Cost overruns associated with the international Space Station (iSS) prompted members of Congress to lash out at NASA during a House hearing on Wednesday, November 5. "If NASA were to propose the Space Station today," Chairman Rohrabacher (R-CA) said, "I couldn't support it knowing what I know now." "Sadly," he continued, "I have to admit that the problem isn't the Space Station, but in the agency that's running the program."
During the past three years, Rohrabacher said, cost overruns have exceeded $1 billion. Since 1996, NASA "has taken $532 million out of the early research activities it promised Congress it would do during the assembly phase in order to fund cost overrun."
Wilbur Trafton, NASA Associate Administrator of Space Flight, provided testimony to the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics on the status of Space Station program which, he said, is "at the peak period of hardware and software development activities."
In July, The Boeing Company announced it would need an additional $600 million to pay for Space Station cost overruns. According to Trafton, "This estimate includes $389 million of overrun against work completed through September 1997, leaving an estimated 'overrun to go' of $211 million, which they believe $111 million will be needed in FY 98."
But Trafton said NASA "evaluated the work remaining to be performed, and feels that the contract [with Boeing] could overrun by $800 million (rather than $600 million), of which $207 million will be required in FY 1998."
Already, Congress has provided NASA an additional $230 million in FY 1998 for the Space Station program. Trafton said "the funding appropriated for the iSS is still $200 million short of the amount necessary. We are disappointed that the appropriations bill did not include the flexibility sought by NASA to identify the remaining $200 million within the Science, Aeronautics and Technology and Mission Support appropriations accounts; we believe these adjustments could have been made without direct impacts on the productivity of our science and technology program."
If the funding is not made available, Trafton said NASA is considering three options: 1) delay the Phase III schedule; 2) delay planned research activities during assembly, and; 3) terminate the Russian contingency activity.
Doug Stone, Vice President and Program Manager at The Boeing Company, testified that the Space Station program "is currently approximately five weeks behind schedule" and they "are working around the clock to meet critical schedule milestones." To date, over 220,000 pounds of flight hardware have been produced. "By the end of FY98," Stone said, "we will be more than 80% complete with Boeing's portion of the program and most of the development risk will be behind us."
Mr. Allen Li, Associate Director of the General Accounting Office, told committee members that reforms implemented last May by The Boeing Company to control costs have yet to show any benefit. From March to September of 1997, Boeing has experienced a cost overrun of $20 to $22 million each month. Additionally, Li said it now appears Russia's launch date for the Service Module will be slipped from December 1998 to February 1999.
Congressman Tim Roemer (D-IN) accused NASA of "arrogance" in the way it has handled the $600 to $800 million cost overrun and said the agency is damaging its integrity and credibility.
Rohrabacher asked Trafton if the Clinton Administration supports the additional transfer of funds to pay for the space station overruns. To the surprise of many, the White House has yet to endorse NASA's request.
Rohrabacher called on NASA to get a letter of request from the Administration for the additional funding. He also urged NASA to locate sources of funding in lower priority programs, such as Mission to Planet Earth, which could be used for the construction of space station.
NASA Authorization Bill (Senate)
On Tuesday, November 4, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) blocked passage of the NASA Authorization Bill by the Commerce Committee. At the eleventh hour, she proposed three controversial amendments, one of which would have authorized NASA to transfer $200 million from the Science, Aeronautics and Technology account and Mission Operations to pay for the space station cost overruns. (The Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this year declined to support such a request.)
Had the Committee voted down the amendments, Hutchison threatened to put a hold on the Authorization bill, effectively preventing passage of the legislation before Congress adjourns for the year. Members subsequently reached an agreement with Hutchison to delay consideration of the bill until Congress returns next January, at which time she has vowed not to block Committee consideration of the measure.
The Commerce Committee had hoped to get the Authorization bill passed by the full Senate before adjournment, then pre-conference the legislation with the House during the recess. But now her action makes more difficult the passage of the bill early next year. In the early months of a session, the Senate oftentimes amends legislation, such as the Authorization bill, with controversial, non-germane measures that only complicate the process.
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/.