Letter From Sen. Mikulski to Rep. Lewis About Closing NASA GSFC

July 12, 1995

Honorable Jerry Lewis Chairman Subcommittee on VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I am writing to you to express my deep dismay and disappointment at your recommendation to close the Goddard Space Flight Center and two other NASA field centers as part of NASA's Fiscal Year 1996 appropriation.

The Subcommittee's proposal is an ill conceived idea that has no basis in fact. It is not the result of any credible independent effort to study the realignment of NASA's field installations. Worst of all, the sudden and arbitrary nature by which it was proposed threatens to destroy the historic bipartisan spirit that has supported America's space program.

Any decision about the future realignment of NASA field centers should be based on merit, mission, and value to the nation. The importance of Goddard to the space program on each of these three criteria is well documented and without question. Should the Subcommittee's recommendation not be reversed in the House, I can assure you that I will be prepared to outline these arguments at some length during the Senate's consideration of NASA's 1996 appropriation.

I would like you to reconsider the Subcommittee's action for three important reasons.

First, the proposed closing of centers will not save any money. The Subcommittee has estimated that the proposed closings, when fully implemented, will save NASA approximately $130 million a year in operations costs. There are no studies or analyses by NASA, the General Accounting Office, or any other independent source that support this estimate.

I believe that a strong case can and will be made that these closures will actually cost NASA more than they save. There would be substantial reduction in force and personnel relocation costs. In the case of Goddard, there are also a significant number of unique facilities without which NASA cannot successfully function. Their size and technical complexity prevent them from being moved anywhere, let alone to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) some 3,000 miles away. As a result, NASA would be forced to rebuild these structures at an enormous expense in California, a state whose construction costs are considerably higher than Maryland.

Second, the proposed realignment of space and earth science activities will result in the effective destruction of NASA's space and earth science programs.

The Subcommittee proposes discarding NASA's existing infrastructure that supports almost all of its major earth and space science missions, outside of planetary exploration, through the closure of Goddard and the Marshall and Langley Space Flight Centers. At the same time, it recommends ending almost all of the Agency's major planetary exploration activity by terminating the Cassini mission to Saturn. It then would transfer all earth and space science missions to JPL.

The net result of this action is to dismantle NASA's space science program. The JPL does not now have the capacity or technical expertise to assume responsibility for NASA's earth and space science programs. Their historical strength has been exploration of the solar system. Fiscal constraints effectively preclude NASA from being able to substantially replicate its existing physical and human infrastructure in earth and space science at JPL. That means any resuscitated space science program at JPL will be but a former shadow of its current self.

At the same time, by canceling the Cassini mission, the JPL will be almost certain to lose a significant percentage of its workforce with recognized expertise in solar system exploration. The loss of these skills will not likely be recoverable once displaced workers are forced to find work in other fields.

Should these steps be implemented, NASA's overall space science program will be greatly diminished, ending the long standing balance between the Agency's manned and unmanned space programs. In short, NASA's commitment to scientific and technical excellence would be irreparably severed.

Third, and finally, the proposed recommendations of your Subcommittee will erode the longstanding bipartisan support that NASA has enjoyed in the Congress, jeopardizing other NASA programs not now at risk in the 1996 budget.

NASA's creation during the Eisenhower Administration, it has succeeded in large part due to the widespread belief that space exploration, both manned and unmanned, is in the nation's interest without regard to partisan or ideological reasons. As you know from my six years as Chair of the Subcommittee, we tried tirelessly to continue this bipartisan tradition in support for the total NASA program, regardless of its regional economic or political impact.

The sweeping and sudden nature of the Subcommittee's 1996 recommendations seem to shift away from those foundations. As a result, NASA programs unaffected by the Subcommittee's proposals could face far greater scrutiny in the coming months, to the long term detriment to the space program.

I have enjoyed working with you in the past to advance the cause of space exploration and scientific discovery. I hope that we can resolve this current dispute based upon the best interests of America's space program.

Sincerely,

Barbara A. Mikulski Ranking Member

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on July 12, 1995 12:49 PM.

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