House Science Committee Hearing Summary

Opening Statements

The hearings began with a statement by House Science Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner. Wasting no time in getting to the point Sensenbrenner opened by reading from a prepared statement;" NASA's budget is a mess. Because the Administration can't or won't submit an honest budget, 890 Space Shuttle employees are losing their jobs." Sensenbrenner took issue with Goldin's contention that such cuts won't affect the Space Shuttle program by saying "Dan, tell that to the people who are losing their jobs."

Sensenbrenner then went on to detail the series of events wherein repeated objections by the Committee went unheeded, suggestions for supplemental appropriations to fix the ISS program were turned down by the White House, and NASA's "lobbying appropriators behind-the-scenes for another $430 million for the Station." noting that NASA only managed to get $200 million as a result of this activity. Sensenbrenner added that "this year NASA expects another $200 million to be taken from funds once declared off limits".

Sensenbrenner then went on to say that "[he doesn't] know how we can put any faith in this budget given the Administration's track record. Every year we get the budget with a footnote that says, "oh, by the way, we need more money for station. Oh, by the way, we're going to cut the shuttle. Oh, by the way, we're going to take money from the science programs. Oh, by the way, we're going to bail out the Russians. Oh, by the way, we're going to lay people off." It has got to stop."

He closed by saying that "The budgets that the President has imposed on NASA have had to be rewritten on the fly for the last few fiscal years, creating instability and threatening to undermine the credibility of the Agency and everything that it has accomplished."

Ranking minority member George Brown said that he did not "share all of Sensenbrenner's views" but agree that some "good thought had gone into them". Brown also noted (to chuckles from the audience) that he thinks that he "will be a little more sympathetic to the [Clinton] Administration" on this whole matter.

Subcommittee Dana Rohrabacher, also reading a prepared statement, said "Fiscal Year 1999 begins on the 40th anniversary of the establishment of NASA. And while our space agency has achieved much over the past 40 years, it is the future and not the past that is our focus today. In that context NASA's FY99 budget - if we can believe it - is a tiny step in the right direction for this agency, but it is not a giant leap for America's future in space."

Rohrabacher then touched on a theme which has gained a lot of attention in recent days - the fact that NASA's funding was on a decline amidst a flurry of increase for other science and technology programs. He said that "In a year where the President is proposing an overall increase for all research of 3%, he is cutting NASA by 3%. Even defense research - not a historic priority for this Administration - does better than space. And even this reduced cut could go up in a cloud of cigarette smoke when the tobacco settlement falls apart."

He noted that "this White House does not have an inspiring vision of space" - and that this is reflected in the current budget and "the lack of personal involvement" in the topic by the President. Rohrabacher noted that the Legislative branch of government had sought to fill this policy void by helping to determine where we need to go in space. He noted that he would be holding some hearings on "NASA at 40" which will be designed to help chart out a path for space policy in the next century.

Rohrabacher then moved onto a favorite topic of his: the commercialization of space - and NASA's less than lackluster efforts in this arena. He noted that "[it] is not that space commercialization will make NASA more cost effective. My point is that if NASA embraces the commercial space revolution, if NASA decides that its job is to explore and open up the frontier of space to the rest of the American people, instead of just carrying out a space program on their behalf, then NASA will become more relevant too." Rohrabacher said that there are 2 bills related to this topic which need to be passed and that he would be devoting a lot of energy to this issue in the coming legislative year.

Rohrabacher closed by tossing a challenge to Goldin "you have often said an agency that is pushing frontiers has to take risks. Well, it works both ways. Sometimes you have to take risks to just get to the frontier. You have to be willing to sacrifice old bureaucracies to create new enterprises, to abandon the comfortable past in order to invent a better future."

Dan Goldin read quickly from a prepared statement (with bells ringing all over for an impending vote on the House floor). Nothing remarkable was said.

X-33, Future X Reusable Liquid Flyback Boosters

Rohrabacher asked Goldin about the FY 99 budgets for a new Space Transportation system Liquid Flyback Boosters, RLVs, etc. noting that the word "operational" was used in describing these activities. He asked whether this was indeed a plan by NASA to operate a new system something which would "go back on our agreement". Goldin responded that he did not intend to subsidize an operational space transportation program but that the word 'operational' really meant the support of the operations of an advanced technology development program.

Rohrabacher asked Goldin about NASA's work with DoD. Goldin noted that NASA is in a position to provide advanced technology support to DoD - and that he is proud to do so, but that NASA, being a civilian agency is not in a position to build or operate any military systems.

ISS Cost Overruns and Raiding the Science Account

Rep. Gordon asked Goldin to explain where the funds to offset ISS cost overruns had come from and that he (Gordon) feared that other programs were being cannibalized to keep the ISS program afloat. Goldin responded by saying that these monies had been taken out of infrastructure and facilities accounts, and from savings achieved in the Earth Sciences program. Gordon then asked if the $2.1 B annual cap and the $17.4 Billion development cost cap for ISS were still good estimates. Goldin replied that he had both in-house and external studies underway looking at these estimates and that he did not want to comment until these studies were completed and the results analyzed. Gordon asked Goldin why these (new) numbers should be "any better" than earlier estimates. Goldin did not reply directly but did say that cost problems with Boeing were a chief cause for current overruns.

Rep. Roemer later asked if the ISS cost overrun is in the $900 Million to $1 Billion range. Goldin replied "Yes" but disputed the claims made by others that these overruns would hurt other programs. Roemer then asked Goldin to confirm that NASA would not be able to stay within the $2.1 Billion annual cap on ISS development costs. Goldin said that this was correct and that had NASA stayed under the cap this year that costs would have been higher in the out years.

Rep. Lampson also asked Goldin about the budget -specifically whether things are stable enough such that NASA can look down the road to where it wanted to be in 10-15-20 years including thoughts of going to the Moon and Mars. Goldin replied that building ISS has not been easy, but that he thinks that the budget picture is stable - today.

Lampson then asked whether money had been taken out of ISS development and whether this would affect the development of scientific experiments. Goldin replied tersely "No" saying "we have re-phased delivery of hardware" noting that this was done to match the pace of the rest of the ISS program, He also noted that NASA took advantage of this rephasing to reexamine the technology to be used on this hardware and to make it more efficient. He repeated that NASA did not "take a nickel out of [science] and that NASA will soon be submitting a research plan to Congress" which outlines how this research will be accomplished. Goldin pledged that "we will deliver every scientific facility we promised - and even more".

Rep. Bartlett continued on the same theme asking Goldin about the $600 Million borrowed from payload development asking Goldin whether this was done to compensate in any way for costs associated with Russia's delays. Goldin said that there was no connection. Bartlett then asked whether "reprogramming" these funds was another way to say that you "took it". Goldin replied forcefully that "No" and said that to build the hardware and then let wait until the ISS was in orbit made no sense. Goldin again said that there had been no cuts to the science budget and added that NASA has committed to having 900 principal investigators on board and that NASA has not deviated from implementing that plan.

Russian exports of Missile Technology and Russian ISS participation

Rep. Bartlett reminded Mr. Goldin of a statement Goldin had made during hearings in October 1993 when he said that if Russia violates the provisions of the Missile Control Regime that Russia's participation in the ISS program should end. Bartlett noted that he had seen credible reports in the media and from other government sources and that George Tenet (sp) from the CIA had recently testified that Iran had gotten rocket technology from Russia. Bartlett then asked Mr. Goldin to address this issue. Goldin replied that he was "looking to the foreign policy part of government for guidance on this issue". Bartlett asked if that meant that Goldin would proceed with ISS program "until told to do otherwise". Goldin repeated that he was awaiting guidance on this issue.

Miscommunication at NASA and Job cuts

Rep. Weldon has been rather vocal since last December with regard to cuts in the Space Shuttle workforce and the true reasons behinds these cuts. He has also blasted NASA for the manner in which it has handled the funding of advanced human exploration planning. In his opening remarks, Weldon said that he was disturbed with the poor communication between NASA, USA, and Congress and between USA and its workforce. At a press conference after the hearings, I asked Weldon if he found the lack of communication on this issue and that concerning NASA's funding of human exploration programs troubling. He said that he did find it to be troubling trend and that the cause was a White House trying to "squeeze the agency".

Weldon asked Goldin whether he can assure the Committee that he would stay inclose contact as things continue to develop regarding layoffs at USA. Goldin said that he would but that he wanted to hold USA responsible for managing their contract. Goldin said that he wants "The CEO's of USA and its parent companies to loose as much sleep as I do with regard to safety and personnel issues" Weldon responded that he wanted to have these CEOs before the committee at some point and then reminded Goldin that "we hold you accountable - and you hold them (USA) accountable. That is the pecking order".

Goldin then responded that he accepts total responsibility for safety on the Space Shuttle and that the companies which manage this contract "cannot hide behind NASA's coattails" After the hearing, when asked about Goldin's comments regarding USA, Weldon noted that he felt that Goldin was trying to dodge the issue and put the blame on USA.

Goldin was asked about the number of flights in FY 99 and the reasons for delays and slip sin schedules. Goldin replied that AXAF was part of the blame and that he expected to see it launched at the end of 1998. Goldin also noted that NASA was trying to manage the interval between launches and was looking at ways to have a queue of rapid response payloads in place to take advantage of quick turnaround opportunities. Goldin noted that he had directed OSF AA Joe Rothenberg to do a study on these rapid response payloads.

Human Missions to Mars

Rep. Roemer asked Goldin to comment on reports in Space News that NASA had put a halt to plans for human exploration of the Moon and Mars. He asked if plans to send humans to Mars in 2011 and related activities had been cancelled because of cost overruns in the ISS program. Goldin snapped back 'There is no human mission to Mars" Roemer then asked "So Space News is wrong?" to which Goldin replied "Yes". Goldin then went on to say that this all arose because of an internal NASA memo. He noted that NASA supports an open discussion process and that NASA is going to continue to explore these technologies.

Aeronautics and Corporate participation

Prompted by a question from Rep. Kucinich, Goldin described NASA's Aeronautics program. he noted that the FY 98 budget was $826 Million whereas the FY 99 request I for $786 Million - $40 Million less than FY 98. He explained the differential as being due to a phasing decision on NASA's work on a Mach 2.4 commercial transport. Goldin noted that NASA decided to put the development of the airframe and focus on the engine development. He noted that the high performance requirements on this engine were such that novel materials and processes needed to be developed. Goldin said that the engine needed to be commercially viable so as to avoid the problems that arose with the Concorde and to operate in an environmentally benign fashion so as to avoid damaging the atmosphere.

Rep. Rohrabacher asked Goldin for a funding profile to which Goldin replied $17 million in FY 99, $73 Million in FY 00; $97 Million in FY '01, $117 Million in FY '02, and $156 Million in FY '03. Rohrabacher then asked Goldin if there had been any funding contributions by the large aerospace concerns which would benefit from this work. Goldin said no, and that the long-lead aspect of this program (i.e. a vehicle on the runway in perhaps 20 years) precluded interest from these companies who often seek to have a much shorter return on their investments. Rohrabacher seemed a bit mystified as to why NASA had not sought any commercial partnering and suggested that NASA look into this noting that NASA should not give up without trying to arrange some sort of partnering. He then suggested that NASA consider an effort to see if there is any interest in a partnering activity with the private sector.

Solar Power Satellites and NASA's Reluctance

Rohrabacher moved to the topic of Solar Power Satellites, noting that there was bipartisan interest in this concept, and asked Mr. Goldin to comment on reports that the Committee had received that NASA had resisted putting $5 Million into the FY 99 budget for Solar Power Satellite studies. Rohrabacher noted that "I [would] think there'd be a little more interest in other long-lead technologies" Goldin replied that $2 Million had been reprogrammed at his request out of current budget to look at SPS and that there was $5 Million in the FY 99 and FY 00 budgets to get some studies started. Goldin noted that he had placed the responsibility for SPS work at MSFC. Goldin then sounded some notes of caution - saying that the SPS concept had tremendous risk and potential. He added that he "will not respond to rumors as to who on my staff said what to whom".

Rohrabacher then commented that he thought that if NASA would spend upwards of a billion dollars on a new engine that the idea of a clean energy source should also to be worthy of consideration for funding by NASA. Goldin replied that 'we have one study with a lot of questions. Too many times NASA has titillated the American public with things and then failed to deliver". he added that the SPS concept had a lot of other potentials - including the supply of energy for exploration missions and the development of ultra light weight construction materials. He then said that he was "against putting money into something simply because I have an excited young man bouncing off the walls".

Rohrabacher added that this SPS concept was one of those 'vision things' and that he had received a lot of interest from both parties. Goldin replied that NASA wanted to bring people into the SPS work from the power industry so as to more fully understand the market forces involved. He also added that if the industry is interested they should put a little money into the effort - even if it is only a few hundred thousand dollars.

Rohrabacher took note of an inconsistency here - that NASA had not sought industrial participation in a long lead technology project such as the Mach 2. aircraft but was seeking to get participation in a similarly long-lead activity such as SPS.

ISS launch delays and TransHab

Rep. Roemer asked Goldin about delays of the Russian Service Module and what effect this would have on the decision to use the ICM. Goldin replied that the Service Module is 2 to 3 months behind schedule but that the parts are in place and are being assembled. Meanwhile, an electrical test is underway in another facility. If that test is successful then they will ship the Service Module directly to Baikonur and complete testing there such that a December launch is still possible. Roemer asked when a decision needed to be made to use the ICM early to offset Service Module delays. Goldin replied that this would likely occur in March.

Roemer then asked about the TransHab and its relation to the US Hab Module. Goldin replied that NASA had about one year before a decision needed to be made as to whether to build and launch the US Hab or the TransHab. Goldin said that the decisions were based upon budgetary considerations in that the use of the TransHab as a replacement for the Hab module could save upwards of $100 Million.

NASA Layoffs, Skill Mix, and Workforce Diversity

Rep. Kucinich asked Goldin to describe his downsizing activities noting that people often interpret a buyout as being a prelude to layoffs. Goldin replied that 5,500 people have left NASA voluntarily without one forced layoff. Kucinich asked if Goldin felt that he could get to his target of 17,800 without a RIF to which Goldin replied that yes he thought NASA could do this noting that this was predicated on the "willingness of NASA people to move if need be" and that NASA's attrition rate would remain unchanged.

Rep. Lampson asked Goldin whether there was an ability to hire new people. Goldin replied that there as almost no hope of hiring at this time. He added that it would be "shameful to lay off people who have been with NASA for a while just to hire new people". Goldin went on to say that "you don't clean house and then hire new, younger people. I put a value on the people who are with us. That is a line I will not cross".

Rohrabacher noted that there has to be a distinction and a balance drawn between caring for the older generation and bringing in of new ideas. Lampson agreed and added that there needed to e a continuity of ideas between generations.

Goldin replied "I love young people - but you have to live within the government's rules. You can't just fire people because they have been with the agency just to hire young people. Instead, he added, "you need to separate people based upon seniority - not based on their performance".

Rep. Jackson-Lee revisited this issue later in the hearings. Goldin noted that if the intent is to have Space Shuttle program employment maintained at a steady level, then government should be managing the program. Goldin explained the USA cuts as being the result of a study done by USA wherein they determined that a lowered flight rate could allow USA to operate with fewer people while still maintaining safety.

Jackson-Lee pushed further on the manner in which USA decided to make these cuts by asking Goldin if there had been a phone call or a memo from NASA to USA directing hem that money was to be cut from USA's budget. Goldin replied simply that communications between NASA and USA had been poor and took credit for that situation. He then added that he expects no further layoffs and that the declining Shuttle tasks would be offset somewhat by an increase in ISS work such that some jobs would not be lost.

Jackson-Lee then asked Goldin to comment on NASA's progress with regard to workforce diversity. Goldin replied that NASA's small business record was (he believed) "the best in government". He then went on to say that his ability to do more was constrained by the downsizing environment and that all hiring is at a very low level. Goldin mentioned that diversity amid the SES ranks at NASA had been improving.

Jackson Lee ended with a stern admonition to NASA that "affirmative action has not been declared illegal" and she was "concerned that agencies try to hedge around the issue" and that "affirmative action does not extinguish merit."

More Americans on Mir?

Rep. Jackson-Lee asked Goldin whether Mir's operations would overlap those of ISS. Goldin replied that this (most recent mission is the last [America] mission to Mir. He added that NASA had not received request for further American crew members from RSA and said there would be no more Americans on Mir unless it was of direct benefit to the US

Global Warming True or False?

Rep. Bartlett suggested that a number of scientists do not agree "with Vice President Gore's view that we are in a global warming period". He added that he was concerned that these scientists were afraid to speak out for fear of losing their NASA funding. Goldin responded that "The Vice President wants NASA to seek truth". He added that "NASA has a wide open program peer reviewed by the external community. If people do not think we are doing something right, they should come forth. [At NASA] We do not punish people for coming forth.' Goldin said that he "would be happy to speak to these people on a one-to-one basis. I want people to feel free to come to NASA."

Space Commercialization - and lack thereof

Rep. Rohrabacher brought up NASA's request for $200 Million to cover ISS cost overruns noting that "I do not think NASA has done enough in the commercial area - one which could bring in much more than $900 Million (projected ISS program overrun) over the next 5 years. Goldin responded that the Chabrow committee was looking into these cost overruns and that he needs to wait for this study to be completed. Goldin then went on to mention that an agreement had been signed between NASA and Space Vest, an investment firm specializing in space related ventures. Goldin also noted that he had tasked OSF AA Joe Rothenberg to work on a commercialization plan which he expects to be completed in August 1998. Goldin then alluded to some other discussions NASA was having but declined to provide any further detail noting that he "cannot discuss [ongoing] negotiations with private firms", Goldin then repeated his pledge that at least 30% of the Space Station be committed to commercial activities and that this percentage could even go higher.

Rohrabacher replied that he wished to speed up the pace of space commercialization added that he'd like to see Wall Street getting involved in helping to settle these ISS cost overruns and that he wanted all of these space commercialization issues to be enacted into law "this year".

Final Questions from the Committee Chair

Rep. Rohrabacher asked two questions provided to him by Rep. Sensenbrenner. First, he asked Goldin if Congress gives NASA the $200 Million if Goldin could commit to the Committee that requests for additional transfers will not occur in FY 99? Goldin answered "yes"

Rohrabacher than asked that if this $200 Million transfer happens, if Goldin could assure that the ISS budget can cover all contingencies including Russian non -participation throughout the remaining development of ISS? Goldin replied that he could not give such an assurance inasmuch as unforeseen events such as hardware loss could not be predicted. Goldin added that if the Russians were no longer in the ISS program, NASA would require significant amounts of additional money in order to complete the ISS.

My dad almost flew with John Glenn

Rep. Rohrabacher closed the hearings by noting that his father had been a marine pilot and had been scheduled to fly on a speed-record breaking flight with John Glenn but that he had never gotten to make the flight with Glenn because his plane broke down.. Rohrabacher said that he commended NASA for its decision to fly John Glenn but added that we all shouldn't be playing games with this flight, the flight of Barbara organ, or anyone else for that matter. He felt that there were a number of reasons why you fly people with different backgrounds into space and suggested that the policy regarding non-astronauts in space needed to be reviewed.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on February 5, 1998 12:25 PM.

Mir Status Report 12 January 1998 was the previous entry in this blog.

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