Crucial Time for NASA Science Programs

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Publication date: 
13 July 1995
Number: 
99

As described in FYI #97, early reports state that the House
VA/HUD/Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, in marking
up its FY 1996 funding bill, made these recommendations for major
NASA science programs: termination of the Cassini mission to Saturn
(FY96 request: $191.5 million); at least a delay in funding SIRTF
(FY96 request: $15.0 million) and SOFIA (FY96 request: $48.7
million); and, by some accounts, termination of Gravity Probe B,
whose continuation NASA is studying.  The subcommittee also
recommended the closure of three NASA centers, Goddard, Langley,
and Marshall, by FY 1998.  (See FYI #3 for the House subcommittee
roster.)

This action represents only the first step in the appropriations
process for NASA, but now is the time to take action to affect the
rest of the process.  One opportunity to turn the fate of the
programs around will come on the House floor (no date has yet been
scheduled).  For instance, David Obey (D-WI), the House
Appropriations Committee's ranking minority member, has announced
that he will offer an amendment to terminate space station funding
and make those funds available for other programs under VA/HUD's
jurisdiction, including other NASA activities. 

Other House members are likely to protest the subcommittee's
actions.  House Science Committee chairman Robert Walker (R-PA) has
released the following statement on the bill:  "While I am pleased
that the subcommittee recognizes the need for continued support of
a manned space program by fully funding the space station and the
reusable launch vehicle program, I am concerned that the
subcommittee has chosen to eliminate some of the highest priority
space science missions....  NASA's core basic research, which
includes planetary exploration and physics and astronomy, should be
the first area to be preserved."

Walker added, "The proposal to close three NASA centers is
premature and is not something which I can support at this time.
NASA Administrator Dan Goldin has outlined a restructuring plan
which should be considered before we begin to dismantle the
operational centers.  I am hopeful that an upcoming Science
Committee markup of the NASA budget will be able to offer some
clear alternatives to the appropriators before VA/HUD goes to the
House floor."  In addition, House Science ranking member George
Brown (D-CA), has argued forcefully for the preservation of NASA's
science missions.

According to reports, the House subcommittee bill suggests moving
Goddard's functions to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).  The
Foster Task Force review of NASA's laboratories, released earlier
this year (see FYI #51), found that "astrophysics, space physics,
and fundamental earth science research should continue to be
conducted at both JPL and GSFC because those program elements are
complementary and not redundant."

The bill would reportedly also shift Langley's functions to Lewis
and Ames Research Centers, and spread out Marshall's programs among
Lewis, Stennis, Johnson, and Kennedy centers.  Not only is House
VA/HUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Lewis's (R-CA)
district near JPL, but two subcommittee members are from Texas,
where Johnston Space Flight Center is located, and three are from
Ohio, the home of Lewis Research Center.  There are no subcommittee
members from Maryland, Virginia, or Alabama, the locations of
Goddard, Langley, and Marshall, respectively. 

The Senate VA/HUD Appropriations Subcommittee will have an
opportunity to provide its own recommendations when it takes up the
bill.  Members of the Senate subcommittee include ranking Democrat
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who is an avid supporter of NASA and
especially Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in her state, and
Richard Shelby (R-AL), whose state houses Marshall Space Flight
Center.  Mikulski has been quoted by the Washington Post as saying,
"This is real, and the battle has been joined....  We'll try to
work it out, and if we can't, we'll duke it out."  While she and
Shelby are certain to fight for their centers, it is less certain
how much they will stand up for the science programs.  To get the
Senate to restore money for any programs terminated by the House
will require considerable support from the public.  (See FYI #31
for the Senate subcommittee roster.)

President Clinton has already announced his intention to veto
appropriations bills that go too far in making cuts he disagrees
with, but he has other concerns in the VA/HUD bill.  In addition to
reducing NASA and NSF funding, it drastically cuts housing programs
and terminates his National Service Program. 

An added factor for the VA/HUD bill revolves around Congress's
attempt to pass a rescissions bill for FY 1995 funding (see FYIs
#34, 93).  If that bill, which was taken into account in the
budget-reduction plans, is not passed, more will likely be cut from
the FY 1996 appropriations allocations to remain on a five-year
path to a balanced budget.  The VA/HUD allocation, already 12
percent less than last year's, is a likely target for further
reductions. 

NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin reacted to proposed R&D budget
cuts, and to the subcommittee bill on Tuesday at the PCAST meeting.
He spoke at length about the impact which continual downsizing has
had on the NASA workforce, saying that "people are at their
limits...NASA is ready to explode."  He went on to characterize new
efforts to reduce the NASA work force as "road kill," where the
objective seems to be cutting for the sake of cutting.  "I've had
it," he said.  Speaking specifically of the subcommittee's
reduction in NASA funding for FY 1996 - $720 million less than the
administration request - Goldin said, "I am not prepared to cut the
budget another nickel."   

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