Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) of the House VA/HUD Appropriations
Subcommittee heard testimony on NASA's FY 1996 budget request in a
hearing that began on March 28 and continued on March 30. Over the
two days of the hearing, Lewis showed himself to be a supporter of
NASA, and particularly the space station.
NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin testified that President Clinton
has asked the space agency to cut $5 billion over the next five
years from a budget profile that has already been reduced by 30
percent in the last two years. He contended that the way to reduce
the budget was not to cancel programs, but to reduce NASA's
outdated and redundant infrastructure.
One thing Goldin insisted upon was that the space station program
should not take any more cuts. Lewis cautioned that the station
was likely to be a target for cuts or termination on the House
floor, and asked for the Administration's help in defending it.
Ranking Minority Member Louis Stokes (D-OH) questioned how, since
the subcommittee was confronted with cuts in public housing
programs, Goldin could justify the statement that "it is crucial
not to touch the space station budget?" "Shouldn't every program
have to share in the belt-tightening?" Stokes asked. But Goldin
responded that, through restructuring, NASA had "done our cut" on
the space station. He argued that stability in the program's
budget (currently frozen by OMB at $2.1 billion a year) was vital,
and reiterated that "if station is cut in Congress, I will
recommend its cancellation." Lewis warned that the station "is a
very high priority item that's probably going to face difficulties"
this year. With so many new Members, he said, "we have a very
serious education job to do here."
Tom Delay (R-TX) tried to get Goldin to admit to uncertainty in
recent Mission to Planet Earth findings that the ozone hole is
primarily the result of man-made chemicals, but Goldin supported
the peer-reviewed scientific evidence. Lewis remarked that while
he felt strongly about environmental concerns, he worried about "a
reaction in Congress that could take us back a long way." He also
concurred with Stokes on concerns over cuts to NASA's programs to
encourage women, minorities and the handicapped.
In the context of NASA's budget reductions, Lewis inquired about
the agency's planned new starts, including the New Millennium
spacecraft and a program to study a reusable launch vehicle.
Goldin said the budget-tightening required a "revolution" in NASA's
missions, and added that he would cancel "a whole host" of other
programs before touching the revolutionary new programs. After
being reassured that budget reductions would not compromise the
safety of the shuttle program, subcommittee members raised
questions about shuttle privatization, as recommended in a recent
report. Goldin, while not opposing the suggestion, said that
efficiencies would not be achieved if the U.S. government was the
The second day focused primarily on space science. Noting that
Gravity Probe B was still awaiting review by the National Academy
of Sciences (NAS), Lewis asked what NASA would cut to fund the
mission if it received NAS approval. Goldin said no offsets had
been identified yet, so that NAS would not be comparing it directly
with another program. He expected to have the NAS recommendation
by June 1, but Lewis protested that the subcommittee hoped to mark
up their bill at that time. Goldin promised to try to move up the
NAS report by a few weeks. Questioned about a requested funding
increase in Mission Operations and Data Analysis (MO&DA) for space
physics, Goldin reported that it was due to two launches last year,
but he added that, in arguing for continuation of the Global
Geospace missions, space physicists had forfeited an opportunity
for new starts.
Asked by Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) about how far NASA should go in
privatization, Goldin suggested that, while the government needed
to do long-term R&D, some other areas that could be done better by
industry might be launch services, information systems, and
operations. Kaptur questioned why, since industry profits were up
and "Wall Street is happy," companies were not investing more in
long-term R&D. Goldin answered that to be prosperous, they were
forced to focus on short-term profits. Lewis remarked that this
was "a very, very important issue" for Congress to discuss,
including how tax policy could and could not encourage investment
in long-term research. But, he said, the proper place for that
discussion was in the Ways and Means Committee.
Next week, the Senate VA/HUD Appropriations Subcommittee will hold
its hearing on NASA's budget request.