Status Report

Statement by Rep. Ralph Hall – House Science Committee Hearing on the International Space Station Management and Cost Evaluation Task Force

By SpaceRef Editor
November 7, 2001
Filed under , ,


Ranking Democratic Member

Good morning. I would like to welcome the witnesses
to today’s hearing, and I look forward to your testimony.

Today’s hearing is probably one of
the most important hearings this Committee has held on a
space-related issue in recent memory. We are gathered here to
hear the report of the independent Task Force that was charged with
examining the current state of the International Space Station
program. I expect that the Task Force’s report will be an
important input into the decisions that Congress and the
Administration will have to make concerning the future of the Space
Station program. All of us owe Tom Young and his team a debt of
gratitude for their dedicated efforts over the last several

As many of you know, I have long
been a supporter of the Space Station. And I have to state
right up front that NASA and the International Partners should be
proud of what they have accomplished to date. It has been a
stunning technical achievement, and the assembly and operation of the
Space Station have gone much more smoothly than any of us has had the
right to expect.

The same cannot be said for the
cost management side of the program. There has been significant
cost growth in the program since the 1993 redesign, and there is not
now adequate confidence in Congress and the Administration that we
know what the total cost of the Station program is likely to
be. It is important that we take whatever steps are prudent and
sensible to ensure that the Space Station program is well managed and
that taxpayer dollars are not wasted. The Task Force has made a
number of recommendations to improve the situation, and we will need
to examine them carefully. In that regard, I hope that when
NASA has had the opportunity to review the Task Force’s report in
depth, this Committee will provide an opportunity for NASA to present
its response to the Task Force’s findings and

We need to be concerned about the
cost performance of the Space Station program. At the same
time, I think that is important for us to maintain our perspective
and not place all of the blame for cost growth on NASA’s hardworking
Space Station team. The Task Force has properly pointed out
that imposing an annual funding cap on a large, complex program like
the Space Station is ” counterproductive to controlling total
program cost” and is something that leads program managers to
focus their efforts on just getting through each fiscal year rather
than on the overall health of the program. Well, it was not
NASA that unilaterally decided on an annual funding cap – it was OMB,
and Congress went along with that decision. A major reason for
that, as you will recall, was that the Federal Government’s challenge
over most of the decade of the 1990s was deficit reduction, and all
agencies, including NASA, were asked to sacrifice. That tactic
may have been unavoidable from a national policy standpoint, but we
shouldn’t pretend that those budgetary strategies didn’t have
negative consequences for Space Station costs down the

In fairness, I also think that we
have to concede that NASA isn’t unique among government agencies in
having problems with cost estimation. I note that the Task
Force report recommends that NASA use the Department of Defense cost
assessment approach as a model. While my colleagues know that I
hold DOD in very high esteem and am a strong supporter of our
military, I would respectfully suggest that their cost estimators
have had their problems too. Just recently, it was reported
that the DOD’s proposed Space-Based Infrared System, SBIRS-Low, has
had the cost estimates for its spacecraft constellation more than
double – from $10 billion to $23 billion – and has seen its software
requirements also increase significantly beyond original

None of my comments should be seen
as weakening the arguments for good program management and cost
controls. The American taxpayers have a right to expect the
best possible use of their tax dollars. At the same time, I
hope that we don’t let a preoccupation with cost issues cause us to
lose sight of the fundamental decision we need to make about the
future of the International Space Station program. That
decision is quite simple: Are we committed to a Space Station that
achieves its unique research potential, and if so, are we willing to
budget honestly for it? We have clear guidance from the Space
Station Task Force about what kind of Station won’t meet that

  • The U.S. Core Complete
    configuration (three-person crew) as an end state will not achieve
    the unique research potential of the International Space

Our International Partners have
also made it quite clear that the “U.S. Core Complete”
configuration as an end-state and a unilateral U.S. decision to walk
away from its long-standing commitment to provide crew rescue and
habitation facilities are not consistent with the international
agreements governing the Space Station program. We are asking
our international friends to stand with us in the global fight
against terrorism; while the two situations are not comparable, I
think that is only right that we continue to meet our commitments to
them in the Space Station program. They are looking to us for
leadership in this partnership, and I think that it is important for
both Congress and the Administration to send a strong, clear signal
that we are not going to walk away from that

In its report, the Task Force
concluded that:

  • Lack of a defined program
    baseline has created confusion and inefficiencies.”

However, the approach the Task
Force seems to recommend – that is, keeping the question of the
ultimate Space Station “end-state” open for two or more
years – seems to me to be a prescription for keeping the program in
just the sort of limbo that the Task Force properly decries. I
think we need a different approach. If we believe that it is
important to build a Space Station with the unique potential that the
scientific community and successive Administrations and Congresses
have sought, we need to say so now and plan accordingly. We
should be explicit that we are committed to completing the Space
Station with its long-planned 7-person crew capability. We
should not keep the dedicated researchers, the International
Partners, and our U.S. Space Station team in continuing uncertainty
about the end-goal of this program – doing so will just lead to waste
and inefficiency down the road that could otherwise be

At the same time, we should be
unwavering in our determination to make whatever changes are required
to the Station’s management structure and cost control system to
minimize the future cost and risk of this program. The Task
Force is very clearly telling us that “business as usual”
will not suffice for a program that is as important as the
International Space Station.

However, we need to be careful that
we don’t inadvertently set NASA up for failure in advance. The
Terms of Reference constrained the Task Force to address only what
kind of Space Station can be supported within the Administration’s
proposed FY 2002 budgetary runout, and they required any recommended
additional funding requirements be offset by budget savings and
efficiencies. In order to satisfy its Terms of Reference, the
Task Force had to propose potential cost savings in the Shuttle and
Station accounts that they concede may be unachievable, and which at
a minimum have not been validated. The Task Force also noted
that it may take a year to develop a rigorous and credible cost
estimate for the Space Station program. And yet, NASA’s success
in implementing the Core Complete Station is to be judged by whether
it can establish a “credible/executable program” to meet an
uncertain cost target and to satisfy other criteria that are still
“To Be Determined.” And this judgment is to take
place by June, 2002. It doesn’t take a pessimist to conclude
that NASA is being given an impossible task – but a task whose
outcome could be used by some to conclude that NASA should never be
allowed to go beyond the 3-person Station configuration that the Task
Force has found to be deficient.

Mr. Chairman, I hope that the
Administration will use today’s hearing to make clear its commitment
to the ultimate restoration of the full capabilities of the Space
Station even as it takes steps to improve the program’s cost
management processes and operations strategy over the near
term. If it does so, I believe that Congress will work
constructively with the Administration over the coming weeks and
months to put the Space Station program on a sound footing.

For more than a decade, successive
Administrations and Congresses have reaffirmed the importance of the
Space Station. Fifteen nations have joined with the United
States to build an orbiting research facility that I am confident
will deliver unprecedented benefits to all of our citizens as well as
position our nation for eventual exploration of the rest of the solar
system. We should not falter in meeting our national commitment
just as we are beginning to reap the rewards of our past investments
in the Space Station program.

SpaceRef staff editor.