Volume 2, No. 10 June 25, 1998
What will the International Space Station ultimately cost? And when will it be completed? Those questions were the primary focus of attention at a hearing yesterday held by the House Science Committee on the ISS.
Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said the station continues to spin out of control. In his view, problems are worsening and the Administration is largely to blame because of its refusal to help formulate a plan to get the program back on track. He said he is "disappointed" that NASA has agreed with much of the Chabrow Report, yet has not put solutions on the table.
Congressman George Brown (D-CA), the ranking committee member, said it is time for NASA, OMB, and Congress to reach a consensus on the ISS. "We need a plan," he emphasized, "not a continuing series of ad hoc adjustments to the latest station funding or programmatic crisis." The California Congressman said "we cannot afford to drift through another budgetary cycle without coming to grips with the realities of the space station programäs situation."
Sensenbrenner announced that he and Brown have cosigned a letter to the President, requesting the Administration to come up with a plan in 30 days to deal with the problems facing the ISS. In August, the Science Committee plans to hold another hearing on the station to hear what the Administration proposes.
According to Sensenbrenner, the White House has agreed to make available an Administration official to testify at the hearing. This is in contrast to Wednesdayäs hearing for which both Jacob Lew, Acting OMB Director, and Duncan Moore, Technology Director of OSTP, declined to attend. Only NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin was on hand to defend the ISS program. Jay Chabrow, Chairman of the Cost Assessment and Validation Task Force, and Allen Li, Associate Director of the General Accounting Office, also testified.
At the Wednesday hearing, Chabrow criticized NASA for "continuing its cautious reactive stance rather than taking a proactive position on risk reduction." NASA, he explained, has not identified funding profiles for any of the increased cost growth identified in the report. He also said that the space agency continues to take an optimistic position relative to assembly completion.
According to the Chabrow Report, the projected price tag for the ISS is likely to reach $25 billion, compared to NASAäs current estimate of about $22 billion. NASA has again slipped the assembly schedule, with launch of the first element now set for November of 1998. NASA hopes to finish construction in January of 2004, although Goldin at the hearing conceded it would probably be in 2005.
Members of the committee are concerned the ISS budget will continue to escalate, endangering other NASA science and technology programs. At the hearing, members pressed Goldin to explicitly announce the amount of additional funding NASA needs to complete the station, but the Administrator refused to set a dollar amount. He stated he will not ask Congress "for another penny¹ until NASA feels Üadditional funds are necessary in order to get the job done."
Goldin explained that if he now concedes billions more are required and the assembly schedule should be slipped by two years, reflecting conclusions in the Chabrow Report, then pressure to hold down costs and meet deadlines will disappear. Further budget growth and delays will become a fait accompli. As an alternative, Goldin wants to continue to pursue the development of cost- saving measures. The management of the ISS, from Goldinäs perspective, is a dynamic process and, until the last module is built and assembled, itäs possible to implement faster, better, cheaper solutions to problems vexing the station.
As an example of this process, the Chabrow Report recommends the U.S. invest in a propulsion system to replace future Russian resupply flights that now appear in jeopardy -- an expensive proposition running hundreds of millions of dollars. To this end, NASA is considering the purchase of two additional Interim Control Modules (ICMs). But Goldin said the agency also is looking at the possibility of using the Space Shuttle to boost the ISS to a higher orbit. Another option under consideration is to use off-the-shelf hardware to build a cheaper propulsion system than the ICM. Instead of hundreds of millions of dollars, Goldin estimated the alternative measures would cost about $45-$60 million -- a substantial savings.
Goldin conceded that NASA needs to increase its reserves for the ISS, and may also request an additional $300 million for the Crew Return Vehicle. Additionally, as much as $790 million may be necessary for contingency plans to respond to Russian shortcomings in meeting their obligations. But these issues, Goldin said, will not be resolved for a couple of months at the earliest and will be reflected in the next yearäs budget request by the Administration.
Cost overruns by The Boeing Company now total $680 million and will continue to rise. NASA has set aside reserves to accommodate $800 million in overruns by Boeing;
About the NSS Capital Capsule
The Capsule is a timely report of highlights from Capitol Hill hearings and other events involving space issues. Prepared by NSS staff or volunteers who attend in person, the Capsule provides NSS members and activists an "insider's" look into the thoughts of our national elected officials on space issues.
The National Space Society is an independent, nonprofit space advocacy group with headquarters in Washington, DC. Its 23,000 members and 90 chapters actively promote the creation of a spacefaring civilization.