Hearing Summaries and Budget Resolution Status

FY 2009 Budget Update

After the rollout of the President’s FY 2009 budget request for NASA on February 4, 2008, the Congressional budget process began and is now in full swing, with hearings in several of our oversight committees and subcommittees complete, and the House and Senate Budget Committees completing action on the budget resolution.

Hearings after budget release typically are held by House and Senate Authorization (policy) committees and House and Senate appropriations (funding) Committees.

On February 13, 2008, the House Science and Technology Committee (authorization) held a hearing regarding NASA’s FY 2009 budget request. Mike Griffin testified on behalf of the agency. Members expressed bipartisan support for NASA’s exploration goals, but also expressed concern that a number of programs appeared to be either unfunded or underfunded, including: Constellation systems, Shuttle transition and retirement, future needs for the Deep Space Network, Space Station logistics and utilization post-2011, and aeronautics research. Several Members praised the agency’s decision to propose new science missions, but expressed concern that funding for the new missions was simply being moved within science from other project lines.

Several Members expressed concern with the gap between retirement of the Shuttle and the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of Orion in 2015, and questioned whether NASA could extend the Shuttle program beyond 2010 and/or accelerate Orion/Ares development, and failing these options, whether the agency would be reliant on purchasing Russian services. (Even with acceleration of Orion/Ares, IOC would be in 2013. Given Shuttle retirement in 2010, crew access to ISS is needed between then and Orion/Ares.)

Other areas of Congressional interest included: China’s emerging prowess in the space arena; options for flying the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to Station; plans for further data release from the National Aviation Operational Monitoring Service project; options for flying the Total Solar Irradiance Suite; increased support for the Near-Earth Object project and the Arecibo radio telescope; and, gaining a better understanding of heat shield development problems experienced by the Mars Science Laboratory.

On February 27, 2008, the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics and Related Sciences (authorization) held a hearing regarding NASA’s FY 2009 budget request. Mike Griffin testified on behalf of the agency. Chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL) dispensed with opening statements, but before questions began, commended Mike on his public service, adding that it was a “difficult job.” The Chairman also recognized the crew of STS-120 at the beginning of the hearing, before their departure for meetings with other Members of Congress. Chairman Nelson and Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) participated for the entire hearing; Full Committee Vice-Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) departed after a few questions.

Member questions covered the breadth of NASA activities, but primarily focused on: status of Shuttle transition and potential workforce impacts at the Centers, especially Kennedy Space Center and Michoud Assembly Facility; options for minimizing the gap between Shuttle retirement and Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for Orion and Ares; plans for addressing dependence on Russia for transportation to the Space Station post-2011, and after the Iran North Korea Syria Nonproliferation Act exemption expires; options for accelerating Option D (human transport capability) under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services agreements; and scenarios for altering the Shuttle manifest to accommodate flying AMS to the Space Station.

On March 5 and 6, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (appropriations) held hearings regarding NASA’s FY 2009 budget request. Mike Griffin testified on behalf of the agency, accompanied by the Associate Administrators for Exploration Systems, Space Operations, Science, and Aeronautics Research (Rick Gilbrech, Bill Gerstenmaier, Alan Stern, and Jaiwon Shin). Opening statements from Subcommittee Members, as well as their lines of questioning, focused heavily on the adequacy of NASA’s overall budget given the totality of planned activities, status of missions within the Science Mission Directorate and plans to address the priorities outlined in the Decadal Surveys.

Subcommittee Members were also interested in issues that had been subject to Government Accountability Office (GAO) review, such as, Orion/Ares program status, Shuttle transition and the Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS). Discussion also revolved around NASA’s fiscal shortfall due to the FY 2007 Continuing Resolution (CR, P.L. 110-5), and the significant impact this shortfall has had on the schedule for Orion/Ares IOC.

On March 5, 2008, the House and Senate Budget Committees met separately to begin markup of their respective Budget Resolutions for FY 2009. In the early hours of March 6, the House Budget Committee reported out its budget resolution, as amended, with 22 yeas and 16 nays. The House Budget Committee-passed resolution does not contain specific funding assumptions for NASA. Also on March 6, the Senate Budget Committee reported out its budget resolution, as amended, with 12 yeas and 10 nays. The Senate Budget Committee Chairman’s Mark reflects the following language regarding NASA:

“The Chairman’s Mark funds NASA at $18.7B, $1.0B above the President’s 2009 request. This level of funding reflects the ongoing need to reimburse NASA for the catastrophic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia as well as the costs of investigating the Columbia tragedy. For the Agency, this represents an increase of $1.2B, or 6.8 percent above the 2008 level adjusted for inflation.”

The Chairman’s Mark includes additional language highlighting the importance of “our nation’s space program,” and the “strategic importance” of uninterrupted access to space and the need to minimize “the five-year gap” in U.S. human spaceflight. According to Committee staff, both the House and Senate are expected to begin Floor consideration of their respective budget resolutions the week of March 10. Please note the Budget Resolution is not yet enacted, and the funding recommendations within the resolution are not binding on the Appropriations Committees.

On April 3, 2008, Administrator Griffin is scheduled to testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (appropriations).

So, the process is off to a fast start, and we at Headquarters will keep a close eye on developments on Capitol Hill and keep you informed along the way.

Thanks to Bill Bruner and his staff in the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, for helping me get this information together.