Report from Washington, D.C.
NASA's proposed FY 2011 budget came under close scrutiny by both House and Senate lawmakers in March. During several hearings, lawmakers and aerospace industry veterans cited astronaut safety, commercial viability, workforce impacts, and a lack of program details as their most pressing concerns.
On March 3, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced S. 3068, a new bill aimed at closing the expected space flight gap. If passed, the bill would add $3.4 billion to NASA's budget between 2010 and 2012 to extend operation of the Space Shuttleand give the U.S. more time to develop the Shuttle's replacement. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL) and Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) introduced H.R. 4804, the Human Spaceflight Capability Assurance and Protection Act, to serve as a companion bill to S. 3068. Both bills have been referred to the respective Committees of jurisdiction, where they await further action.
On March 4, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee to outline specifics on their $119.6 billion budget proposal for FY 2011. Secretary Donley addressed concerns over the Joint Strike Fighter program, cybersecurity, and bids for the tanker refueling program.
On March 10, the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee held a hearing on military space programs that included:
- Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space programs
- Gary Federici, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence and space
- Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander, Air Force Space Command
- Lt. Gen. Larry D. James, commander, 14th Air Force, Air Force Space Command, and commander, Joint Functional Component Command for Space, U.S. Strategic Command
- Vice Adm. David J. Dorsett, deputy chief of Naval operations for information dominance and director of Naval intelligence
- Christina Chaplain, Government Accountability Office.
Senators on the Subcommittee expressed their satisfaction with the progress of several space acquisition programs, but said they remained concerned with the problems that have plagued the Department of Defense (DoD)'s space program management.
On March 18, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing on Assessing Commercial Space Capabilities. The Committee heard from:
- Lt. Gen. Thomas Stafford, USAF (Retired)
- Bryan O'Connor, chief, safety and mission assurance, NASA
- Dr. George C. Nield, associate administrator for commercial space transportation, FAA
- Malcolm Peterson, former NASA comptroller
- Michael Gass, president and chief executive officer, United Launch Alliance
- Frank Culbertson Jr., senior vice president and deputy general manager, advanced programs group, Orbital Sciences Corporation
- Gwynne Shotwell, president, SpaceX.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) suggested President Obama should revamp NASA's budget with alternatives that would make it more palatable to members of Congress, including funds to accelerate the development of a heavy-lift rocket and adding an additional space shuttle mission.
On March 23, the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee held a hearing on the proposed NASA FY 2011 budget. Members expressed concern over the lack of details in the proposed budget, such as justification documents. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who was the only witness, said that he understood the concerns and promised more program information would be released to them soon.
On March 23, the House Armed Service Committee Panel on Defense Acquisition Reform voted unanimously to approve a final version of its report on the defense acquisition system. The report signified the conclusion to a year-long review of issues that have plagued defense acquisition. The Panel found the defense acquisition has not kept pace with the needs of the DoD since the end of the Cold War.
On March 24, the House Science and Technology Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss President Obama's proposed changes to NASA's exploration program. The Subcommittee heard from:
- A. Thomas Young, former Lockheed Martin executive
- Doug Cooke, associate administrator, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, NASA
Members and witnesses discussed issues of safety, workforce impacts, and allegations of NASA improperly using appropriated funds to shut down Constellation contracts.