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Member Speeches :: June 12, 2008

On H.R. 6063, the NASA Authorization Act of 2008

Remarks on the U.S. House of Representatives Floor

 On H.R. 6063, the NASA Authorization Act of 2008

June 12, 2008

By

HON. BART GORDON [D-TN]

Chairman, Committee on Science and Technology

 

Today I am asking my colleagues in the House to ensure this country’s leadership in space and aeronautics programs by passing H.R. 6063, the “NASA Authorization Act of 2008.”

First, I want to thank and commend Chairman Udall of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics for his leadership in introducing this bill and for taking a clear bipartisan approach to the development of H.R. 6063.  I was pleased to be an original co-sponsor of H.R. 6063.  But I was even more pleased that the Ranking Minority Member of our Committee on Science and Technology, Mr. Hall of Texas, and the Ranking Minority Member of our Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Mr. Feeney of Florida, were also original co-sponsors.  Their actions show that the importance of NASA’s future in space and aeronautics is truly a bipartisan concern, and I want to thank them for their full support.  In that regard, I’d also like to thank Ed Feddeman, Ken Monroe, Katy Crooks, and Lee Arnold of the Minority staff for their help on this legislation.  I’d also like to acknowledge the hard work of the Majority staff involved in the development of the bill:  Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Staff Director Dick Obermann, Allen Li, Pam Whitney, Devin Bryant, and John Piazza.  This bill passed the Subcommittee and the full Committee unanimously, and I think that record is in no small part due to the hard work that that both sides of the aisle put into this legislation. 

As we look to the transition to a new Administration next year, it is important that Congress send a strong message on the best future course for the nation’s space and aeronautics programs.  The bipartisan consensus we have reached on H.R. 6063 signals that Congress believes a balanced NASA program of science, aeronautics, and human spaceflight and exploration is important and worthy of the nation’s support.

Yet, I want to emphasize that H.R. 6063 takes a fiscally-responsible approach to providing that support.

The baseline authorization represents a 2.8 percent increase---which is inflationary at best---over the level authorized for FY 2008 in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 that was enacted into law.  The bill also includes a special funding augmentation to accelerate the development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle and thus minimize the human spaceflight “gap” that will make us dependent on the Russians to get our astronauts to and from the International Space Station until the CEV is operational.

I don’t think any of us looks forward to the day when we must rely on another nation to launch U.S. astronauts into space, but that is what we face.  I want to minimize that dependence as much as possible.  However, even including that augmentation, the total funding authorization will only get us back to NASA’s Fiscal Year 1992 funding level in terms of purchasing power.  H.R. 6063’s baseline authorization also reflects the importance of NASA to the nation’s innovation agenda.  NASA’s science and technology activities contribute much to our national competitiveness initiative, and I think we need to recognize NASA’s role in that regard.

NASA was included in last year’s America COMPETES Act, but we didn’t include an authorization then since we knew we would be reauthorizing NASA this year.  H.R. 6063 does that by providing a baseline authorization for NASA that includes a rate of increase over the FY 2008 appropriated level that is consistent with the rate of increase proposed for agencies included under the America COMPETES Act. 

This bill includes many provisions that are critical to ensuring the future strength of our nation, including both the future health of our aviation system and our ability to better understand and respond to climate change and the other changes facing the Earth system.  It isn’t always recognized that NASA accounts for some ¾ of the nation’s climate research funding, and it is a critical part of the nation’s climate research efforts.

In addition, H.R. 6063 demonstrates that a properly structured human space flight and exploration program can provide benefits of technological, scientific, and geopolitical significance that are worthy of our nation’s investment.  This bill also includes provisions that will ensure a productive return on the nation’s investment in developing and assembling the International Space Station and encourage the use of commercial services to transport cargo and eventually crew to and from the Station.  We need to ensure that NASA has sufficient resources for all of these and the other important tasks that the nation is asking it to carry out—and I believe this bill does that.

The United States has been a global leader in technology and innovation for decades.  However, an esteemed committee of the National Academies raised a deep concern in its ground-breaking report Rising above the Gathering Storm:

that the scientific and technological building blocks critical to our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength.”

With China, India, and other global players committed to building robust aeronautics and space programs, it is incumbent on the United States to rise to the challenge.  This year is the 50th anniversary of the dawn of the space age and the 50th anniversary of the creation of NASA.  NASA has been one of the “crown jewels” of the nation’s R&D enterprise over the past fifty years.

I want to ensure that it remains so for the next fifty, and I believe this bill will help turn that into a reality.

This bill has been endorsed by a host of organizations ranging from the American Association of Universities to the National Association of Manufacturers.  I think all of those endorsements speak volumes about the good provisions that are in this bill.  I urge my colleagues in Congress to support H.R. 6063 to ensure America’s continued leadership and accomplishments in space and aeronautics over the next 50 years.


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Bart Gordon, Chairman
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