First Step in NASA Authorization Process

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Publication date: 
21 February 1995
Number: 
32

The new chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Space, James
Sensenbrenner (R-WI), reviewed NASA's fiscal year 1996 budget
request in a February 13 hearing.  The agency is slated to receive
$14.26 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, but has been targeted
by the Administration for a cut of $5 billion over the next five
years (see FYI #24.)  Warning that "NASA has a history of
over-optimistic planning," Sensenbrenner expressed doubts about
whether the agency could accomplish all its plans within the
context of the budget cut. 

Sensenbrenner plans to introduce a multi-year NASA authorization
bill within the next four weeks.  The House Science Committee, as
an authorizing committee, can write legislation to approve and
suggest funding levels for programs under its jurisdiction, but the
job of providing the funds belongs to the appropriations
committees.  In theory, authorization bills are passed before
appropriations bills to provide guidance on spending.  In reality,
authorizing legislation often comes out either too late to affect
the appropriations process, or not at all.

NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin testified that he has begun an
agency-wide analysis to determine where to make the necessary cuts.
He hopes to extract the entire $5 billion from what he described as
an outdated, overly-large NASA infrastructure, rather than by
cancellation of programs.  "If we just choose to cancel programs
and maintain the infrastructure," he said, "we will have made the
wrong decision."  He added that "if we cannot, we're going to come
forward and we'll tell you which programs have to be cut."

Goldin expects to have the analysis completed by May 17, but
Sensenbrenner intends to "get the authorization bill out of
subcommittee and out of the full committee before the [mid-April]
Easter recess."  He warned Goldin that if the agency could not
provide recommendations by that time, "the train will have left the
station."  He added, "I am not partial to funding any new starts
until I see what's done with this $5 billion" cut.

Subcommittee members questioned Goldin on specific programs in the
request.  Ranking minority member Ralph Hall (D-TX) inquired why,
in the circumstances, NASA planned to initiate a Reusable Launch
Vehicle program.  Goldin explained that the money was not to
develop a new vehicle but to explore the possibility.  He noted
that by the next century, without a new launch vehicle, the shuttle
will require significant upgrades.  Asked why the Gravity Probe B
mission was undergoing yet another scientific review, Goldin
reported concerns about whether the mission was redundant in light
of research performed since it was first planned.  He stated that
he believed the space station had adequate ($3 billion) reserves,
and that Russia was "turning out to be one of our most reliable
partners."

Jane Harman (D-CA) urged Goldin to "keep doing what you're doing,
but also, do it faster.  I think what the chairman has said about
the effort here to authorize this program in the right sequence is
very important."  If the agency did not provide input into the
authorization process, she said, "NASA will be the loser."

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