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Balancing Act: Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing on FY 2016 NASA Request

Status Report From: American Institute of Physics
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2015

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Yesterday afternoon the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee met to review the FY 2016 budget request for NASA.  The hearing was friendly and low-key, with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden as the only witness to discuss the $18,529.1 million request, up $518.9 million or 2.8 percent over the current budget. 

The subcommittee is chaired by Richard Shelby (R-AL); Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is the Ranking Member.  Both are long-standing supporters of NASA, and there were few or no differences that were expressed between them in their statements or lines of questioning.

Shelby opened the hearing, as have other chairman, with the customary statement about the need for appropriators to set priorities, saying that was true for NASA as well.  He faulted the request for what he said was its lack of balance, with proposed “sizeable growth” in commercial crew and space technology while other programs, such as science missions (a proposed 0.8 percent increase) and exploration systems development did not fare as well. Requested funding for the exploration budget was, Shelby said, of particular concern to the subcommittee, mentioning the Space Launch System and the Orion capsule.  “A lot of us are troubled by the overall priorities included in this budget” Shelby declared.   While saying that the level of the request was “a good start,” Shelby gave notice that the committee would be adjusting program funding levels to achieve a better balance.

Mikulski also referred to “balance,” saying “I have very deep concerns.”  She criticized the request for human space flight programs, and was highly critical of the proposed $300 million cut for Maryland’s Goddard Space Flight Center, saying “I don’t think it is a fair shake.”   Mikulski was also critical of the requested reduction of $65 million for satellite servicing, referring to it a number of times throughout the hearing.  “Do we have a balanced space program, or not,” she said concluding her opening remarks.

“America’s space program is not just alive . . . but thriving” Bolden told the appropriators, describing what he said was “landmark progress” on the Administration’s goal of a manned Mars mission.  Bolden highlighted the International Space Station, commercial cargo and commercial crew programs.

As has long been true at NASA appropriations hearings, questions were asked about the agency’s future budgeting for various programs, with Shelby referring to a GAO report raising significant concerns about funding for the Space Launch System and Orion beyond their first test flight.  Bolden’s reply was, as expected, budget constraints.  Shelby also asked about continued Russian cooperation on the space station, Bolden replying that he was very encouraged by a recent Russian statement on continuing station operations through 2024. 

Mikulski returned to the subject of Goddard funding in her first line of questions, with Bolden saying its future funding would be determined by the missions it oversees.  Mikulski again spoke of satellite serving, with Bolden saying he would like to meet with her privately to discuss the future budget profile.  “I’ve got satellites on my mind,” said Mikulski. 

Other topics covered during this hearing were increasing the diversity of NASA’s workforce, the status of the James Webb Space Telescope (which Bolden assured was on target), and the purchase of Russian transportation to the space station.

The hearing concluded in under an hour.  The House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee held its hearing in early March.  The next stage in this process is for each full appropriations committee to meet and decide how much money each of the twelve subcommittees will receive for their individual funding bills.  House appropriators are scheduled to make these decisions next week.

Contact

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095

 

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