The Week of April 22 Sees a Flurry of Legislative Activity
NASA's authorization bill is quickly moving through Congress. On April 11, the House Science Committee introduced legislation to authorize funding for NASA at $13.8 billion in FY 1988 and $13.9 billion in FY 1999 -- representing increases in the requests currently proposed by the Administration.
The bill (H.R. 1275) passed out of committee on the 17th. On the 24th the full House of Representatives overwhelmingly gave its stamp of approval. As the House debated the authorization bill that afternoon, the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, chaired by Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), held a hearing to examine NASA's FY 1998 budget. Testimony from the National Space Society was accepted into the public record and copies were made available to those who attended the hearing.
It was Senator Frist's first subcommittee hearing as chairman in which he examined legislation pertaining to NASA. Before coming to the Senate, Frist was a heart and lung surgeon, educated at Harvard Medical School. His knowledge of science is a refreshing change of space for the subcommittee. During the hearing, Frist demonstrated a strong interest in NASA and its contribution to America's investment in science and technology.
In his opening statement, Frist expressed concern about the Administration's proposed $200 million budget cut for NASA in FY 1998, characterizing the space agency's response as "reserved satisfaction." The first witness to testify before the Subcommittee was NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin. His written testimony mirrored exactly the statement he had made in February to the House Subcommittee.
However, during a line of more direct questioning regarding the budget, Frist probed Goldin on the consequence of the proposed budget reduction and "extreme budget pressures." Goldin stated that NASA would continue to downsize. Overall, he said his goal is to reduce civil service and contractor personnel from 215,000 to 160,000 by the year 2000. He said his vision for NASA is to shrink the agency's involvement in operations, and to focus on high-performance research and development.
Goldin said he hoped there would be "no more cuts to the budget." The funding level for the agency, he said, is "razor thin." In 1996, Congress cut $100 million from the Administration's request. Looking to next year's budget, Goldin said, "I don't think one nickel should be taken out."
Goldin expressed concern that Congress might be tempted to micromanage elements of NASA, now that it has gotten its house in order. In an impassioned statement, he also expressed worry about America's economic health ten to 15 years from now because of our nation's declining investment in science and technology. Corporate America is preoccupied with generating immediate returns on investment and is not funding long-term R&D. At the same time, government is cutting expenditures for basic research. According to Goldin, if America fails to stay one-step ahead of the world in science and technology, our standard of living will severely erode.
Frist and ranking member of the Subcommittee, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), expressed similar concern about our nation's investment in science and technology. Unfortunately, other members of the subcommittee were not in attendance because of their participation in the debate on the Senate floor on the chemical weapons treaty.
About the International Space Station, Goldin mentioned several critical decision points, the first of which is on May 14. At that time NASA must decide what to do about the Service Module, which Russia hopes to launch in December of 1998. If it cannot meet this deadline, NASA will have to move ahead and build an Interim Control Module. Goldin said Russia has made some funding available for the element. But "all the money" must be provided, otherwise NASA will move forward with its contingency plan.
Finally, Goldin said the U.S. has learned much from working with Russia on the Mir space station. We have to be able to gain knowledge on vibration levels (important to microgravity research), radiation levels, space debris, rendezvous and docking techniques, changing out scientific equipment, training procedures, and fire suppression equipment. He said there are three teams now assessing Mir to assure its safety.
Also testifying before the Subcommittee were Marcia Smith, a space analyst at the Congressional Research Service; Dr. Kenneth Galloway, Dean of the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University; and Jerry Grey, Director of AAIA.
On the Capsule Calendar:
This Thursday afternoon, NSS's David Brandt testifies before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on VA-HUD-IA regarding NASA's FY 1998 budget request.
The NSS hosts a Congressional Breakfast Briefing for legislators and staff on X-programs next Thursday at the Rayburn House Office Building.
About the "NSS Capital Capsule"
The National Space Society is an independent space advocacy group headquartered in Washington, DC. Its 25,000 members and 95 chapters support the creation of a spacefaring civilization. For more information on the NSS and our future in space, visit http://www.nss.org/.