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HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON SPACE & AERONAUTICS HEARING
Tuesday, March 4
Report on Proceedings (contributed by Bill Livingstone)
The Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics convened its first hearing of the year to examine the Administration's FY 1998 budget request. It also was the first hearing presided over by its new chairman, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).
Democrats have yet to select their ranking member to replace Ralph Hall (D-TX). At the hearing, both Science Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and ranking Democratic member George Brown (D-CA) were in attendance.
The testimony submitted by NASA was the same information provided last week to the House Appropriation Subcommittee on VA-HUD-IA.
Mr. Goldin, in his opening statement, called the President's funding request for NASA a "meaningful budget." Goldin defended America's partnership with Russia to build the International Space Station, saying we would not be as far along in the project without its assistance. Goldin said NASA's mission is not only to "explore and learn" but to "teach and inspire." America, he said, should "shoot for the stars" and not just "shoot for a passing grade."
Rep. Sensenbrenner asked a series of pointed questions about the space station. Goldin said he did not know at this time whether or not the Russians have actually provided $100 million as they committed to do last month. Goldin announced he is sending General Stafford and a team of budgeteers to Russia to validate what is happening financially.
Chairman Rohrabacher predicted Russia's "day of reckoning" is coming. But whether or not it complies with the agreements to construct components of the station, that we "will build the International Space Station there is no doubt."
Rep. Brown inquired about the Origins program. Rep. Roemer (D-IN) praised NASA for successfully upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope. He then turned his attention to the space station. Goldin explained NASA was looking to modify the FGB-1 module and indicated there may be a slip in the launch of the first component by 6 or 7 months, although the completion date would remain the same.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) proposed bartering with Russia -- exchanging natural resources for hard currency -- which would then be used for the space station. Goldin said he would pursue the idea and was open to such creative solutions. Rep. Bud Cramer (D-AL) stated the 1998 budget "looks good." About the space station, he predicted there would be "sweaty palms all the way [to its completion]."
Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) expressed concern about cutbacks in funding for the Shuttle program. Goldin reassured everyone the reduction in spending would not jeopardize safety. Weldon inquired about the $2 billion Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) of the Mission to Planet Earth program, which a NASA advisory committee reportedly wants to scrap. A NASA official at the hearing clarified the issue, saying that the advisory committee only sought to conduct a "cancellation review" for about one-third of the overall program. The rest of the project it supports.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) asked Goldin questions about personnel levels at NASA, including support for minorities. Goldin said NASA had initially proposed to reduce the number of agency personnel to 17,500, but has increased this amount to 18,000 because of safety concerns for various programs. Over the next two years, Goldin said he is looking to reduce NASA's work force by 1,800 by retirements and buyouts.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) examined overall budget numbers for the space station. According to Goldin, from 1984 through 1993, NASA spent about $10 billion on the project. From 1994 to 2002, the budget is set at $17.4 billion. To operate with the Space Station for a decade will take about $13 billion. Our international partners plan to contribute about $10 billion to construct the station, plus provide additional funds during its operation. Goldin said the US will build about 500,000 to 600,000 pounds of the station, and the Russians about half this amount.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) expressed concern about potential cost overruns in the Space Station that could endanger funding for science programs. Goldin said, at this time, he has no plans to "re-balance" the NASA budget. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) praised NASA for the job it's doing and said the agency would be acting responsibly if it decided to delay the launch of the first component of the space station.
Finally, Rohrabacher mentioned he expects there will be more hearings of the subcommittee to examine other aspects of NASA's FY 1998 budget, including the X-33 and commercialization of space.
Observations (contributed by George Smith):
Goldin described the Origins program, the Hubble servicing mission and the RLV effort as part of the "bold venture" of space exploration. In the same statement he also pointedly included NASA's plans to cooperate with the FAA in an effort to increase air-traffic safety. Thus we heard, virtually simultaneously, about (a) NASA's bold plans to storm heaven, to unlock the secrets of the solar system, to be "America's risk-taker," and (b) NASA's intent to help lower the risks inherent in a mode of transport that may already be the statistically safest way to get from point A to point B on the surface of the Earth. If anyone in the hearing room thought this was an astonishing juxtaposition of goals, they didn't let on. Such is Washington, DC, where certain delectable ironies are best savored in silence.
In an otherwise serious hearing, as is appropriate when appropriations are the topic of the day, there was at least one moment of levity. Mr. Weldon (R-FL and Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee), asked Goldin whether the $173M reduction int he shuttle budget might threaten safety. At this point Goldin began looking through his papers, intent -- as it turned out -- on finding some information which gave some useful insight into the precise nature of the $173M figure. After a few seconds, Mr. Weldon broke the silence (and broke up the hearing room) with, "Goldin, I think the correct answer to that question is 'No.'"