The Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry Begins its Task

By Keith Cowing
October 30, 2001
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Robert Walker, Chairman of the newly formed Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry gave an opening presentation on his Commission’s activities to the International Space Symposium this week in Washington DC. Walker is chairman and CEO of the Wexler Group and is a former Congressman from Pennsylvania who served as Chair of the House Science Committee.

The Aerospace Commission has twelve members. Six members were appointed by Congress and six members were appointed by the President. The Commission was authorized by the Defense Authorization Act last year (see below) and was supposed to have begun this one-year task in March 2001. This was delayed somewhat while the White House came up with its nominees. The nominees were eventually announced on 22 August 2001. As such the Commission’s operations, still set for one year, are just now getting underway.

Walker noted that staffing was underway and that resources would be called upon from up to 46 government agencies. Staff are being recruited in great part from these agencies so as to “not reinvent the wheel” according to Walker.

The Commissioners are:

  • Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, former astronaut
  • Michael Bolen, General Aviation Manufacturers Association
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson, Hayden Planetarium
  • Heidi Wood, Morgan Stanley
  • John Douglas, Aerospace Industries Association
  • Thomas Buffenbarger, Machinists union
  • Tillie Fowler, former U.S. Representative
  • John Hamre, former Deputy Defense Secretary
  • Whit Peters, former Air Force Secretary
  • William Schneider, Defense Science Board
  • Robert Stevens, Lockheed Martin

The Commission’s chartered task is to look at the U.S. aerospace industry. However, due to global nature of the market, international concerns will also be addressed by the commission. Although chartered and established before the events of 11 September, Walker noted that the Commission’s efforts “come at an auspicious time.”

According to Walker, “This is a time when past decisions with regard to aerospace have an impact on safety and our ability to wage war. It is clear that aeronautics investments play a role in our ability to the current campaign in Afghanistan.”. When ground troops are eventually introduced, Walker said that their ability to operate and “inflict damage on the enemy” would be directly affected by our aerospace infrastructure. Walker added that much of the intelligence used to formulate air and eventual ground assaults would be developed from assets in space.

It is the immense importance of these Earth and space based assets, according to Walker, that presents the main question before the commission. Walker said that the Commission will “look at whether the investments we make now will allow us to make the right decisions in the future – 20-30 years from now.” Walker noted that “it is not a coincidence that terrorists struck at our financial infrastructure. Investments we are – or are not making will have an impact down the road.”

Walker said that the Commission has established its headquarters in Crystal City, Virginia (South of Washington DC across the Potomac River). The staff is currently amassing a library of advisory work done on topics germane to this Commission’s chart in previous efforts. Walker also said that the Commission would draw heavily upon the experience of the staff that is being brought onboard – as we’ll as the expertise resident within the diverse membership of the Commission’s membership.

Walker said that he was going to blend the diverse nature of the membership into a set of objectives that include looking at aerospace industry as it relates to the global economy with a specific focus on national security. The Commission will also look at the U.S. aerospace industry’s impact upon the domestic economy.

The specific focus areas for the Commission Walker has established closely reflect the charter provided by Congress i.e.:

  1. Congressional budget process. According to Walker, the process may not be in appropriate synchrony with the various sectors of government and private sector interest as it should be. “We think that we need to understand the aerospace budget in a broad context.” Walker said. Walker expressed the Commission’s intent to examine aerospace budgets across the entire government – something Walker called “sectorial budgeting. Walker said that he’d be looking to OMB to provide budget information from various agencies. From this, Walker said that the Commission would establish a set of funding priorities for the government as a whole.

  2. How aerospace budget prioritization takes place. In addition to setting its own set of priorities, Walker said that the Commission would develop an understanding of how individual entities developed their own priorities.

  3. Government acquisition. “Is it adequate?” Walker asked. “How do we incorporate new technologies to wartime demand? We do not seem to be as timely as we once were.”

  4. Policies and procedures for financing government contracts. “Many people say that this is broke. How do you fix this?” asked Walker.

  5. Statutes and regulations that govern international trade and technology transfer. “This is an export control issue.” Walker said. ” The policies of last several years have had a strong impact.” He said that the Commission would “sort though security and economic interests” noting that “national security and economic security are wrapped up in each other.”

  6. Taxation policies. Walker expressed a concern that “current tax laws may undermine investment in aerospace industry.” The Commission needs to examine these laws and make recommendations for possible changes in them.

  7. Space launch infrastructure. Walker said that the Commission would be taking a look at how current launch capabilities are placed to meet current and future activities in space for commercial, civilian, and military activities.

  8. Science and engineering education. Walker asked, “how do we meet the needs of industry?” Citing the aging of the aerospace workforce Walker said that this issue is of “vital concern – one want to have some input into.”

In order to accomplish the Commission’s tasks, Walker has divided the membership into individual subareas:

  • Aerospace technology (John Douglas and Neil deGrasse Tyson)
  • Investments (Robert Stevens and Heidi Wood)
  • Global issues (John Hamre and William Schneider)
  • Infrastructure (Buzz Aldrin and Michael Bolen)
  • Human capital. (Thomas Buffenbarger and Tillie Fowler)

Walker and his vice chair (Whit Peters) will serve in a crosscutting capacity and will be looking at how to prioritize things for inclusion in the final report.

According to Walker “prioritization is the single most important thing that the commission can do.” How the Commission’s work relates to current events is also of great importance. As such, Walker will be meeting with Vice President Cheney tomorrow to discuss the Commission’s interaction with other Administration concerns and activities.

In closing, Walker said that he was looking for “new paradigms” in the kinds of ideas that need to be developed. “This is what I want to do.” He noted that “aerospace is stuck in the 1960’s. Yes, we have innovated in recent years – but it is really upgrades to post World War II era things.” “Much of what we do in space is similar to what we could do in the 1960’s – but more efficient. ” Walker spoke of a need to look at “leapfrog technologies” – and the sorts of innovative investments required in those technologies. This should include, according to Walker, looking at new ways to involve the government and private sectors.

“If we are going to continue to be a factor in world markets” Walker said “it will be because we continue to innovate and change the paradigm – and build things better than anyone else.”

Walker then took some questions from the audience. The first question suggested bluntly that “this Administration does not care about space.”

Walker said that the questioner’s comment was “not a fair characterization.” He went on to say that “some areas not high on their policy agenda – yet the military side is high on their agenda.” He said that he saw a role for the Commission is suggesting how the U.S guides future investments. With regard to space – and specifically the military uses of space, Walker said that the Bush Administration saw the Rumsfeld report on space as a “valid document” and that “they intend to implement it.” He added that there was “no doubt that the President has been committed to a space-based defense”. “The question for us is whether there are pieces of space community that understand that focus.” Walker said that should be opportunities to make investments in military and defense areas that can apply to other areas as well.

Walker then returned to the core of the original question and admitted “we need to get more investment in space out of this Administration. The world has changed. I think that to have the kind of space-based defense the Administration wants we need to be able to protect assets in orbit – and that there is a for need infrastructure.” Walker suggested that people should “see this as an opportunity – and that building this infrastructure can benefit other programs as well.

Expanding upon this idea, Walker said, “we need to get out of stovepipes and understand that scientific instruments can fly on military missions. We may be able to find new ways of doing things – new ways to think of things.”

When asked where NASA is in the scheme of things, Walker said “NASA is seen as an agency that needs to get back to its R&D roots. It needs to get back to that and give us new paradigms. NASA can play an important role in commercial and civilian space – but also in the military sector as well.”

Walker said that the Commission would make policy recommendations that could lead to programs. He said that the Commission’s principal role is to “look to the future and provide a roadmap for how NASA can thrive in the future.”

When asked how the Commission’s activities would synch up with other efforts to examine policy – such as those being undertaken by the National Security Council, Walker said
“This commission will cooperate with other efforts – that is why I will be talking with Vice President Cheney.”

Several questions arose with regard to the international aspects of aerospace. Walker replied that the Commission needed to take into account global issues. He noted that “for developing countries space is one of the most exciting frontiers.” He noted that space technology and systems “can allow developing countries to skip several generations of ground based infrastructure.” As such, Walker said “there should be many ways to involve these countries – and I hope that the Commission looks into these areas and issues.”

Related Links

  • 13 February 2001: Spacelift Washington: The Future of Space Part Two: President’s Space Advisory Board to be staffed with outside experts

  • 31 January 2001: Spacelift Washington: Hart-Rudman Panel endorses SIG Space for civil, military space policy-and space launch

  • 28 January 2001: Spacelift Washington: National Security Space Needs May Drive Bush Space Policy – A Special White Paper Background Report

  • 10 January 2001: Spacelift Washington: Commission to Recommend Military Space Boost, New Programs


    (a) ESTABLISHMENT- There is established a commission to be known as the `Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry’ (in this
    section referred to as the `Commission’).


    (1) The Commission shall be composed of 12 members appointed, not later than March 1, 2001, as follows:

    (A) Up to six members shall be appointed by the President.

    (B) Two members shall be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

    (C) Two members shall be appointed by the majority leader of the Senate.

    (D) One member shall be appointed by the minority leader of the Senate.

    (E) One member shall be appointed by the minority leader of the House of Representatives.

    (2) The members of the Commission shall be appointed from among persons with extensive experience and national reputations in aerospace manufacturing,
    economics, finance, national security, international trade, or foreign policy and persons who are representative of labor organizations associated with the
    aerospace industry.

    (3) Members shall be appointed for the life of the Commission. A vacancy in the Commission shall not affect its powers, but shall be filled in the same
    manner as the original appointment.

    (4) The President shall designate one member of the Commission to serve as the chairman of the Commission.

    (5) The Commission shall meet at the call of the chairman. A majority of the members shall constitute a quorum, but a lesser number may hold hearings.

    (c) DUTIES

    (1) The Commission shall–

    (A) study the issues associated with the future of the United States aerospace industry in the global economy, particularly in relationship to United
    States national security; and

    (B) assess the future importance of the domestic aerospace industry for the economic and national security of the United States.

    (2) In order to fulfill its responsibilities, the Commission shall study the following:

    (A) The budget process of the United States Government, particularly with a view to assessing the adequacy of projected budgets of the federal
    departments and agencies for aerospace research and development and procurement.

    (B) The acquisition process of the Government, particularly with a view to assessing–

    (i) the adequacy of the current acquisition process of federal departments and agencies; and

    (ii) the procedures for developing and fielding aerospace systems incorporating new technologies in a timely fashion.

    (C) The policies, procedures, and methods for the financing and payment of government contracts.

    (D) Statutes and regulations governing international trade and the export of technology, particularly with a view to assessing–

    (i) the extent to which the current system for controlling the export of aerospace goods, services, and technologies reflects an adequate
    balance between the need to protect national security and the need to ensure unhindered access to the global marketplace; and

    (ii) the adequacy of United States and multilateral trade laws and policies for maintaining the international competitiveness of the United
    States aerospace industry.

    (E) Policies governing taxation, particularly with a view to assessing the impact of current tax laws and practices on the international competitiveness
    of the aerospace industry.

    (F) Programs for the maintenance of the national space launch infrastructure, particularly with a view to assessing the adequacy of current and
    projected programs for maintaining the national space launch infrastructure.

    (G) Programs for the support of science and engineering education, including current programs for supporting aerospace science and engineering
    efforts at institutions of higher learning, with a view to determining the adequacy of those programs.

    (d) REPORT

    (1) Not later than March 1, 2002, the Commission shall submit a report on its activities to the President and Congress.

    (2) The report shall include the following:

    (A) The Commission’s findings and conclusions.

    (B) The Commission’s recommendations for actions by federal departments and agencies to support the maintenance of a robust aerospace industry
    in the United States in the 21st century and any recommendations for statutory and regulatory changes to support the implementation of the
    Commission’s findings.

    (C) A discussion of the appropriate means for implementing the Commission’s recommendations.


    (1) The Director of the Office of Management and Budget shall ensure that the
    Commission is provided such administrative services, facilities, staff, and other support services as may be necessary. Any expenses of the Commission shall
    be paid from funds available to the Director.

    (2) The Commission may hold hearings, sit and act at times and places, take testimony, and receive evidence that the Commission considers advisable to carry
    out the purposes of this section.

    (3) The Commission may request directly from any department or agency of the United States any information that the Commission considers necessary to
    carry out the provisions of this section. To the extent consistent with applicable requirements of law and regulations, the head of such department or agency
    shall furnish such information to the Commission.

    (4) The Commission may use the United States mails in the same manner and under the same conditions as other departments and agencies of the United


    (1) Members of the Commission shall serve without additional compensation for their service on the
    Commission, except that members appointed from among private citizens may be allowed travel expenses, including per diem in lieu of subsistence, as
    authorized by law for persons serving intermittently in government service under subchapter I of chapter 57 of title 5, United States Code, while away from
    their homes and places of business in the performance of services for the Commission.

    (2) The chairman of the Commission may appoint staff of the Commission, request the detail of Federal employees, and accept temporary and intermittent
    services in accordance with section 3161 of title 5, United States Code (as added by section 1101 of this Act).

    (g) TERMINATION- The Commission shall terminate 30 days after the date of the submission of its report under subsection (d).

  • SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.