Why the Space Leadership Preservation Act Solves Nothing

Michael Griffin, Eileen Collins and Cristina Chaplain testify (Credit: House Science Committee)
Michael Griffin, Eileen Collins and Cristina Chaplain testify (Credit: House Science Committee)

By House Science Committee Democrats

WASHINGTON, DC  – Today, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to receive testimony on H.R. 2093, the Space Leadership Preservation Act, and to consider the issue of maintaining a “constancy of purpose” for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The Committee also held a hearing on the Space Leadership Preservation Act last Congress.
H.R. 2093 would amend existing statutes on NASA by providing specific direction to the President with regards to how the leadership of NASA must be selected and appointed; and how annual agency budgets and associated priorities must be reconciled with budgets formulated external to NASA.  Specifically, the Act would mandate a ten-year term for the Administrator of NASA and would require the President to appoint the Administrator, Deputy Administrator, and Chief Financial Officer from among a list of nominees provided by a Board of Directors established under this Act. In addition, the Act would require that the Board submit to the President and specified Congressional entities, not later than November 15 of each year, a proposed budget for the agency for the next fiscal year. Each budget proposed by the President for NASA would be required to include a detailed justification of any differences between the President’s proposed budget and the budget provided by the Board of Directors.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her opening statement, “I believe that all Members of this Committee—and our witnesses—share my belief that NASA is a cornerstone of our nation’s R&D enterprise, a source of inspiration for our young people, and a worldwide symbol of America’s technological prowess and dedication to the peaceful exploration of space. We want it to succeed.

“Today’s hearing is entitled “The Space Leadership Preservation Act and Need for Stability at NASA.” While I have concerns about the legislation itself, I wholeheartedly agree with the premise that we want to preserve America’s leadership in space, and that NASA will need stability if it is to maintain that leadership role. I am heartened that Chairman Culberson has long felt the same way. That said, I regret that the legislation being discussed today, while obviously well intentioned, unfortunately is not likely to fix the fundamental causes of instability at NASA.”

Democrats on the Committee expressed numerous concerns with the bill: that allowing Congress to use a party-based formula to appoint Board Members would inject partisan politics into that Board; having the Board prepare a NASA budget at the same time as NASA would create wasteful duplication, confusion, and instability; and that establishing a fixed, 10-year term for the Administrator would increase instability, not mitigate it, especially if a new President plans to pursue a different policy agenda from his or her predecessor and doesn’t see that Administrator as being part of his or her “team”.

Ranking Member Johnson said, “The reality is that we don’t need to set up a new bureaucracy outside of NASA or alter the appointment process for its leaders. If we are interested in ensuring stability at NASA, it is already in our power as Congress to do so. We are the ones who ultimately determine NASA’s budget. We can provide the necessary budgetary stability to NASA—or we can destabilize it with appropriations delays, continuing resolutions, and shutdowns. The choice is ours.”

Ranking Member of the Space Subcommittee, Donna F. Edwards, said in her statement for the record, “We need a challenging and compelling goal for our human space program. We need a goal that will allow our young people to know where we are aiming and when we want to get there. We need a goal that will bring out the best in us as a Nation, as great national challenges have done in the past. And the House of Representatives has done just that. Indeed, in passing the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2015, the House singled out Mars as NASA’s goal for Human Exploration and directed NASA to develop a Roadmap to achieve that goal.”

Invited witnesses addressed a number of issues during the hearing about H.R. 2093 including concerns regarding the proposed 10 year term for a NASA Administrator, the requirement for a budget developed by a Board, questions about the accountability of a Board of Directors, and potential issues if multi-year contracting were expanded at NASA. There was no groundswell of support for the bill in their responses.

Witnesses

Panel 1

  • The Honorable John Culberson (R-TX)

Panel 2

  • Dr. Michael Griffin, Former Administrator, NASA
  • Colonel Eileen Collins, USAF (Ret.); Commander, STS-93 and 114; and Pilot, STS-63 and 94; and former Chair, Subcommittee on Space Operations, NASA Advisory Council
  • Ms. Cristina Chaplain, Director, Acquisitions and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office (GAO)

  • Valerij Gilinskij

    I always laugh arguments of opponents of the manned space program.

    NASA certainly will not now build stations in LEO. Now it will be done by private firms on the basis of obtained with NASA’s experience. Actually, this is the part of NASA’s role. NASA is not a temple in which cherish the sacred.

    This does not mean that everything is made by NASA, is ideal. This means that NASA is doing the right thing. But it is not NASA wants to build the SLS. This Congress makes NASA to build the Senate Launch System

  • ThomasLMatula

    Sorry, that is incorrect. It was created directly as a result of the success of the DC-X. Rather than NASA just funding an upgraded version, the DC-Y, which would have been the logical thing to do, it did it the “NASA Way” and held a competition for the reusable launch vehicle program the winner of which would be named the X-33, the next in its series of “X Planes”.

    http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/x33.htm

    There were three entrants. MDD with the DC-Y, Rockwell with a delta winger VTHL vehicle based on its 25 years of experience with the Shuttle Orbiter, and the most risky entry, the Lockheed lifting body. The latter was selected. It was only after the selection that Lockheed started promoting it as the prototype for the VentureStar.

    NASA would have never started their reusable launch vehicle program if it was for the success, and headlines, the DC-X was getting.

  • ThomasLMatula

    I strongly support humans in space and see them as a key element of space development. But NASA isn’t contributing much to that goal which is why I see NASA’s human spaceflight program as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Really the NASA human spaceflight program has been searching for a mission since Project Apollo. It has been lost in space since the last Skylab flight.

    The Shuttle progrm was just a place holder. Any chance for it to contribute to lowering cost disappeared when it lost its funding for a reusable first stage. Same with ISS, it lost its way when it was transformed by the Clinton Administration into the great commune in the sky and and jobs program for the Russian space industry.