Schiff Amendment to Provide FY 2012 Funding for James Webb Space Telescope Rejected

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Publication date: 
14 July 2011

The  full House Appropriations Committee had been meeting for almost 3 1/2 hours  yesterday when Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) rose to offer an amendment to provide  $200 million for the James Webb Space Telescope in the FY 2012 Commerce,  Justice, Science Appropriations Bill.  A  vote was pending on the House floor, and House Appropriations Committee  Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) was ready to take a final vote to pass the  bill.  After brief comments by Schiff and  Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf  (R-VA) a voice vote was called, and the amendment was rejected.

Schiff’s amendment would have moved $200 million  from NASA’s Cross Agency Support budget, for which the bill allocated  approximately $3 billion.  This amendment  was one of several that sought to transfer money from this budget category to  other programs.  All were rejected.

Early in the mark up session, Wolf had strenuously  objected when an amendment was offered to increase funding for a student  security program by moving money from the Cross Agency Support budget.  He told the committee that this budget pays  for programs such as cyber security, verification of critical software, and  medical programs for NASA’s employees.  Wolf  urged on a “no” vote on the amendment “if you care about NASA.”  When another amendment was brought up that  would have shifted money from this budget, Wolf warned against “the slippery  slope” of reducing funding for this account. 

Schiff’s amendment was intended to reverse the  subcommittee’s decision to terminate funding for the telescope.  In the report   accompanying the bill that was just released, the subcommittee explains its  reasoning as follows:

“The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Independent  Comprehensive Review Panel revealed chronic and deeply rooted management problems in the JWST project.  These issues led to the project cost being  underestimated by as much as $1,400,000,000 relative to the most recent  baseline, and the budget could continue to rise depending on the final launch date  determination. Although JWST is a particularly serious example, significant  cost overruns are commonplace at NASA, and the Committee believes that the  underlying causes will never be fully addressed if the Congress does not  establish clear consequences for failing to meet budget and schedule  expectations. The Committee recommendation provides no funding for JWST in  fiscal year 2012.  The Committee believes  that this step will ultimately benefit NASA by setting a cost discipline  example for other projects and by relieving the enormous pressure that JWST was  placing on NASA’s ability to pursue other science missions.”

In opening remarks to his fellow appropriators, Wolf  charged that NASA had “been hiding costs” associated with the telescope.  He spoke of a new finding by the Government  Accountability Office that estimated the telescope’s cost at $7.8 billion, Wolf  warning that it could rise to as much as $8 billion.  “We want to do it, but we want to do it in  the right way” he told the committee.   Later Wolf said NASA had rushed ahead in its planning for the telescope,  and cited a series of cost escalations.

In discussing his amendment, Schiff spoke of the  importance of NASA’s scientific research, and described the Webb telescope’s  greatly enhanced capabilities that would be widely available to university  researchers.  He acknowledged that the  program has been mismanaged, but urged his colleagues to vote to continue  funding for the telescope.  Wolf spoke  against reducing NASA’s Cross-Agency Support budget to pay for Schiff’s  amendment, saying it would be a “disaster” and the “wrong thing to do.”  Wolf said he would work with Ranking Minority  Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA) on the telescope as the bill moved ahead.  Rogers called for a voice vote, and the  amendment was rejected.

This bill will now go to the House floor, probably  before the August recess.   On July 7, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD),  chair of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee  released the following statement in response to the subcommittee’s earlier  action:

“Today the House Appropriations Subcommittee on  Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies passed a bill that would  terminate the James Webb Space Telescope, kill 2,000 jobs nationwide and stall  scientific progress and discovery. It was a shortsighted and misguided  move. 

"The Webb Telescope will lead to the kind of  innovation and discovery that have made America great. It will inspire  America's next generation of scientists and innovators that will have the new  ideas that lead to the new jobs in our new economy. 

"The Administration must step in and fight for  the James Webb Telescope.”

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