needed to chart a responsible path forward for NASA. And it needs to be a path that is sustainable.
I don’t want to see us on the floor of the House in a couple of years losing a vote to continue the program - I can still remember when the Space Station program avoided a similar fate by only one vote in 1993.
With that, I again want to welcome Mr. Gregory to today’s hearing. I look forward to your testimony.