Status Report

Opening Statement by Rep. Mark Udall: Hearing on NASA’s Aeronautics Program

By SpaceRef Editor
March 18, 2005
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Good morning.

I’d like to join the Chairman in welcoming the witnesses to today’s hearing—the first to be held by this subcommittee in the 109th Congress.

In particular, I’d like to acknowledge Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Rep. Jo Ann Davis of Virginia, who have requested the opportunity to testify before us today. I’d like to welcome both of you.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to say how much I am looking forward to working with Chairman Calvert and the other members of this subcommittee.

We have a lot of important issues to deal with over the next two years, and I am confident that we will be able to work effectively across party lines to do the nation’s business.

One of the important issues that we need to address is the topic of this morning’s hearing—namely, the future of NASA’s aeronautics program.

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the organizational predecessor of NASA.

During its existence, the NACA undertook much of the R&D that made modern commercial and military aviation possible.

Congress recognized the value of federally sponsored R&D in aeronautics, and made it one of NASA’s core missions when it established the agency in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958.

It made good sense then, and it makes good sense now to have NASA involved in aeronautical R&D.

NASA’s R&D in aeronautics and aviation benefits not only our international competitiveness, but also the quality of life of our citizens.

Research on ways to drastically reduce aircraft noise and emissions, research into safer and more secure aircraft, research into new vehicle concepts that could revolutionize future air travel, and research into ways to modernize the nation’s air traffic management system so that we don’t face gridlock in the skies at some point in the coming decades—all of these are areas of research NASA has been pursuing.

Yet despite the clear value of such research, NASA’s aeronautics program has now reached a crisis point.

Coming in the wake of years of declining budgets, the FY 2006 budget request—if approved—would further erode the aeronautics program’s capabilities over the next five years.

In addition to the low priority being given to aeronautics in the budget, NASA’s experiment with full cost recovery—an approach that DOD had already tried and abandoned—has jeopardized the continued viability of an important segment of the nation’s aeronautical test facilities.

Moreover, while it’s been difficult to get definitive answers concerning NASA’s intentions for the workforce at the aeronautics research Centers, it is clear that NASA management envision significant numbers of current employees leaving the aeronautics program.

As one of our witnesses, Dr. Hansman, observes in his testimony:

“The workforce actions appear to be motivated by budget pressures rather than strategic efforts at intellectual renewal. This coupled with a perception of declining NASA priority in aeronautics, can create an atmosphere where it is difficult to retain and attract the best and the brightest.”

All of this troubles me. We seem to be headed down a path that could result in the loss of a vital national capability if we aren’t careful.

The NASA witness at today’s hearing will have the somewhat thankless task of trying to convince us that things aren’t so bad, even though his programs are being cut year after year.

In that regard, I bring an open mind to this hearing, and I’m willing to be convinced that the FY 06 budget request for aeronautics is healthy.

However, in order to be convinced, I first am going to need to have a number of concerns addressed.

For example, NASA’s FY 06 budget request focuses the Vehicle Systems funding on research into breakthrough technologies, with the intent of achieving “near-term flight demonstrations of revolutionary and barrier breaking technology.”

That sounds good. However, flight demonstrations tend to be the most expensive part of the aeronautical R&D process.

Yet NASA’s budget plan indicates that the Vehicle Systems budget will decline by 43 percent over the next five years relative to its FY 2004 level!

That doesn’t strike me as a credible approach.

Well, I could cite other examples, but I will bring my opening remarks to a close so we can hear from our witnesses.

I would simply conclude by saying that I think we really have a straightforward question of priorities before us.

The Administration proposes to increase NASA’s overall budget in FY 06 and for the next five years.

The bleak outlook for aeronautics at NASA is thus not an inevitability—it is the result of policy decisions and prioritizations that Congress may or may not choose to endorse.

Today’s hearing will help this Subcommittee get the information we need to make informed decisions on how best to proceed.

I thus look forward to the testimony of our witnesses.

Finally, I would like to ask unanimous consent that written testimony submitted by Mr. Gregory Junemann of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers for this hearing be entered

SpaceRef staff editor.