Press Release

House Science Committee Democrats Called for Increased Oversight of NASA’s Exploration Program

By SpaceRef Editor
September 28, 2006
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House Science Committee Democrats Called for Increased Oversight of NASA’s Exploration Program

The U.S. House Committee on Science today examined NASA’s development strategy for its new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) “Orion” – the vehicle intended to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, and eventually to the Moon after the retirement of the current Space Shuttle fleet. The CEV is the first major system to be developed as part of the Administration’s announced “Vision for Space Exploration” (VSE).

“I want to see the CEV program succeed,” said Ranking Member Gordon. “But, if there is a cost growth in the CEV program, it has the potential to do serious damage to NASA’s other programs as well as to other parts of the exploration initiative.”

A GAO report released in July raised significant concerns about NASA’s approach to acquiring the CEV. That report – jointly requested by the Science Committee Chairman and Ranking Member – questioned the wisdom of NASA’s plan to commit the government to a long-term contract for the CEV prior to having well-defined requirements, a preliminary design, mature technology and firm cost estimates. In short, the GAO study concluded that “NASA’s current acquisition strategy for the CEV places the project at risk of significant cost overruns, schedule delays, and performance shortfalls…”

Additionally, the GAO report addressed issues related to the funding of the VSE, pointing out that “…there are years when NASA does not have sufficient funding to implement the architecture. Some yearly shortfalls exceed $1 billion, while in other years the funding available exceeds needed resources.” GAO further noted that “NASA preliminarily projects multibillion-dollar shortfalls for [NASA’s] Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in all fiscal years from 2014 to 2020.”

“We may be seeing another example of lofty goals being set without those proposing them identifying where the resources needed to achieve those goals will be coming from,” added Rep. Gordon. “That’s simply not smart planning or responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”

In response to the GAO’s report, NASA disagreed with GAO’s recommendation they modify the current CEV acquisition strategy. However, as a result of GAO’s findings, NASA subsequently made several changes to the CEV contract and indicated that they are implementing a number of GAO’s recommendations.

While GAO considers NASA’s actions to be “positive steps,” they cautioned at today’s hearing that more needs to be done. Committee Democrats reiterated their view that if the exploration initiative is to be sustainable, the agency is going to have to demonstrate its ability to acquire the CEV and other elements of the exploration initiative in a fiscally responsible manner without jeopardizing safety.

“Given the importance of the CEV program to the future of the nation’s human space flight activities, I think it’s imperative that this Committee engage in sustained, serious oversight of it, as well as the other parts of NASA’s exploration initiative, to ensure that they are carried out in an efficient and responsible manner. We all know of examples of important programs that have gotten off track and suffered significant cost growth and schedule delays,” added Space Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO).

“The public deserves to have confidence in their space program and Congress deserves an honest accounting of the budgetary realities the Vision for Space Exploration faces. NASA has many tasks from education and aeronautics to science and exploration, and each is important. I want to insure that vital NASA programs don’t suffer as a result of problems that are avoidable,” concluded Rep. Gordon.

SpaceRef staff editor.