Fiscal Year 2009 Appropriations Hearings (4-18-08)

  • April 10, 2008: House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration FY 2009 Budget
  • April 3, 2008: Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science hearing on NASA FY 2009 Budget Request and Justification
  • April 2, 2008: Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water hearing on the Energy Department's Budget Request and Justification for FY2009
  • March 13, 2008: House Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics hearing to Examine the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Fiscal Year 2009
  • March 11, 2008: House Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation of the hearing on "NIST’s FY 2009 Budget Request: What Are the Right Technology Investments to Promote U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness?"

House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration FY 2009 Budget
April 10, 2008

Witnesses
Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Committee Members Present
Chairman Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV)
Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI)
Michael Honda (D-CA)
Ranking Member Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R-NJ)

On April 10, the House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee held a hearing to examine the fiscal year (FY) 2009 budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Chairman Alan Mollohan (D-WV) began the hearing by congratulating NOAA scientists who received the Nobel Peace Prize for their participation in the Intergovernmental Panel report on Climate Change. While Mollohan expressed his pleasure that the administration requested an increase in NOAA’s budget for FY 2009, he noted his concern that the increase was not spread evenly across agency programs and that the increase was not enough to overcome the historically flat funding received by the agency as well as the flat funding levels planned over the next five years.

Ranking member Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) also seemed pleased with the increase requested by the administration, highlighting investments in the administration’s Ocean Initiative, and stating his interest in hearing about the current state of NOAA’s satellite programs, which would get the largest boost in FY 2009, increasing by $203 million over FY 2008 enacted levels.

Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, NOAA’s administrator was the sole hearing witness. Lautenbacher began his testimony by highlighting the accomplishments of NOAA in 2007, including the receipt of the Nobel Prize by NOAA scientists, progress on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-series (GOES-R), implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and the expansion of tsunami preparedness by the U.S.

Lautenbacher noted that the FY 2009 request “includes the level of resources necessary to carry out NOAA’s mission,” and that “we have focused our increases on satellite continuity and operations and maintenance support for our aircraft and NOAA vessels.”

Mollohan’s initial questions to Admiral Lautenbacher focused on the agency’s ability to fulfill its entire mission and congressional mandates with the proposed budget request. Lautenbacher responded that the agency has to prioritize its budget and that while he does not know how much it would cost NOAA to fulfill its entire mission he believed the number would be substantially higher than what is budgeted each year.

Frelinghuysen focused his questions on the status of NOAA’s satellites, requesting an update of GOES-R and international negotiations to maintain U.S. Earth observation data.  Lautenbacher stated that substantial progress had been made with our international partners at the recent summit in South Africa. China and Brazil agreed to share data from satellites that are similar to Landsat.  Lautenbacher also discussed the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between NOAA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for acquisition and management of GOES-R. Under the MOU the agencies’ roles have been clarified with the NOAA administrator controlling milestone authority.  GOES-R completed a milestone in 2007 with the contracting of the main instrument, the advanced baseline imager, but despite progress the launch of GOES-R will be delayed by four months due to shortfalls in the FY 2008 enacted budget.

Lautenbacher stated that if the launch dates of the satellites can be maintained there will be continuity in the data and that his concerns regarding data continuity arise with the launch of the GOES P-series, indicating if the launch is beyond 2011 then there will be problems.

A portion of the hearing was dedicated to Lautenbacher’s knowledge or input in the Commerce Department’s decision to transfer $27 million from NOAA’s FY 2008 budget to the 2010 census program.  Lautenbacher stated that this decision was made above him and that he was not consulted regarding the impacts the transfer would have on his agency. Mismanagement by the Census Bureau and the contractor, Harris Corporation, has resulted in an estimated shortfall of $160 to $230 million in FY 2008 and an additional $600 to $700 million is needed in the FY 2009 for the completion of the constitutionally mandated census.  The large amount of money needed to keep the 2010 census on track may strain the budgets of other agencies within the Commerce Department, including NOAA and NIST.

-MG

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science hearing on NASA FY 2009 Budget Request and Justification
April 3, 2008

Witnesses
Dr. Michael D. Griffin, NASA Administrator

Members Present
Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)

In her opening statement Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) expressed concern over the stagnant funding request for NASA in fiscal year (FY) 2009 stating “science at NASA saves lives, saves the planet, and creates jobs for the future, so I am puzzled why the President’s budget flat-funds NASA science this year and for the next five years.” The budget request of $17.6 billion is $300 million above the level enacted in the 2008 omnibus bill, but does not keep pace with inflation. 

Dr. Griffin testified that the President’s FY 2009 budget request funds a balanced set of strategic priorities that the administration has set out for space exploration, Earth and space science, and aeronautics research. He also stated that as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of NASA’s creation he is “concerned that our nation is now facing a silent Sputnik, a moment when many other countries are racing for a new high ground of innovation, while our own advantages technological, economic, intellectual are showing signs of wear.” Dr. Griffin said that the challenges our space program faces can be overcome with “a determined and unified sense of purpose.” 

The majority of Senator Mikulski’s remarks and questions during the course of the hearing centered on the retirement of the space shuttle in 2010 and the gap NASA will have in human flight capabilities until 2015. Senator Mikulski renewed her commitment to try and shorten the gap by offering an amendment during the appropriations process that would provide an additional billion dollars to NASA’s budget.  According to Dr. Griffin if $2 billion dollars is added to NASA’s budget over the next few years a new space shuttle can be in place by 2013, but the gap cannot be shorten beyond this timeframe due to planning and technical issues.

A portion of the hearing was devoted to the NASA’s Science Mission Directorate with Senator Mikulski noting that the request of $4.4 billion for the Science Mission Directorate is steady, but the plans only include the launch of five of the 17 recommended Earth science missions by 2020. She stated that the National Academy of Science’s (NAS) decadal reports are the “roadmaps for NASA science to ensure that science, not politics, drives the missions.”

Senator Mikulski also discussed the overruns in budget and delays for Earth observing missions and noted that according to the NAS 40% of the Earth observing sensors will not function unless they are replaced by the end of the decade. She asked about NASA’s plans to replace those sensors and satellites.

 Dr. Griffin mentioned that NASA is in a difficult period because the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program encountered some severe cost problems.  And with the de-scoping of the NPOESS mission NASA is scrambling to find solutions for the climate sensors which were planned for NPOESS. He also stated that NASA and the administration recognize the seriousness of the concern for replacing the sensors now in orbit.  He stated NASA is working on an aggressive plan to address the issue, but the recovery plan cannot happen instantaneously. Senator Mikulski responded by stating that the committee would like to continue a dialogue with NASA regarding sensor and Earth observing satellite capabilities. She also mentioned that of the 12 science missions planned four are over budget and eight are behind schedule.

Senator Mikulski’s opening statement is available at http://mikulski.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=295483

Dr. Griffin’s written testimony can be access at http://appropriations.senate.gov/hearings.cfm?s=com

-MG

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water hearing on the Energy Department's Budget Request and Justification for FY2009
April 2, 2008

Witnesses
Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, Under Secretary for Science, Department of Energy (DOE)
Alexander Karsner, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, DOE
David G. Frantz, Director, Loan Guarantee Program Office, Office of the Chief Financial Officer, DOE

Members Present
Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND)
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)
Ranking Member Peter Domenici (R-NM)
Senator Larry Craig (R-ID)
Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO)
Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS)

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water held a hearing to examine the President’s fiscal year 2009 budget request for the Office of Science, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), and the Loan Guarantee Program Office at DOE.

Senators Dorgan (D-ND) and Domenici (R-NM) emphasized that the programs under the purview of the witnesses represented the “A-Z” or “entire pipeline” of energy technology development and deployment needed to meet our energy challenges and that breakthroughs in energy technology are necessary to accomplish the goals set out in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007.

Dr. Raymond Orbach, Under Secretary for Science was the first witness to testify focusing on the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2009 budget request for the Office of Science.  The request for the Office of Science is $4.7 billion an increase of $749 million compared to FY 2008 enacted levels.  The broad base increases in the budget for the Office of Science are in support of the President’s American Competitive Initiative and Congress’s America COMPETES Act, which according to Orbach “recognize the pivotal role of the Office of Science in securing the advantages that basic research as well as science, math, and engineering education can bring to the Nation.”

Dr. Orbach highlighted some of the planned FY 2009 initiatives, including the establishment of Energy Frontier Research Centers, which will focus on advancing energy technologies including research in “solar energy utilization; geosciences related to the long-term storage of nuclear waste and carbon dioxide; advanced nuclear energy systems; solid state lighting; and superconductivity.”

Mr. Alex Karsner testified regarding the EERE FY 2009 budget request of $1.255 billion, which is $19 million more than the FY 2008 budget request, but $467 million less than FY 2008 enacted levels. Karsner stated “EERE’s budget request supports priority R&D and the achievement of stated goals.”  It is estimated that the rapid and broad base deployment of EERE technologies into the market could save consumers $600 billion by 2030 and $4 trillion cumulatively by 2050.  Additionally, advancement of EERE technologies could prevent 6 gigatons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere by 2030 and 50 gigatons by 2050.

The final witness, Mr. Frantz, discussed the loan guarantee program, which provides funds for demonstration and pilot projects that advance final stage energy projects to commercial viability.

The majority of questions asked by the Senators were directed at Karsner and the decline in the EERE budget. In response to questions about the programs under EERE, Karsner expressed his excitement for the geothermal program and the opportunity that exists to galvanize the area of research. Senator Dorgan (D-ND) voiced his concerns about the declining hydrogen technology budget, which is $50 million less than what was spent three years ago and the reduction in investments in solar energy.  Senators Murray (D-WA) and Craig (R-ID) questioned Karsner and Orbach about the research programs being undertaken in the national labs located in their states, namely hydropower and biofuel programs in Washington and advanced vehicle research in Idaho.

Frantz also received a fair number of questions as senators expressed their frustration at the pace of program, which was authorized in 2005, but will only begin to grant loans this year.

The written testimony of the witnesses can viewed at http://appropriations.senate.gov/hearings.cfm?s=erg.

-MG

House Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics hearing to Examine the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Fiscal Year 2009
March 13, 2008

Witnesses
Dr. S. Alan Stern, Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate
Dr. Lennard A. Fisk, Chair, Space Studies Board, National Research Council
Dr. Berrien Moore III, Executive Director, Climate Central; Chair, Committee on Earth Studies, National Research Council
Dr. Steven W. Squyres, Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University
Dr. Jack O. Burns, Professor, Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, University of Colorado

Members
Chairman Tom Udall (D-CO)
Representative Laura Richardson (D-CA)
Ranking Member Tom Feeney (R-FL)
Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX)

Chairman Tom Udall (D-CO) and Ranking Member Tom Feeney (R-FL) opened the hearing with remarks about the importance of the Science Mission Directorate and their concerns about under funding for all programs in fiscal year 2009 and beyond. Udall stated “For example, the National Academies estimated that some $7 billion would be required over the next 12 years to carry out the 15 NASA Earth Science missions recommended in the Decadal Survey.  However, the Administration’s budget plan for the next five years would allocate less than $1 billion to that effort.”

The subcommittee provided the following questions for the witnesses to address and versions of these questions were also asked by the members during the question and answer period. The geoscience community should consider these questions as these issues are the focus of policymakers who will determine the short and long term investments in NASA.

Key questions for the SMD from the subcommittee are:
• What are the goals of the Science Mission Directorate over the next five years? What are the challenges in meeting those goals?
• What threat do the eight science missions exceeding Congressionally-set cost and schedule thresholds pose for NASA’s FY 09 science budget and plans?
• Can the ambitious program proposed in the FY 09 be executed on a budget assumed to grow at the rate of inflation? What is the contingency strategy?
• Will NASA’s approach to technology development provide adequate risk reduction for current projects and currently planned major new initiatives?
• Are NASA’s science programs balanced?
• What is the status of NASA’s planning to support launches of medium-class science missions? To what degree is the availability of launch vehicles affecting strategic plans for the Science Mission Directorate?

Key questions for the Earth Science program from the subcommittee are:
• How sustainable is a budget wedge for Earth Science missions that is built on cuts to other NASA science programs?
• What is the status of climate sensors removed from the NPOESS platform and how do those plans affect NASA’s NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP)?
• What lessons have been learned from the challenges related to the NPP and NPOESS programs and the remanifesting of climate sensors that were removed from the NPOESS platform? How does NASA plan to apply those lessons to the new Earth Science missions being planned?
• What is NASA’s role in the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) and what are the benefits of GEOSS to the U.S? What should it be? What has been accomplished since the strategic plan for GEOSS was issued three years ago?

Overall the President’s FY 09 budget request would provide $1.3675 billion for NASA’s Earth Science program, a 6.8 percent increase over the FY08 appropriation. Future budget planning would provide an increase of $910 million  over five years to initiate only the first two Earth science missions and start planning on three additional missions recommended in the National Academies Earth science decadal survey. About $570 million of the increase created for the decadal survey missions is funded through the transfer of funding from other science divisions, resulting in reductions in the Mars Exploration Program, a delay to the Solar Probe mission and other programmatic cuts. In addition this funding outlook does not come close to meeting the $500 million annual increase recommended by the National Academies decadal survey report to bring the program back to its fiscal year 2000 funding level and enable the decadal recommendations.

With this background, Alan Stern testified that the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) was progressing well toward its goals. He called progress on the Earth science decadal survey a “head turning start”. NASA has supported 90 flight missions and over 3,000 research grants and Stern called the SMD “healthy, vigorous and a model for the world”. He also noted a need to rebalance the portfolio and emphasized two priorities, accelerating progress on the Earth science decadal survey and building a lunar science community. The biggest problem, SMD faces is cost overruns for missions, according to Stern, and he indicated that future missions will be chosen based on their budget profile and ability to stay within costs. SMD will consider de-scoping or re-scoping some missions and will look for greater international collaborations. Stern finally noted that the outer planet mission and the Mars lander mission cannot be completed at the same time and will have to be planned in sequence with the outer planet mission proceeding first.

Dr. Fisk, Chair of the Space Studies Board, National Research Council noted the space science program is moving in the right direction but cannot carry out its mission with a growth rate of only one percent per year. The Earth science budget has decreased by about $500 million per year since 2000 and the budget outlook for the future would only provide a total of $600 million over the next five years. Fisk concluded the Earth science programs as well as all of the other programs have too few resources to accomplish too many tasks and funding restrictions need to be lifted. Fisk also commented on the NASA workforce. The NASA workforce is strongly peaked at 45-49 and there is a shortage of young skilled workers coming into the space program. It will be difficult to convince the best and brightest to join the space program when the program is clearly not a national priority. There is also a problem with training, as the Earth science program shrinks there are fewer opportunities for hands-on learning by university students.

Dr. Berrien Moore III, the Chair of the Committee on Earth Studies at the National Research Council focused on the budget shortfalls for Earth science missions. Moore requested budget increases for Earth science above the President’s request. The decadal survey also asked the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) to conduct a study about implementing a plan for achieving and sustaining Earth observations. OSTP is now working on this report and Moore hopes it will be ready soon to help guide NASA on Earth observing priorities.

Dr. Steven Squyres, Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University said that the funding increase for lunar science was great news while the funding cuts for Mars exploration was bad news. A recent Mars program architecture study suggests the budget request does not contain enough funding for technology development for future Mars missions. In addition the projected cost of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission in 2018 to 2020 of $3.5 billion is probably only about half of its real cost and based on budget projections, two earlier Mars missions in 2013 and 2016 would have to be canceled in order to even consider supporting a $3.5 billion MSR in 2018 or later.

Chairman Udall and Ranking Member Feeney asked many questions about the costs of missions, whether there was enough funding to carry out objectives and how SMD was setting priorities for the future. The witnesses responded by providing more information about individual missions and priorities.  Two interesting discussions stand out from the normal budgetary and policy discussions of typical hearings.

At one point, Congressman Rohrabacher took the hearing into a slightly different direction when he asked a question about funding priorities for near-Earth object detections versus exoplanet discoveries. Rohrabacher noted that the Arecibo radio telescope has been slated for termination yet experts have told him that the radio telescope is useful for detecting near-Earth objects (NEOs) that might hit the Earth. Arecibo is funded by the National Science Foundation, not NASA, however, Rohrabacher wanted Dr. Stern to explain why a $5 million radio telescope “that might save millions of lives” is not a priority while a $500 million mission to detect exoplanets is a priority. Dr. Stern indicated that Arecibo was not necessary to detect objects that might hit Earth, while Dr. Squyres suggested the radio telescope could make a contribution. Rohrabacher then thanked Dr. Stern for being the first person to indicate that Arecibo was not necessary to detect NEOs and concluded that the lack of funding for the telescope was “bureaucratic game playing” between agencies.

At another point, Dr. Feeney was asked about the future Earth and space science work force and he commented that it was extremely important to get children excited about space. Dr. Squyres then noted that he had recently spoken to thousands of school children on Ford Field (Detroit Lions indoor football stadium) about the Mars missions. The children were all corralled at one end zone and Dr. Squyres stood at mid-field showing them images of Mars and talking about science. He suggested this was a grand way to reach a large audience of the next generation of Earth and space scientists.

The hearing concluded with three images of the martian surface provided by Dr. Squyres. He noted it was day 1491 of the 90 day Mars Exploration Mission and the two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity were still working hard to explore the surface, make bold discoveries and return beautiful images. Everyone left excited about space exploration, even with the current funding challenges.

Written testimony, opening statements and other relevant documents from the hearing are available at the committee web site at http://science.house.gov/publications/hearings_markups_details.aspx?NewsID=2119

-LR

House Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation of the hearing on "NIST’s FY 2009 Budget Request: What Are the Right Technology Investments to Promote U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness?"
March 11, 2008

Witnesses
Dr. James Turner, Acting Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Dr. James Serum, Chairman, NIST Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology
Dr. Mary Good, Founding Dean, George W. Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, AR
Dr. Peter Fiske, Vice President for Research and Development, PAX Scientific, Inc.
Mr. Michael Coast, President, Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center and
Chairman of the Board, American Small Manufacturers Coalition

Members Present
Chairman David Wu (D-OR)
Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)

Dr. Turner, the acting director for NIST, testified that the agency would receive a 22 percent increase for core research in the President’s budget request compared to enacted funding in fiscal year (FY) 2008. The increase is consistent with the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), which calls for a doubling of research funding at NIST over 10 years. The budget proposal includes 17 initiatives, of which 5 are new. Under the most urgent environment, safety and security concerns, Turner included Climate Change Science: Measurements and Standards, National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and the Disaster Resilient Structures and Communities initiatives. All three are high priorities and involve geoscience and geo-engineering research. Turner’s written testimony also mentions some tough times for NIST because the FY2008 budget was well below the requested level. In particular NIST faces a budget shortfall of $13.5 million for salary and other anticipated costs and $15 million for facilities. These shortfalls will require NIST to slow down new hires and facility maintenance and repair.

While the budget request for NIST includes an essential increase for research, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP with $89 million in FY2008) and the Technology Innovation Program (TIP, with $65 million in FY2008) would be essentially zeroed out in the President’s budget request for FY 2009. Chairman Wu noted in his written remarks “The COMPETES Act clearly established Congressional priorities for NIST.  However, the budget request this year largely ignores any of Congress’ input.  The request is 28 percent lower than NIST’s FY09 authorization.  In fact, NIST is the only science agency included in COMPETES whose budget request is actually lower this year than last year.” Specifically the America COMPETES Act (Public Law 110-69) calls for funding for MEP and TIP, which are not included in the request.

In addition, the America COMPETES Act required NIST to deliver a 3-year programmatic planning document (reviewed by the NIST Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology) to Congress at the time of the submission of the President’s budget. NIST delivered the document in February 2008, however, Chairman Wu indicated that the document falls short of its mandate because it leaves out some programs and does not lay out a strategic plan that is suitable for the competitive challenges of the 21st century.

The second witness, Dr. Serum, the chair of the NIST VCAT, agreed with Chairman Wu’s concerns about the plan. He suggested NIST was “dramatically underfunded” and that the committee has consistently called for a more effective strategic plan. There are about 700 measurements needed right now across many industries and NIST needs a “visible” process for setting priorities about which measurements to complete first. Dr. Serum also noted the importance of “ad hoc” studies, such as the World Trade Center Disaster, but cautioned that care was needed to manage external influences. He also noted the proactive partnerships between NIST and other agencies and specifically highlighted the Hollings Marine Laboratory in South Carolina run in partnership with NOAA as a good example.

The other three witnesses focused most of their oral comments on the termination of MEP and TIP and called on Congress to re-instate funding for these programs. Chairman Wu and Representative Ehlers seemed very supportive of MEP and TIP. Both programs were authorized for more than $100 million each for FY 2009 in the America COMPETES Act and Chairman Wu went as far as to suggest that the Administration “obey the law” when it comes to funding for these programs.

-LR

Sources: Hearing testimony, GAO.

Contributed by Linda Rowan, AGI Director of Government Affairs and Marcy Gallo, Government Affairs Staff

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on April 11, 2008