Ralph Hall Will Chair House Science and Technology Committee

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Publication date: 
15 December 2010

The  chairs of key committees in the House of Representatives with jurisdiction over  science policy and budgets will change when the new Congress convenes on  January 5, 2011.  Among those changes are  the leadership of the House Science and Technology Committee, and the House  Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees. 

The  new Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee will be Hal Rogers  (R-KY).  Rogers has served on the  Appropriations Committee for many years, including his previous chairmanship of  the subcommittee having jurisdiction over the National Institute of Standards  and Technology.  New subcommittee chairs  will be appointed in coming weeks, and reviewed in a future issue of FYI.

The  House Science and Technology Committee will be chaired by Ralph Hall (R-TX).  Hall has represented a northeast Texas  district since 1980.  Originally a  Democrat, he changed parties in 2004.  Hall  will replace Bart Gordon (D-TN) who has been the committee’s chairman since  2007, and who announced his retirement a year ago.  Hall has served on the committee for more  than half of the time since it was established in 1958, and became its Ranking  Member in January 2007.   Gordon and Hall enjoyed a friendly, bipartisan  relationship as the senior leaders on the Science Committee, an approach that  made it a model of comity and cooperation.

A  committee’s agenda often reflects the interests of its chair.  In the foreword to a committee history  issued in  2008, Hall discussed two of his key interests, manned space exploration and  energy:  

“I  believe that manned spaceflight has contributed more to securing America’s  technological and economic leadership in the world than any other civilian government  program. Through both great success and occasional tragedy, NASA has captured  the hearts and imaginations of the American people and spawned decades of technological  innovation, the benefits of which have far exceeded the cost of investment. If  we want to remain economically competitive for future generations, it is  imperative that we continue to support manned spaceflight.

“Another  focus that is sure to remain at the top of the Committee’s agenda is the need  for cheap, clean, reliable and abundant energy. The U.S. relies too heavily on  unstable regimes to provide the energy that runs our economy. The Science and  Technology Committee has been at the forefront of efforts to diversify our  energy portfolio by promoting renewable and alternative energy sources. This  Committee is strategically positioned to help find real solutions to our energy  problems, along with finding ways to use our abundant domestic fossil fuel resources  more cleanly and efficiently.”

The  Science Committee has played an active role in issues surrounding climate  change.  At a climate change hearing last  month, Hall stated:

“We  must hold this Administration accountable for meeting a level of scientific  integrity the public expects from their government.  I think this hearing demonstrates that  reasonable people have serious questions about our knowledge of the state of  the science, what the evidence is, and what constitutes a proportional  response.  Sorting scientific fact from  rhetoric is essential, and we have a long way to go on this topic.”

A  key agenda item for the committee during this Congress was the reauthorization  of the America COMPETES legislation.  The  committee held 48 hearings on this legislation, which passed the House after a  fairly lengthy process this summer.  The  markup of the bill and its consideration on the House floor was characterized  by an atypical partisan divide between the committee members about the amount  of research funding that should be authorized, and the length of the  authorization period.  During one of the  days of House floor debate on various versions of the bill, Hall told his  colleagues:

“New  programs in the bill shift an emphasis away from basic research towards  technology commercialization activities that could potentially divert money  away from basic research and could lead to inappropriate market  innovation.  Keeping the [flat funding]  language in the [first] bill would reduce authorization levels in the bill by  $1.3 billion. The Republican motion to recommit kept all existing programs at  fiscal year 2010 appropriated levels. Given that our Nation's debt is currently  $13 trillion and our Nation's budget deficit has increased 50 percent in three  years, it's prudent to put the brakes on significant increases in spending for  years to come. This [new version of the] bill is better than the bill was when  it was introduced. It's not as good as the bill was when it left the [Science]  committee that first considered it. It's not as good a bill as it was when they  accepted and voted ‘yes’- Republicans and Democrats alike--on the motion to  recommit. So we've made some improvements. I'm not discouraged. I still like  the thrust of the bill, and I look forward to working with the chairman [Rep.  Gordon] from this day forward.”

The  COMPETES bill was passed by the House and approved by a key Senate  committee.  It has not been considered on  the Senate floor.

On  December 8, the Republican Cconference selected Hall as the next chairman of  the House Science Committee.  In a  release issued that day, Hall said:

“I  am truly honored to be selected by my colleagues to chair the Committee on  Science and Technology in the 112th Congress.   Having served on this Committee since I was first elected to Congress in  1980, I have great respect and appreciation for the role of science and  technology in keeping our Nation competitive and improving the lives of our  citizens.

“Advancements  in science and technology will create jobs, keep America at the forefront of  innovation, and drive economic growth.   Smart investments in basic research and development, coupled with proper  business and tax incentives, will spur innovation and allow American businesses  to commercialize and manufacture technologies here in the United States.

“Our  Committee will help ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested wisely in  research and development programs by providing effective oversight of existing  programs and by eliminating wasteful and duplicative programs and streamlining  programs where needed.  Republicans have  been given the opportunity to help make our government function more efficiently  and effectively, and we will work to achieve fiscal responsibility.

“I  look forward to working with new and returning members on the Committee to  advance domestic energy solutions that move America toward greater energy  security, help guide a space exploration program that will maintain America’s  leadership in the world, bolster technological innovation to strengthen  national and economic security, and improve science, technology, engineering  and math (STEM) education to promote competitiveness in the global marketplace. 

“Inasmuch  as this Committee has jurisdiction over NASA and the space program, I feel  honored to help advance what the late Chairman Olin 'Tiger' Teague set in  motion when he chaired this Committee.  I  was honored to attend some of the early launches of the Apollo program and have  enjoyed working with American heroes such as Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Gene  Cernan, General Tom Stafford, John Glenn, Jim Lovell, and others.  These were major Columbuses and Magellans of  space, and we must honor their contributions and continue the journey.

“It  is a privilege to be given this opportunity, and I look forward to shaping a  comprehensive agenda for the 112th Congress.”