Status Report

Opening Statement by Rep. Ralph Hall at the House Science Committee Hearing on the NASA Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2003

By SpaceRef Editor
February 27, 2002
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Good morning. I would like to join the Chairman in welcoming Administrator O’Keefe to our hearing. He has the privilege and responsibility of leading NASA, and I am sure that all Members join me in wishing him well.

Today’s hearing is our first opportunity to hear from the new Administrator about his vision for NASA and to review the agency’s FY 2003 budget request. It is also the Administrator’s first public opportunity to hear from Committee Members about our interests and concerns. I hope that today’s hearing will be the beginning of a constructive dialogue between Administrator O’Keefe and this Committee.

I am convinced that the President is committed to a national space and aeronautics program that is second to none in the world. That gives me reason for optimism about the future of NASA. At the same time, I believe that the President recognizes Congress’s responsibility to ensure that NASA is on the right track to achieving the potential we all see for it. It is in that spirit that I want to make a few initial observations about this year’s budget request.

There is much that seems reasonable in this budget request. There are also areas that give me a great deal of concern – among them the overall funding level for NASA – and I hope we will be able to address some of them today. Finally, there are a number of issues that are not addressed in this budget request that we know are under consideration – including some things that could have major consequences for the future of this agency. From your previous public statements, it sounds as though there are a series of proposed changes that may be coming as we proceed through this year. However, we cannot adequately evaluate NASA’s budget request nor can we meet our oversight responsibilities if Congress is kept in the dark about such things as NASA’s Strategic Resources Review and what is being planned for the future of the NASA institution. We will need straight talk about your plans sooner rather than later if we are going to achieve any consensus on the best way forward.

Given the time constraints, I’d like to say a few words about some problems that I think need attention. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that I put the Space Station at the top of that list. It is now more than a year since OMB directed NASA to redesign the Space Station and almost a third of a year since the Tom Young task force delivered its report. Nothing has happened in that time to change my view that OMB is taking the Space Station in the wrong direction:

  • The Space Station research budget has been slashed by 40 percent, with some research disciplines suffering much deeper cuts;
  • Even those ISS Research Facility racks that survive are going to be only partially used on orbit, since insufficient funding has been provided for experiments;
  • The size of the crew has been cut to the point where the remaining three crew members will be able to do little more than just maintain the Station’s operational systems;
  • There is no commitment to complete the Space Station – instead, the program remains in limbo with its fate to be determined by a set of subjective “metrics” that remain undefined; and
  • The U.S. is failing to live up to its commitments to its international partners.

All of the well-crafted phrases in today’s written testimony do nothing to negate those simple facts.

Mr. O’Keefe, I am not questioning your desire to “get control” of the costs of the Space Station. However, efforts to demonstrate cost savings by eliminating the very capabilities that make the Space Station worth doing in the first place seem misguided at best. As you acknowledge in your written testimony, “our priority should not be to simply build a space station to a specific hardware complement and then seek research and experiments to make use of that hardware.” Unfortunately, that is just what you are doing by changing the goal of the program to be OMB’s “Core Complete” configuration.

What is the answer? At a minimum, I think that you need to declare unambiguously and immediately that this Administration is committed to completing the Space Station defined in the international agreements governing the program. That simple declaration will go a long way towards eliminating the confusion and concern that Space Station supporters, our International Partners, and the American taxpayers are feeling about where the Space Station program is headed. That declaration would not prevent you from taking whatever appropriate steps are required to better manage the remaining costs of the program; rather, it would allow the Administration, Congress, and the International Partners to work together to achieve a common goal: a Space Station that is completed and utilized in a manner that brings credit to all of us. If the Administration is unwilling to make such a commitment, I fear we are left with a Station that is hard to justify to the American taxpayers as being worth the billions of dollars that have been invested in it. Instead, we will have a Space Station whose purpose seems to be little more than serving as the latest “in” destination for pop music celebrities and South African millionaires.

Let me briefly turn to two other areas that I believe need attention. One is the Space Shuttle program. We are critically dependent on the Shuttle for human access to space until at least the middle of the next decade. We have no credible alternative. As a result, I have supported appropriate upgrades to the Shuttle to increase its safety and reliability. We should do no less for the brave men and women that depend on the Shuttle to get them safely to and from space in the service of this nation. That is why I am troubled by the $500 million cut to the safety upgrades program. The difficulty of achieving some of the upgrades should not be an excuse for reducing our commitment to increasing Shuttle safety. If OMB is not prepared to fund adequately safety upgrades for the Shuttle that we will be depending on for the next 15 years or more – but somehow can find additional money for research related to the next generation of reusable launch vehicles – we may have to consider whether that is an appropriate balance of priorities.

A similar situation is occurring in the area of aeronautics R&D. By its own accounting, NASA acknowledges that funding for aeronautics and aviation research has dropped by a factor of two since FY 1998. At the same time, it has become increasingly clear how important investments in aeronautics and aviation R&D are for maintaining our international competitiveness, our national security, and our quality of life. Unfortunately and inexplicably, OMB would have NASA’s budget in this area remain depressed for at least the next five years. On the other hand, OMB would have the already sizeable space science budget increase by a third during that same period. I do not question the importance of investing in space science; it has been an important source of new discoveries that are changing our views of the universe. However, if additional funding can’t be made available for NASA, we will be forced to examine the balance between investments in these areas, too.

Well, I do not wish to take up any more of the Committee’s time this morning with my opening remarks. You have a delivered a budget request for NASA that deserves serious consideration, and I believe that this Committee will give it that consideration. Nevertheless, I see problems with some of the directions that this budget would have NASA take over the next five years. I think we will have to address those problems in the days ahead. We will be doing a NASA reauthorization bill this year, and I expect that these issues will be central to our deliberations.

Again, I wish to welcome you, Administrator O’Keefe, and I look forward to your testimony.

SpaceRef staff editor.