Press Release

Rep. Frank Wolf: FY 2006 SSJC Bill WIll Require Adminstration to Develop National Aeronautics Policy

By SpaceRef Editor
April 15, 2005
Filed under , ,

Proposed Cuts In Aeronautics Research Unwise; Will Hurt Competitiveness

                                STATEMENT OF REP. FRANK WOLF

Press Conference on NASA’s Budget and the Future of Aeronautics Research

Good afternoon. Thank you for coming.

With the reorganization of the Appropriations Committee this year, what was once the Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations subcommittee has become the Science-State-Justice-Commerce subcommittee with jurisdiction now over NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

This expanded jurisdiction is allowing me to get more involved in addressing what is fast becoming a serious problem: the decline in America’s competitiveness, particularly in science and innovation.

There are three common standards by which we measure how we stack up to the rest of the world when it comes to science and innovated: patents earned; scientific papers published, and Nobel prizes award.

American scientists, for years, outdistanced their colleagues around the globe in each of these categories. That is no longer the case. In recent years we begun to dramatic declines in each category. This is not a good sign.

Earlier this week, I introduced legislation with Rep. Vern Ehlers of Michigan and Rep. Sherry Boehlert of New York that would provide interest-free loans to math, science and engineering majors as an incentive to get more students to enter these fields. University presidents and deans I have talked to here in Virginia and across the country are extremely supportive of this idea. They recognize the problem. I should mention that Senator John Warner is expected to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.

My concern is for all the sciences, but today I want to specifically address aeronautics and aeronautics research. I am particularly concerned about the proposed budget cuts to NASA’s  aeronautics research programs. Some of you may recall that I was the chairman of the Transportation Appropriations subcommittee from 1995- 2001. I am well aware of the role aviation plays in the world economy.

I am also well aware of the many contributions NASA aeronautical engineers and researchers have brought to the commercial, civil and defense aviation industries. There is no doubt that NASA-developed technology is included in almost all – if not every – military aircraft in the U.S. inventory.

The role NASA engineers have had in making our skies safer for commercial airliners is immeasurable. From improvements in avionics to developing better landing gear to anti-icing technology and collision avoidance systems, NASA scientists have led the way.

The United States has been the world’s leader in civil aviation, but like in so many other science-related areas, we are losing our competitive advantage.

Ten years ago, the United States controlled more than 65 percent of the world market in commercial jet aircraft. Today, we control less than 50 percent.

Many American defense and commercial aircraft companies are already testing in European facilities because of the lack of state-of-the-art labs in the United States.

Industry forecasts a $2 trillion market in commercial airplanes over the next 20 years. It is imperative that we not lose this market to our foreign competitors.

The aviation industry supports approximately 800,000 high-skill, high-wage jobs. These salaries pump $278 billion in wages into the U.S. economy annually.

And the civil aircraft sector is the biggest contributor to the U.S. manufacturing trade balance, with $32 billion in net exports in 2004.

I am told Honda and Toyota – both Japanese companies – are developing small, high-technology aircraft capable of traveling upwards of 400 miles per hour to compete with the U.S. small aircraft industry.

It concerns me deeply that while we – the United States – are reducing our federal investment in aeronautics research, our competitors are increasing their aeronautics research budgets. I am told the European Union is expected to invest more than $1 billion in aeronautics research the next year.

I support the president’s new vision for space exploration. However, it is imperative that we not forget the importance of aeronautics research to our domestic economy. NASA appears to be moving forward with a significantly reduced aeronautics budget and a new research agenda without having a firm road map for the future.

NASA just recently tasked the National Academy of Sciences to provide a 10-year review of the agency’s civil aeronautics program. The results and recommendations of this review won’t be available for at least another 12 months. NASA should wait for the report to be completed before implementing any changes.

I also want to know which, if any proposed changes, track the recently released National Institute of Aerospace report developed by both industry and the science community –  and commissioned by Congress – to provide a detailed, five-year research agenda for NASA’s Aeronautics Research program.

Clearly, many questions remain unanswered. In a effort to address these serious issues, I will push the Science-State-Justice-Commerce (SSJC) subcommittee to take the following actions as it marks up its version of the FY 2006 spending bill:

  • In cooperation with the House Science Committee and Chairman Boehlert, I intend to include language in this year’s SSJC bill requiring the Bush administration to develop a national aeronautics policy within 12 months of enactment of the bill. It appears to me that the lack of support by the administration for aeronautics research can be linked to the fact that there is no clear policy direction concerning the federal government’s role in fostering this important industry.
  • I do not support the proposed $54 million cut in NASA’s aeronautics research, and intend to fund the program at the current level of $906 million. I will be working with other members of Congress, the science community and the private sector, in crafting a more balanced aeronautics research agenda.
  • I will require NASA to develop a comprehensive, coordinated plan for restructuring both its workforce and its physical capital assets. In addition, NASA will be required to develop a roadmap for implementing this plan that, to maximum extent practicable, limits disruptions to the federal workforce and to the contractor community.

The overriding goal is to ensure that whatever decisions are made concerning the future of NASA, and aeronautics research within NASA, are done in a well thought out, practical and responsible fashion.

SpaceRef staff editor.