Press Release

NOAA, NASA Bills Sail Through House Science Committee

By SpaceRef Editor
May 19, 2005
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Science Committee today favorably reported out four bills related to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

By voice votes, the Committee passed H.R. 50, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Act; H.R. 2364, to establish a Science and Technology Scholarship Program to award scholarships to recruit and prepare students for careers in the National Weather Service and in National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine research, atmosphere research, and satellite programs; H.R. 426, Remote Sensing Applications Act; and H.R. 1022, George E. Brown Jr. Near-Earth Object Survey Act.

“All of these bills will improve our lives through increasing our understanding of the Earth, how it works and what may threaten it,” Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said. “As usual, these bills represent a bipartisan effort.  I look forward to their passage.”

H.R. 50, introduced by Environment, Technology, and Standards Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), would for the first time clarify and codify the functions and responsibilities of NOAA, which was established in 1970 by Executive Order.  Passage of an organic act was a key recommendation in the final report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy that was released last year.  Ehlers’ legislation was endorsed by groups representing ocean and weather researchers at Committee hearings on the bill last year. 

H.R. 50 would strengthen several areas at NOAA, including creating a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology to coordinate science across the agency; emphasizing the vital role of the National Weather Service; and designating a position of Chief Operating Officer to manage the agency’s day-to-day operations.

“I am very pleased the Committee approved my NOAA organic act, H.R.50, today,” said Chairman Ehlers.  “This legislation addresses one of the major recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy: that Congress should clarify and strengthen the mission of NOAA by passing an organic act for the agency. For 35 years, NOAA has operated under a confusing collection of issue-specific laws. Today, we have moved one step closer to providing a comprehensive Congressional vision for this important agency. I look forward to working with my colleagues on other Committees and in the Senate to send this bill to the President.”

Chairman Boehlert added, “Our bill will do more than merely found NOAA in law.  It will raise the profile of science at NOAA and improve its management.  The bill also will greatly improve oversight of the agency by ensuring that Congress – and the public – get the information needed to evaluate NOAA’s organizational structure, facilities plans, budgeting and satellite programs.  This is a solid bill that will strengthen the agency.” 

By voice vote, the Committee agreed to a substitute amendment to H.R. 50 offered by Chairman Ehlers that made technical changes to the bill, and strengthened and clarified several provisions.  [A section-by-section analysis of the amendment is attached to this release.]

Representative Jerry Costello (D-IL) offered an amendment to H.R. 50 that would prohibit NOAA from contracting for goods or services with organizations that perform their work outside of the United States.  The Costello amendment was agreed to by voice vote after it was amended by a second-degree amendment offered by Chairman Boehlert that says that the Costello language cannot override an international obligation of the United States.  The Boehlert second-degree amendment passed by a vote of 18 to 17.

Explaining the necessity of his second-degree amendment, Chairman Boehlert said, “I know the gentleman’s amendment is well intentioned.  And none of us would argue with its ostensible purpose – to keep and create jobs in the U.S.  I always say that ‘jobs’ is my favorite four-letter word.

“But here’s the problem with the amendment.  In many ways, it runs afoul of our international trade obligations.  Specifically, we have signed treaties in which we and the other signatories agree not to limit most government procurements.  And guess why we do that?  We do it because we think it will help keep and create jobs in the U.S. by enabling U.S. companies to compete for government contracts abroad.  There’s no way to know for sure, but it’s perfectly likely that this amendment would actually cost jobs in the U.S. by preventing U.S. companies from winning procurement contracts overseas.

“Moreover, this amendment is at odds with our international obligations and possibly endangers American jobs even though no one can point to a particular problem that this amendment is designed to resolve.  Is there any indication that NOAA has been loose with the taxpayers money by heedlessly sending money overseas?  No. 

“This amendment is a well meaning, symbolic expression of the concern we all have with outsourcing, but it’s not designed to combat a specific, known problem.  But it would create specific, known problems by conflicting with trade agreements.  And I would add that the Administration strenuously objects for that same reason. 

“So, my second-degree amendment says that the Costello language cannot override an international obligation of the United States.  I imagine Mr. Costello will claim that this would ‘gut’ his amendment.  If that is so, then it just confirms that Mr. Costello’s language will create an international trade incident, which may hurt the U.S.  If my language will not ‘gut’ Mr. Costello’s effort, then there’s no reason not to pass it.”

Boehlert also noted that the Costello language went further than other Buy America efforts by not allowing for exceptions for trade agreements.  He noted that the Congressional Research Service had found that the Costello language directly violated the international agreement on government procurement under the World Trade Organization.

H.R. 2364, which was introduced by Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), would establish a scholarship for service program at NOAA under which the agency would be authorized to award academic scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students in exchange for a commitment to work at NOAA for a specified number of years. 

“This legislation is two-fold; it provides an incentive for students to pursue careers in math and science and allows the government to compete for highly-qualified individuals that are sorely needed at many government agencies,” Rohrabacher said.  “In order for the government to attract the type of people needed, agencies such as the National Weather Service and NOAA should be able to offer rewards to potential candidates luring them away from lucrative private sector jobs. Scholarships in exchange for service will bring fresh new talent to the government agencies that need such expertise.

Chairman Boehlert added, “Service scholarships are a great way to entice students into science, math and engineering while also helping the federal government develop the workforce it will need.  These scholarships have been championed tirelessly by Congressman Rohrabacher, and I congratulate him for that.”

By voice vote, the Committee agreed to an amendment to H.R. 2364 offered by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) that would ensure consideration be given to students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority institutions.

H.R. 426 was introduced by Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Minority Member Mark Udall (D-CO).  The bill would establish a program within NASA to competitively award grants for pilot projects that use government and commercial remote sensing capabilities and other sources of geospatial information to address State, local, regional and tribal agency needs.  It would authorize $15 million for each of fiscal years 2006 through 2010 for the program.

By voice vote, the Committee accepted an amendment offered by Rep. Udall to encourage the use of commercial data sets.

H.R. 1022, also introduced by Rep. Rohrabacher, would establish a program within NASA to detect, track, catalogue, and characterize the physical properties of near-Earth asteroids and comets equal to or greater than 100 meters in diameter in order to assess the threat of Earth being struck by such near-Earth objects.  The bill would authorize appropriations for the program of $20 million for each of fiscal years 2006 through 2007.

Rep. Rohrabacher said, “The potential catastrophe of an asteroid hitting Earth should no longer be ignored.  We need to know what is out there.  Accounts of asteroids passing close to Earth with almost no prior warning should be enough to get our attention.  The first step is to assess the threat. Given the vast number of asteroids and comets that inhabit the Earth’s neighborhood, greater efforts for tracking and monitoring these objects are critical.  This bill would direct NASA to expand their current program to track and detect potential threats and would provide a funding authorization.  Any threat that would wreak havoc on or world should be studied and prevented if possible.  We have the technology, we need the direction – this bill provides that.”

SpaceRef staff editor.