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Summary of Hearings on Earth Observations and Space Policy


  • Dec 1, 2010: Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Science and Space Subcommittee Hearing "Transition and Implementation, NASA Authorization Act of 2010" (S. 3729)
  • July 22, 2010: House Science and Technology Committee Markup on National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 5781)
  • June 29, 2010: House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Hearing on “Setting New Courses for Polar Weather Satellites and Earth Observations”
  • May 26, 2010: House Science and Technology Committee Hearing to Review the Proposed National Aeronautics and Space Administration Human Spaceflight Plan
  • February 24, 2010: House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Hearing on FY2011 Budget for Science and Technology
  • February 3, 2010: House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Hearing on Key Issues and Challenges Facing NASA: Views of the Agency’s Watchdogs
  • November 19, 2009: The House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Hearing on “The Growth and Global Space Capabilities: What’s Happening and Why it Matters
  • October 21, 2009: Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and Space Hearing on "The Case for Space: Examining the Value"
  • July 23, 2009: House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Hearing on “Federal Geospatial Data Management and H.R. 2489”
  • July 16, 2009: House Science and Technology Committee Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Hearing on “Enhancing the Relevance of Space to Address National Needs”
  • June 17, 2009: House Science and Technology Committee Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Hearing on “Continuing Independent Assessment of the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System”

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Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Space and Science Subcommittee Hearing "Transition and Implementation, NASA Authorization Act of 2010" (S. 3729)
December 1, 2010

The Honorable John Holdren
Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
The Honorable Elizabeth Robinson
Chief Financial Officer, NASA
Ms. Cristina Chaplain
Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, U.S. Government Accountability Office
Ms. Susan A. Poling
Managing Associate General Counsel, U.S. Government Accountability Office

Subcommittee Members Present
Bill Nelson, Chairman (D-FL)
David Vitter, Ranking Member (R-LA)
Mark Warner (D-VA)

Committee Members Present
Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Mark Begich (D-AK)

Other Members Present
George Lemieux (R-FL)

The Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space held a hearing on December 1 to discuss the implementation of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (S. 3729), which was signed into law by President Obama on October 14. The act authorizes new initiatives for NASA and terminates projects under the Constellation program for human spaceflight to the moon and beyond. Without explicit funding from a fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget, however, implementing these changes may be difficult. No budget for FY 2011 has been passed since the fiscal year started in October, and the interim continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government at FY 2010 levels contains no guidance for implementation of the new NASA programs.

According to Chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL), full implementation of the authorization act is still possible. Though citing “uncertainty of the actual funding level,” Nelson expressed confidence that NASA has “a funding map and blue print on what [it] can, should, and will do, in the next few fiscal years.” In his opening statement, Nelson noted that a year-long CR would make available more than 98 percent, or $18.7 billion of the $19 billion that Congress authorized in the act.

Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) added that the act had passed unanimously in the Senate and with overwhelming support in the House. Vitter, Nelson, and other members present believed that the Administration had resisted passage of the bill and may oppose implementation, due to cost concerns for human spaceflight.

To clarify the administration’s plans for implementation, the subcommittee called on John Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and Elizabeth Robinson Chief Financial Officer of NASA, both of whom claimed full compliance with the act would be reached.

“It is the law of the land. We intend to implement it. We support it,” claimed Holdren. 

Cristina Chaplain of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), noted that full implementation of the act may be difficult under a CR, due to restrictions on “new starts” and cancellations. Susan Poling, the Managing Associate General Counsel at GAO clarified that programs such as Constellation could not be terminated, and other programs could not be started, until new appropriations were issued.

Robinson assured committee members that NASA can implement most of the changes required in the act without cancelling or starting new programs, but specific projects may find it difficult to obtain necessary funds. Robinson referred to implementation of a CR as “a complex juggling act,” admitting that implementation within the last 3 months has been a challenge to the NASA workforce.  

Implementation of the authorization act will require a major transition for several programs within NASA, namely Constellation and the development of the Orion crew vehicle and Ares launch vehicles under that program. The act redirects funds away from the Constellation program, which was projecting large cost overruns for its human space flight projects. The aim of the program was to return to the Moon and eventually transport a manned spacecraft to Mars. The act preserves those goals, but without the timeline and financial commitment required by the Constellation program. The original legislation drafted by the administration more clearly stated its intent to “cancel the Constellation program,” but that language was highly objected to by several Senators, including Bill Nelson.

Other sections in the act request greater coordination of Earth Science research programs between NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The act directs NASA to consider implementation of “missions identified” in the Earth Science Decadal Survey of the National Research Council (NRC), and to restructure the National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) as well.

Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) asked witnesses about the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program, expressing his own support for the project. Holdren agreed, stating that personnel at OSTP believe the project will create a valuable new system for space exploration. Holdren noted that the commercial space craft Falcon IX had been scheduled to launch on December 7 and would become the first reentry project developed by a commercial enterprise.

Holdren expressed interest in aeronautics programs for the development of more fuel efficient aircraft as well, and indicated that the authorization act increases funds for the aeronautics program by $422 million.

The budget gap may be more problematic for other programs, including the 21st century launch center that Robinson singled out as a project that could be delayed while funds are short. That program would modernize the launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Funding the Jim Webb Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Telescope, may also be difficult, according to panelists, because the project is $1.5 billion over its $5 billion budget.

Nelson closed the hearing by demanding greater collaboration between Congress and the administration officials responsible for development and implementation of NASA programs and related legislation. “To put it in vernacular we can all get hitched up in the same harness pulling in the same direction. What’s at stake is very, very important, and that is the future of our American Space Program.”

Testimony from the witnesses, a statement from the majority, and archived video are available at the Senate Commerce, Science and Technology Committee’s web site.

House Science and Technology Committee Markup on National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 5781)
July 22, 2010

The House Committee on Science and Technology met to markup the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 5781). NASA’s current authorization expires at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2010. President Obama’s FY 2011 budget proposed dramatic changes to NASA’s programs, including terminating the Constellation program and putting more emphasis on commercial space flight. The House Science and Technology committee held a hearing on the issue of human spaceflight on May 26, 2010. Following this hearing, Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), along with Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX), Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and Pete Olson (R-TX), drafted this bill which, according to Gordon, creates a “a balanced, sustainable exploration program that will allow NASA to live within its means.”

The NASA Reauthorization Act authorizes NASA at the president’s requested level of $19 billion, with $5 billion for Science and $1.8 billion for Earth Science for FY 2011. In FY 2012 Science would receive $5.2 billion, with $1.94 for Earth Science, and finally in FY 2013, Science would receive $5.57 billion and Earth Science $2.09 billion. A complete listing of the President’s request can be found here, and a complete list of the authorization amounts can be found in the section-by-section analysis of the bill here.  

The authorization extends the International Space Station (ISS) program to at least 2020. An amendment passed by a voice vote requires NASA’s administrator to produce a report on the equipment and resources necessary to keep ISS running until 2020.

The bill instructs NASA to develop a crew transportation vehicle that will minimize the human space flight gap after the current shuttles are retired. This program will support the development of a heavy lift launch vehicle to enable crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit. Gordon stressed that “the new program builds on the investment and advancements already made in the Constellation program and will provide an exciting and productive program that will be paced by available funding.”

The proposed bill authorizes funding for NASA’s education programs at the president’s requested level of $146 million. Donna Edwards (D-MD) introduced an amendment to establish a pilot program for hands on space, science and engineering education with an emphasis on technology, which passed without opposition. Besides the provisions that will enhance the contributions of NASA’s existing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs, the committee voted to direct NASA to consider rural communities and communities with minority students when implementing their education programs. This section of the bill was amended to direct NASA, in conjunction with the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation, to address the lack of minority teachers especially in STEM disciplines.

To help develop commercial space flight capabilities, the bill provides $300 million in loans and loan guarantees and $150 million in commercial crew transportation-related activities. In order to ensure the competitiveness of U.S. commercial spaceflight, the committee voted to give U.S. launch capability preference over the Russian space program to shuttle U.S. astronauts to the ISS.

At the markup, the committee heavily amended the bill, adding provisions that: direct NASA to study spacesuit technology and life support systems; establish a Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research Program; upgrade the infrastructure at the Kennedy Space Center to support 21st century space programs; require the NASA administrator to assess what facilities require maintenance; report on the necessity of radiation testing on non-human primates; instructs the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to appoint a federal agency (or agencies) to be responsible for near Earth object observation and interception; and maintain a “launch on need” shuttle through the end of 2011.

After removing some controversial language, the committee voted to require NASA to report on the extent and degree to which their climate data overlaps with data from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. This amendment, introduced by Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), is in response to the December, 2009 incident in which emails between climate scientists were stolen from East Anglia computers, selectively edited and then used as evidence that the scientists were manipulating the data to make global warming appear more severe than it is. Although these scientists have been exonerated by three separate investigations in the United Kingdom, some members of Congress continue to doubt the science.

The committee considered the fate of the shuttles that are currently being decommissioned by NASA. Congressman David Wu (D-OR) introduced an amendment to require NASA to consider geographical diversity when finding a permanent home for the retired shuttles, which passed in a voice vote. A similar amendment, which also narrowly passed, took out language that prioritized locations that have been involved in the launching and operations of the space shuttles.

Finally, the committee voted to reduce the authorization period to 3 years, instead of 5. Gordon said that he hoped the economic climate will be better in 3 years and that the government will have more money to put towards NASA programs. With theses changes, the bill was reported out of committee favorably.

A number of amendments did not pass, including amendments that would have taken money from the Space Exploration fund for specific purposes, an amendment that would have increased the funding for commercial space flight, and one that would have removed the funding for commercial space flight altogether. The committee voted down an amendment introduced by James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) that would have inserted the words Congress “supports Constellation” into the bill. Gordon argued that since they are not authorizing funding for a program like Constellation, they cannot claim that they support it.

The committee chose not to support Rohrabacher’s amendment calling for a report on the Chinese space program and its relationship to the Chinese military. Rohrabacher also introduced an amendment that would have prohibited exchanges between NASA personnel and the People’s Republic of China, which was voted down.

More information, including opening statement from the chair and the text of the bill can be found here, as well as a video archive of the entire markup.


House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Hearing on “Setting New Courses for Polar Weather Satellites and Earth Observations”
June 29, 2010

Shere Abbott
Associate Director, Energy and Environment Division, Office of Science and Technology Policy
Mary Glackin
Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Christopher Scolese
Associate Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Gil Klinger
Director, Space and Intelligence Office, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Department of Defense
David Powner
Director, Information Technology Management Issues, Government Accountability Office

Subcommittee Members Present
Brad Miller, Chairman (D-NC)
Paul Broun, Ranking Member (R-GA)
Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA)
Brian Bilbray (R-CA)

Full Committee Members Present
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)

The House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight met to discuss the restructuring of the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) and its implications for the future of polar weather satellites and Earth observations. NPOESS was created 15 years ago as a joint project between the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The project has been riddled with delays and was scaled back from 6 satellites to 4 because of conflict of the agencies’ priorities and management structures. The proposed restructuring creates two separate polar satellite programs. NOAA and NASA will run the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) which will run an afternoon orbit, while DOD’s Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) will run an early morning orbit.

Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) acknowledged that NPOESS was poorly managed stating, “The tri-agency management board proved incapable of making decisions and taking action when most needed.” However, he expressed concern that splitting the program into two programs may not be a quick fix, and that we might end up with two programs with the same problems. Ranking Member Paul Broun (R-GA) lamented the fact that a program designed to save money and avoid duplication was over schedule and over budget.

The witnesses representing NOAA, NASA, DOD, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) are all in favor of the changes and hopeful that, separately, the agencies will be able to meet their observational requirements. Shere Abbott, associate director of the Energy and Environment division at OSTP, believes that the restructuring maximizes the efficiencies of each agency and that the partnership failed because of the agencies’ different philosophies and objectives. Mary Glackin, a NOAA official, assured the subcommittee that a smooth transition was possible and that NOAA could launch its first JPSS satellite in 2014. Christopher Scolese, associate administrator at NASA said that his agency will continue to work closely with NOAA, especially in the field of acquisitions. Finally, Gil Klinger, director of DOD’s Space and Intelligence Office, assured the subcommittee that the agencies will still work together to ensure the continuity of environmental data because DOD will still rely on NOAA for their ground system. He expects the first DWSS satellite to launch in 2018.

David Powner, director of Information Technology Management Issues at the Government Accountability Office, raised many potential problems with the proposed restructuring, stating, “We are far from fixing the problem.” He said that neither NOAA’s nor DOD’s new programs are clearly defined and lack detailed budgets and schedules. Powner raised concerns about contract termination costs associated with the transition, and the risk of losing key staff members. Moreover, Powner said that the GAO reports indicate that “the major issues that led to NPOESS’s failure are still relevant to the new programs.”

Of great importance to many subcommittee members is interagency cooperation. Miller said that the restructuring “felt a little like a kindergarten teacher sending two children to different corners because they can’t stop arguing.” Klinger assured the subcommittee that DOD does not want to inadvertently place NOAA or NASA at a disadvantage and that communication will continue during the transition period and in the future. Glackin agreed, reminding the committee that the agencies have been sharing data for decades.

Another concern is the possibility of a “data gap” in climate and weather monitoring if the satellites are behind schedule. Powner stated, “Further launch delays are likely to jeopardize the continuity of weather and climate data. Of particular concern is keeping the [JPSS] demonstration satellite on schedule as it is to replace the final operational [satellite] that is expected to reach the end of its lifespan at the end of 2012.” Glackin and OSTP believe that without the restructuring, there would have been more delays, but that now NOAA will be able to launch a satellite sooner. However, she stressed that this depends heavily on President Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget for the program being fully funded and continued funding in the future.

Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-CA) is concerned that the restructuring of acquisitions will result in sensors being removed from the satellites. He stressed the importance of satellites to search and rescue missions and worries that pilots and mariners will not be able to rely on the federal government to help them. According to Glackin, NOAA currently has 3 “highly reliable” instruments operational and although more search and rescue related sensors will not fit on the first JPSS satellite, its priority will be evaluated for future JPSS satellites. Glackin also assured Bilray that solar flare sensors and sensors that monitor the ozone will fly on the first satellite bus and that there is not a conspiracy to make sure this data is not collected as Bilray suggested.

Testimony from the chair, ranking member, and panelists can be found here, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing.


House Science and Technology Committee Hearing to Review the Proposed National Aeronautics and Space Administration Human Spaceflight Plan
May 26, 2010

Panel 1
Charles Bolden
Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Panel 2
Neil Armstrong
Commander, Apollo 11
Eugene Cernan
U.S. Navy Commander (Ret.), Apollo 17
Thomas Young
Executive Vice President (Ret.), Lockheed Martin Corporation

Committee Members Present
Bart Gordon, Chairman (D-TN)
Ralph Hall, Ranking Member (R-TX)
David Wu (D-OR)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Jim Matheson (D-UT)
Lamar Smith (R-TX)
Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
Pete Olson (R-TX)
Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)
Frank Lucas (R-OK)
Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)
Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD)
Lincoln Davis (D-TN)
Bob Inglis (R-SC)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
Adrian Smith (R-NE)
Charlie Wilson (D-OH)
Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)
Donna Edwards (D-MD)
James Sensenbrenner(R-WI)
Baron Hill (D-IN)
Todd Akin (R-MO)
Alan Grayson (D-FL)
Michael McCaul (R-TX)
Brad Miller (D-NC)
Steven Rothman (D-NJ)
Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA)
John Garamendi (D-CA)
Brian Baird (D-WA)
Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL)

The House Committee on Science and Technology met to discuss NASA’s plan to halt work on the Constellation program and put more emphasis on research and development (R&D) to construct a heavy lift shuttle capable of sending manned missions to deep space and eventually to Mars. These changes are outlined in President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2011 NASA budget and were influenced by a blue-ribbon panel’s findings that NASA’s long term goals are not executable within the given budget constraints.

Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) began the hearing by stressing the importance of NASA and human spaceflight to the U.S. and instructing witness Charles Bolden, the NASA Administrator, to “convince this committee that this is truly a well thought out, responsible budget with an executable plan.” Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) expressed his concern about U.S. access to the International Space Station (ISS) if the Constellation project, which includes the Ares I rocket, the Orion spacecraft and a heavy-lift Ares V, is cancelled. Both the chairman and the ranking member expressed deep concerns about the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program if they were to pass the president’s proposed budget changes. Administrator Bolden attempted to assuage their concerns by reiterating his support for the FY 2011 budget and declaring this a “new era in space.”

Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, and the first man to walk on the moon, expressed his concerns with the direction of Obama’s human spaceflight plan. He outlined three priorities that he feels are absent in the plan, namely: maintaining American leadership, maintaining American access to space, and exploring space. Fellow astronaut, Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17 and the last man to walk on the moon, shares Armstrong’s views. This was clearly expressed when he stated, “This budget proposal presents no challenges, has no focus, and is in fact a blueprint for a mission to nowhere.”

The hearing began shortly after the Atlantis space shuttle made its final landing at Kennedy Space Center, after flying 32 missions and 120 million miles over its 25 year career. Atlantis, along with the Discovery and Endeavour shuttles, is being decommissioned this year. With these shuttles set for retirement, and no new shuttles ready to take their place, Lamar Smith (R-TX), Michael McCaul (R-TX) and other committee members fear that American access to the ISS is in jeopardy. Administrator Bolden insisted that access is assured through our international partners, especially through the Russian space program.

NASA plans to build a “crew return vehicle” to serve as an emergency lifeboat for the ISS, to be completed in the next 3-5 years. This plan, which is not currently included in the FY 2011 budget, will cost at least $5 billion over the next five years according to Bolden. Gordon and Hall expressed concern that the money for this shuttle was unaccounted for, to which Bolden replied that the budgets for aeronautics and science will not be cut, but that he would try to find the money in the technology and commercial budgets. He also noted that because the shuttle will be unmanned at launch, it will be cheaper and easier to make than the Orion shuttle outlined in the Constellation program. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) noted that the crew return vehicle will not be operational until around the time the ISS is schedule to be decommissioned in 2016.

A major kingpin of the administration’s plan is a greater role for commercial spaceflight. Bolden expressed hope that in the near future, commercial flights could frequent the ISS and conduct missions in the low-earth orbit. This would eliminate the need for NASA to maintain its own fleet of shuttles, freeing up money and R&D for heavy lift vehicles. However, according to Armstrong and Cernan, commercial space flight will not be viable for another 10 years. Armstrong predicts, “For the next decade we have no access to space, we will be viewed by people around the world as has-beens, and I find that extremely uncomfortable.”

Other committee members fear that commercial aeronautics companies are not up the task when it comes to something as dangerous as human spaceflight. In response to Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)’s concerns about regulating commercial spaceflight, Bolden responded, “They are not less capable because they make money.” Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) posed a similar question, stating, “I am concerned that replacing NASA…with some ‘TBD’ commercial enterprise will in fact dramatically compromise the safety of the astronauts.” While Cernan suggested that there is not a culture of safety in the private industry as there is at NASA, Young acknowledged that partnerships between NASA and the private industry are common and beneficial. Young also suggested that commercial cargo flights are a good place to start because it is “an opportunity to grow and to demonstrate a capability” and only “fails soft, while commercial crew fails hard.”

Another concern of many committee members is what such changes will mean for engineers and technicians currently employed by NASA, and the future generation of aerospace engineers. In response to Donna Edwards (D-MD) question about the relationship and partnerships between NASA and commercial enterprise, Young stated, “If we decide what we’re going to do is cede all of this responsibility to the industry…what will happen in my view, is the good people at NASA are going to go look for other opportunities…That will be the beginning of what I would say will be the atrophying of the NASA workforce.” Representatives David Wu (D-OR) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)  worry that canceling Constellation will have negative impacts on NASA’s highly skilled workforce, and its ability to obtain and maintain that workforce.

The cancellation of Constellation will have effects on more than just the workforce at NASA. Projects that are currently making progress and moving forward will be halted. However, by law, NASA is required to continue working on these projects until the end of FY 2010, which Bolden assured Giffords was happening. Many committee members questioned whether the Constellation program could be modified, instead of being scraped altogether. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Jim Matheson (D-UT) asked specifically what we can move forward with in Constellation. Bolden stated that the best plan of action for 2011 is to “take the nuggets from [Constellation] and proceed with a more viable program.”

The topic of human spaceflight and the presence of astronauts Armstrong and Cernan drew a strong emotional reaction from many members of the committee. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), captured this sentiment when he said of President Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon, “I remember the enormous contribution that speech made in terms of capturing the imaginations of our people and inspiring our young people to go into careers in science, math and engineering…We desperately need something that…inspires our young people to go into science, math and engineering, or we will not retain our premier position as the best, most powerful [country].” Bolden insisted that educational initiatives such as First Robotics and other programs coordinated by NASA and the National Science Foundation inspire kids, without them needing to see someone go to the moon.

Testimony from the chair, ranking member, and panelists can be found here, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing.


House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Hearing on FY2011 Budget for Science and Technology
February 24, 2010

Dr. John Holdren
Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Committee Members Present
Alan Mollohan (D-WV)
Frank Wolf (R-VA)
C.A. Ruppersberger (D-MD)
John Culberson (R-TX)
Michael Honda (D-CA)
Robert Aderholt (R-AL)
Adam Schiff (D-CA)

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Dr. John Holdren testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science about the key research and development programs in President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget request. Subcommittee Chairman Alan Mollohan (D-WV) commended the budget for continuing the doubling path for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) budgets as outlined in America COMPETES. He also supported the increase in hands-on, inquiry-based K-12 education, saying this has been proven as the most effective way to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Holdren told the committee the Obama administration’s science, technology, and innovation strategy “calls for exploration and discovery from the depths of the oceans to the frontiers of space, expanding our knowledge of our world and our universe while igniting the curiosity and ambitions of our young people.” He highlighted aspects of the R&D budget “that will lead to new products and services, new businesses and industries, increased American competitiveness, and high-quality, sustainable jobs.” These included investments in NOAA, U.S. Global Change Research Programs, and STEM education programs like Educate to Innovate and Race to the Top.

Holdren also defended the administration’s planned changes to NASA. He called it a science and technology centric restructuring. “The new approach—which adds $6 billion over the next five years for NASA—includes a vigorous technology development and test program that will begin to reverse decades of under-investment in new ideas.” The NASA budget would extend the ISS to 2020 and possibly beyond, providing more jobs for U.S. astronauts in space. Holdren claims the proposed shift to using the private-sector to launch humans into space and cutting the Constellation program for human space flight will “shorten the duration of our reliance solely on Russian launchers.” In addition, the proposed budget gives $5 billion to NASA’s Earth science missions (an increase of $500 million) to allow for re-launching the Orbiting Carbon Observatory and other Earth system observation programs.

Mollohan noted the increases for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA Earth science missions and research in contrast to flat line funding to other areas of NASA, saying “while climate related activities are a higher priority, all of NASA science contributes to the Nation’s science enterprise just as much as does funding for NSF, NIST, and the DOE [Department of Energy] Office of Science.”

Ranking Member Frank Wolf (R-VA) was aghast at the cuts to NASA’s human space flight program, calling the budget “worthy of a lesser nation.” Wolf was concerned the U.S. will be ceding the Moon to China and the International Space Station (ISS) to Russia with this budget.

Holdren did not see it this way. He felt that even if China did get to the Moon, the U.S. already succeeded 50 years ago and China could not take that accomplishment away from the nation. He explained that the U.S. was already fated to be reliant on the Russians after President Bush decided to retire the space shuttle. Obama’s new plan would shorten that reliance based on the assumption that private companies could develop the necessary human launch technology faster and cheaper than the Constellation program. The U.S. needs better technology to get beyond low-Earth orbit, so Holdren thought NASA’s money was best spent investing in R&D.

The committee members expressed their disappointment with the cuts to Constellation. Most were upset by the way the situation was handled, and the lack of insight and details given to Congress. The committee felt the U.S. was going to lose the competitive edge in space by switching to the private industry. Representative C.A. Ruppersberger (D-MD) thought the concept of investments in R&D was great and “something we haven’t done in awhile,” but thought it was proceeding too quickly and without a plan. Representative John Culberson (R-TX) thought it was inappropriate to suddenly tell the field center heads their program would be cut just 2 days before the official announcement. Culberson did not believe Holdren even consulted the field centers in advance of the administration’s decision, and accused him of already settling on cutting Constellation before the Augustine report on the NASA human space flight program was even published. Holdren assured the committee that no decision was made before the report, though discussions were going on concurrently. He explained that the details are still being worked out for how to proceed now.

Wolf berated Holdren for the secrecy and “degree of arrogance” in handling the situation. Wolf and Culberson described NASA as the only federal agency, other than the military, that is able to spark passion and capture the imagination of the nation’s youth. They felt the inspiration would be lost by cutting Constellation. Holdren instead felt the administration’s plan would help NASA inspire again, and that private competition would breed a successful rocket in ways Constellation was not poised to do.

Chairman Mollohan’s opening statement and Dr. Holdren’s testimony is available from the Commerce, Science, and Justice Subcommittee web site.


House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Hearing on Key Issues and Challenges Facing NASA: Views of the Agency’s Watchdogs
February 3, 2010

Honorable Paul K. Martin
Inspector General, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Ms. Cristina T. Chaplain
Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office
Vice Admiral Joseph W. Dyer [U.S. Navy, retired]
Chair, Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Committee Members Present
Gabrielle Giffords, Chairwoman (D-AZ)
Pete Olson, Ranking Member (R-TX)
Donna Edwards (D-MD)
Ralph Hall (R-TX)
Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL)
Frank Lucas (R-OK)
Michael McCaul (R-TX)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Charlie Wilson (D-OH)
David Wu (D-OR)

On February 3, 2010, the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics met with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) watchdogs to discuss the future direction of the agency. NASA was cited by the watchdog panel for having several major issues surrounding internal organization and utilization of federal funds. The fiscal year (FY) 2011 Presidential budget request would terminate NASA’s Constellation project – which was developing vehicles to replace NASA’s fleet of space shuttles by 2015. Topics covered in the hearing ranged from general concern over the loss of human space flight capabilities, to the likelihood of private sector collaboration. The panel stressed that the issues raised need to be addressed by NASA to ensure a successful future.

Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) opened the hearing with remarks focusing on the recent scrapping of the Constellation project. She compared space exploration by astronauts to the drive and ingenuity of the first North American colonists. Ranking Member Pete Olson (R-TX) echoed her concern, and reflected a similar sentiment in his opening statement. Ranking Member of the full committee, Ralph Hall (R-TX), was allotted time by Olson to give an opening statement. Hall expressed disappointment with the President’s request exclaiming, “he could think of no civil or federal agency that matches its record of scientific achievement or one with a record of fostering new technologies that have helped to transform the American economy.” Hall said the Constellation program received past support from Congress, and the American taxpayers had already invested $9 billion on developing next generation human space flight capabilities.

Paul Martin, the Inspector General for NASA, discussed five issues that will need to be addressed in order for NASA to move forward. His testimony was based on the annual memorandum from the Office Inspector General. The five include: “transitioning from the space shuttle to the next generation of space vehicles; managing risk to people, equipment, and mission; financial management; acquisition and contracting processes; [and] information technology security.” Martin noted that these issues were complex and multifaceted, and had no simple solution. He concluded NASA required a steady stream of funding in order to meet many critical mission objectives.

Cristina T. Chaplain, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), reviewed three main topics of concern for NASA as covered in the GAO report NASA: Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects. The report focused on projects that had not progressed past the implementation period, had launch delays, and on how the agency manages contracts. Lack of oversight and lax money management were two consistent problems observed. Also disorganization had led to substantial cost-overruns throughout the history of the agency. She cited these as being complex issues that required complex solutions. Chaplain suggested a revamping of agency policy and more oversight in future project management.

Vice Admiral Joseph W. Dyer, Chair of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), suggested models that could be developed for NASA. His testimony focused on the suggestions prepared in the ASAP’s 2009 Annual Report. One would rely on the technology already developed for the Constellation project and the other would focus on development of a system by private industry. Dyer reminded the committee that space exploration is a “dangerous enterprise” and each project will have its own set of inherent risks and costs. As the chair of ASAP, he strongly discouraged the extension of the current NASA space shuttle program, saying it is the most dangerous thing NASA could do.

Giffords asked Chaplain if the issues at NASA arose from underestimating the technical complexity of the projects or from a lack of discipline. Chaplain responded that she felt it was a combination of a lot of things, including underestimating complexity and lacking discipline. She encouraged more project development at the headquarters level to reduce problems. Giffords asked why the GAO report omitted the successes of the Ares I project, to which Chaplain responded that the report was already in production but Ares I would be discussed in subsequent revisions.

Despite concerns that the loss of human spaceflight would reduce NASA to just an Earth science organization, Olson suggested that perhaps NASA could work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop a model where private companies could be subcontracted to develop the space program. Martin felt such a thing would be “foolish” and that the model currently used by NASA should be kept “in house.” Chaplain, although unfamiliar with FAA models, saw potential as long as there was more rigorous oversight. Dyer saw potential, but noted that the FAA lacked knowledge in space, while NASA lacks experience in developing safety codes for use by subcontractors wishing to pursue human spaceflight endeavors.

Donna Edwards (D-MD), citing the GAO report, asked if there was much difference between the cost-overruns for NASA projects compared to Department of Defense (DOD) projects, considering that NASA was being “decimated” by the FY2011 budget request. Chaplain said there were similarities between the cost-overruns for NASA and DOD projects and that both had seen budgetary cuts. Edwards asked if abandoning the Constellation project altogether was actually going to substantially lower the cost of running NASA. Chaplain responded that with or without a human spaceflight program, the agency problems cited by the panel would still exist.

Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) countered Edwards saying that comparing NASA to the DOD was not an appropriate comparison. Instead the committee should consider the cost-overruns for NASA versus a space exploration business, such as SpaceX. Chaplain responded that, although there was some comparison, industry does not have the same standards in place that NASA does. Rohrabacher went on to ask Dyer if commercial space companies were any less safe than NASA. Dyer responded that the safety information for human space travel had not been made available from NASA, and even if it is released, commercial space companies would lack the 50 years of experience NASA has acquired. Dyer noted that thus far, commercial space companies were only licensed to carry cargo. Hall inquired if standards would be industry-wide. Dyer suspected that there would be design differences, but that the safety standards would be the same for the entire commercial space industry.

Representatives Charlie Wilson (D-OH) and Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL) were particularly interested in how losing the Constellation program would affect local economies. Wilson was curious about how the ASAP codes would be altered, since they had been written under the assumption that Constellation would be executed. Martin said it would be up to the agency, but Chaplain felt that NASA had great tools and internal processes developed specifically to be flexible when plans change. Kosmas, whose district contains the Kennedy Space Center, wondered about workforce transitioning, and even if the shuttles could be refurbished for further human spaceflight. Dyer responded that extending the life of the shuttles would be costly, expensive and the most dangerous option.

The witnesses noted the NASA facilities have a significant backlog of upgrades and repairs totaling about $2.5 billion. They suggested that this may be an appropriate time to focus on internal upgrades, as well as reorganization within NASA rather than developing the next generation of human spaceflight right away. This might provide a way to transition the current workforce from the current shuttle system to an agency better prepared for a bright new future in space exploration.

Links to witness and representative statements, reports and webcast can be found here.


The House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Hearing on “The Growth and Global Space Capabilities: What’s Happening and Why it Matters
November 19, 2009

Marty Hauser
Vice President, Research and Analysis, The Space Foundation
J. P. Stevens
Vice President, Space Systems, Aerospace Industries Association
Scott Pace
Director, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University
Kai-Uwe Schrogl
Director, European Space Policy Institute
Ray A Williamson
Executive Director, Secure World Foundation

Committee Members Present
Gabrielle Giffords, Chairwoman (D-AZ)
Pete Olson, Ranking Member (R-TX)
Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Parker Griffith (D-AL)
Donna F. Edwards (D-MD)
Suzanne M. Kosmos (D-FL)

On November 19, 2009 the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing on “The Growth and Global Space Capabilities: What’s Happening and Why it Matters.” Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) said that “the world is changing and those changes present both opportunities and challenges to the United States that we cannot ignore.” She spoke of the positive outcomes of space activities, saying they “spur innovation, improve the quality of life…, promote national security and economic competitiveness, and advance geopolitical objectives.” She added that other countries are advancing their space technologies and that rather than fear this, the U.S. should use it as an opportunity for “constructive engagement.” Ranking Member Pete Olson (R-TX) agreed with Giffords’ support of global partnerships, saying that “satellites don’t just orbit America.” He also recommended that U.S. should recommit to human space flight.

Marty Hauser, Vice President of Research and Analysis at the Space Foundation, testified that the leadership position of the United States in the world of space “is not a birthright” and needs to be earned. She said that many of our allies “are picking up and picking up fast” and that our leadership in space “is eroding on multiple fronts.” She added that space agencies exist in over 60 countries now and that the U.S. cannot underestimate them.

J. P. Stevens, Vice President of Space Systems at the Aerospace Industries Association, testified that the two areas where the U.S. could most rapidly lose its leadership in space are satellites and human spaceflight. He said that the U.S. space programs “need stable and robust funding” and suggested that “the decisions and strategies of the many agencies using space [should be] coordinated at a White House level.” He also spoke of NASA’s work as a source of inspiration for youth to study science, engineering, and mathematics and enter into the aerospace workforce.

Scott Pace, Director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, testified that space capabilities are becoming more and more globalized. He said that these developments may be cause for congratulations in some cases, while others, such as the North Korean and Iranian missile programs, are a cause for concern. He stated that he welcomes China’s peaceful space efforts, but does not want to see “them or others on the space frontiers without us.” He added that the U.S. must be part of the effort if we want the future in space to reflect the country’s values.

Kai-Uwe Schrogl, Director of the European Space Policy Institute, testified that although some threats will be present, Europe regards the growth in global capabilities as a mostly positive trend. He stated that raising the number of space-faring countries would be beneficial for supporting efforts related to global problems such as disaster mitigation and management and climate change monitoring. He said it would also open up the possibility for markets on an international scale for space-related products. He added that “trans-Atlantic relations should receive [the committee’s] high attention.”

Ray A Williamson, Executive Director at Secure World Foundation, agreed that new countries involvement in the space environment will provide the U.S. with opportunities as well as challenges. He suggested that “it is important to assist states as much as possible to develop clear policies that incorporate the elements of the Outer Space Treaty and other international agreements.” He added that the U.S. needs to be sure to take advantage of the opportunities that this emergence presents for policymaking.

Chairwoman Giffords asked the panelists how the U.S. lacking a clear vision in their space effort affects the commitment of other countries. Pace answered that if the U.S. appears to be uncertain, then nations may look for other partners. He added that we would be making ourselves irrelevant. Schrogl disagreed and said that Europe is very much interested in a strong relationship with the U.S. He stated that Europe has seen “that the U.S. is ready to operate…with Europe in order to come up with joint global visions.” He suggested that the U.S. take an active role internationally.

Ranking Member Olson said that space exploration will most likely be done collaboratively and asked the panelists if they think this means that nations will become more specialized in one of many capabilities. Hauser replied that it depends on what a country’s goals are for a space program. Stevens added that the U.S. needs to be capable in all areas of space. He stated that it would be unsatisfactory to turn over a capability to another nation. Pace agreed with Hauser and said that the U.S. needs to have a wide range of capabilities “if we want to be seen as a global power with global influence.”

Representative Suzanne Kosmos (D-FL) asked the panel to discuss the components that most hinder the nation’s ability to be leaders in human space exploration. Hauser answered that finances are the biggest issue and that it is difficult for us to plan and for other countries to depend on us with our uncertain budgets. He added that regulatory issues could cause us to hurt our own marketplace. Stevens agreed but added that the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) would also be an issue. Pace added that policies, programs, and budgets are the biggest issues related to human space exploration.

Representative Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH) asked the witnesses what the U.S. should do “to keep our young engaged and our supplier base capable.” Pace replied that people get deterred from long careers in space-related engineering fields because they do not see what is going to be built and suggested that the U.S. do more real missions. Williamson agreed with Pace and said that projects spark interest in space, even when the projects are small. Stevens talked about a rocket launch going on at his son’s elementary school later that day and added, “We need to get these kids early and we need to get them excited.”

Giffords asked how leaders of other countries are justifying the sacrifices being made to fund space innovation. Schrogle said that the sacrifices are justified by benefits in manufacturing and services, the rising positive economic impact of space, and the prestige in an international field.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) stated that the U.S. spends more money than any other country on space. He added the problem “is not necessarily that the money isn’t there, but that the money…has been spent unwisely.” He said he agrees that cooperation is necessary for future space endeavors, but does not think the U.S. should cooperate with all countries, democratic and non-democratic, equally. He added that some would agree that a lot of the Chinese space capabilities come “directly from America’s irrational cooperation with the Chinese 15 years ago.” When asked for a response, Stevens agreed with Rohrabacher and said that the U.S. does not want to be in a position of handing over important data.  He added that we need to think about how it impacts national security and our industrial base. Pace agreed and replied that the U.S. would have to “confront the ITAR regulations and the burdens they impose.”

Testimony from the panelists and chair can be found here.


Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and Space Hearing on "The Case for Space: Examining the Value"
October 21, 2009


Stephen I. Katz
Director, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases,
National Institutes of Health

Scott Pace
Director, Space Policy Institute, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University

Lennard A. Fisk
Vice Chair, Committee on the Rationale and Goals of the U.S. Civil Space Program, Space Studies Board, National Research Council

Jeanne L. Becker
Associate Director, National Space Biomedical Research Institute

Helen Greiner
CEO, The Droid Works

Committee Members Present
Bill Nelson, Chairman (D-FL)         
David Vitter, Ranking Member (R-LA)
Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
Tom Udall (D-NM)

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Science and Space Subcommittee held a hearing on October 21, 2009, in order to discuss the value of America’s space program. Chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL) welcomed the witnesses and attendees, and pointed out the pivotal juncture at which we are with the U.S. space program. As a long time NASA supporter, Nelson warned of the impending full report of the Review of US Human Spaceflight Plans committee, and its suggestion that NASA is underfunded and under resourced. Nelson had been especially looking forward to the day’s hearing, which he believed would help people to understand the practical importance of the tax dollars that pay for NASA. He struck home the role NASA plays in inspiring America’s youth, noting entrepreneurs like Virgin Industries founder Richard Branson and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who were inspired by the mission to the moon and are now returning to their love for space with new business ventures.

David Vitter (R-LA) then acknowledged the consistent, strong support the public shows for NASA’s programs, but that despite this wide support few could say what the impact of those programs has been on our lives. He attributes this to the fact that the technology pioneered by NASA has become so ubiquitous that we take it for granted. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), ranking member of the full committee, then echoed Nelson’s remarks, noting that their bipartisan effort has worked consistently to support NASA. Hutchinson then acknowledged some of the technology advances the program has heralded including video games, amongst others, to which she admitted her two eight year olds were “addicted.” She urged the rest of the committee to push for the International Space Station (ISS) to be funded for an extension past the programs scheduled end in 2016, having just begun to fully realize its potential as a national laboratory.

The first testimony came from Dr. Stephen I. Katz, a program director at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Katz explained that numerous medical advances have been built from a foundation laid by space investment. Specifically, he noted a heart pump now being tested by NIH which originated as a pump on the shuttle and a test for cataracts which was developed as a fiber optic probe. The main potential of the ISS laboratory, according to Katz, is research in a “virtually gravity free environment, that can unmask cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie human diseases,” because “one can try to simulate, but not replicate what goes on in the space station.” 

Dr. Scott Pace, the Director of the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University, then discussed some of the political importance of human space flight. The international community by and large is moving forward on a global exploration strategy which was engineered by U.S. diplomacy. Ironically though, Pace described an air of uncertainty towards U.S. space policy in the international community today after U.S. hesitation on the program, and pointed out that “it’s hard to get others to work with you on your garden if you’re pulling up flowers to check the roots.” He stressed that we risk being left behind on our own initiative if we do not move forward in space.

Dr. Lennard Fisk, representing the National Research Council, then discussed the importance of civil space, which he defined as “all aspects of space which are not pursued for military purposes.” He recommended a revision of the goals for these space programs, and one which establishes U.S. standards for our civil space program at the highest levels.

Dr. Jeanne Becker then spoke from her position with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. The research her team is doing on salmonella has resulted in a promising vaccine, after studies on the ISS led to the bacteria displaying characteristics previously unobserved on Earth. The vaccine is now well on its way to commercialization. Several other organisms have been investigated so far and are similarly displaying new traits, a promising result.

Last to testify was Ms. Helen Greiner, one of the founders of iRobot. She noted that hers and her company’s history are inextricably linked to NASA: she has interned at NASA and the agency provided the first sales for her company. Years later, their robots, built on concepts devised for space exploration, are playing a progressively greater role in human lives. Numerous iRobot products derived from needs of the space program have found practical employment in today’s world, from industrial robots, to the PackBots clearing roadside bombs in Afghanistan, to the Roomba vacuuming millions of homes today worldwide.

Questioning began with Vitter prompting Katz to expand upon the benefits of human space flight specifically to medical work. Katz explained that the most important aspect is the need for humans on the space station to conduct this research. Becker echoed that her work would also be impossible without humans in space. Greiner noted that with a national drive towards innovation, it is impossible to predict every benefit that will be seen up front, but that there would likely be tangible technological benefits. Nelson asked Katz what other potential he saw coming from the medical work on the ISS. Katz explained that a number of medical organizations have signed on to begin work on the space station.. The NIH has already instituted a grant program for research to utilize the ISS lab. Some examples of projects include new noninvasive body imaging, work on neuro-adaptation for motion sickness, and work on why the bone and skin systems deteriorate so quickly in space. 

Nelson asked Becker if she thought there would be a substantial return on the “rather enormous” investment in the ISS. Becker responded that as a scientist, she would need data to answer that question and could not say whether there would be or not. Without actually doing the work, though, Becker maintained that that is an answer we will never know. The salmonella work which her team has undertaken is “a taste of… what we can possibly see in the area of infectious disease,” which she noted is an industry worth “billions and billions of dollars” in the U.S.  She continued that “the bugs are winning, and unless we find new ways to combat that, they will continue to win.  If space can give us new answers… we’re obligated to go there.”  Nelson asked Greiner what would be the benefit for entrepreneurs of proper NASA funding, which Greiner responded boiled down to a significant number of new companies. Becker noted that if the ISS was to be abandoned in 2016, we would miss out on the potential for “a new kind of industry” which was being developed right now based on microgravity research. 

Nelson then asked Fisk about the organizational issues he has noted with America’s space program. Fisk responded that he and his colleagues would not venture a recommendation to improve NASA’s administration as outsiders, but that the highest levels of science advisors in the federal government need to get together and, with the goals of the space program in mind, lay out a plan. A “space czar” is not the best way to go, nor is reinstating the “space council” as it operated under President George H.W. Bush. Fisk went on to point out that one of the key components of improving the administration of the space program is funding, recalling the “scientific genocide” that occurred when the physical microgravity program was cut from NASA due to budget constraints. 

Nelson thanked the panel for their time, cheering that they had all “captured the essence of the character of the American people--that we are by nature explorers and adventurers.” He finished by confirming that their testimony has made a very strong case for continued space research.

A video broadcast of the hearing can be found here, in addition to the written testimony of the witnesses.


House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Hearing on “Federal Geospatial Data Management and H.R. 2489”
July 23, 2009

Panel I
Ms. Karen C. Siderelis
Geospatial Information Officer, U.S. Department of the Interior
Mr. Michael Byrne
Geospatial Information Officer, State of California
Mr. John Palatiello
Executive Director, Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors
Ms. Susan Marlow
Chief Executive Officer, Smart Data Strategies, Inc.

Panel II
Dr.  Suzette M. Kimball
Acting Director, U.S. Geological Survey
Dr. Rebecca L. Dodge
Associate Professor, Department of Geosciences, Midwestern State University
Ms. Mary O'Neill
Manager, Office of Remote Sensing, South Dakota View Principal Investigator, South Dakota State University
Dr. Sam Batzli
WisconsinView Director, Geospatial Information Scientist, The Space Science & Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Committee Members Present
Jim Costa, Chairman (D-CA)
Doug Lamborn, Ranking Member (R-CO)
Gregorio Sablan (I-MP)
Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)
Niki Tsongas (D-MA)
John P. Sarbanes (D-MD)
Rush D. Holt (D-NJ)
Cynthia M. Lummis (R-WY)
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD)

On July 23, 2009, the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on “Federal Geospatial Data Management and H.R. 2489.” Chairman Jim Costa (D-CA) opened the hearing showing a Pennsylvania State University video showcasing the importance of geospatial data to our everyday lives. Costa remarked that “five years can feel like a lifetime” with respect to advances in geospatial data technology as used in every day tools such as iPhone and Google. He said that the federal government collects voluminous amounts of data, 80 percent of which is geospatial, but “it doesn’t mean we know what we’re doing.” According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 50 percent of the money spent on geospatial data management is redundant. Ranking Member Doug Lamborn (R-CO) stated that the federal agencies follow the method of “map many times, hoard the data.” He also expressed unhappiness with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) which was invited to the hearing, but chose not to attend. He said, “OMB’s unwillingness to attend will leave us with many questions.”

Ms. Karen Siderelis of the Department of the Interior (DOI) testified to the importance of geospatial data to monitor, prepare for, and respond to national issues, including climate change, energy, national security, and the economy. She spoke about DOI providing partial funding for more than 600 state and local geospatial data projects and seed money to help states develop data initiatives. She also testified about their work on Imagery for the Nation, which is program paid for by federal funding to support the nationwide production of standardized multi-resolution products every three years. The imagery remains in the public domain for everyone to use and local entities could pay to enhance products that are specific to their needs. Siderelis testified that DOI’s three main goals in the short term are engaging the nation “in a dialog about its geospatial future,” making Imagery for the Nation “a sustainable and flexible digital imagery program that meets the needs of local, state, regional, tribal and federal agencies,” and bolstering the current geospatial governance structure.

Mr. Michael Byrne, a geospatial data officer for the State of California, called geospatial data “one of the most important technologies of our time” saying that it answers “complex questions of why and where” and will lead to better decisions at all levels of government. He spoke about geospatial management in California being a cabinet level position that serves all state agencies and recommended that a similar structure be initiated at the federal level. Byrne said geospatial data management needs to be coordinated at all levels. There should be a coordinating position above DOI, and it must be a mandated program in the government. He also recommended full funding of Imagery for the Nation.

Mr. John Palatiello of the Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors testified that we have not made enough progress since establishing the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) during the Clinton Administration.  The NSDI has been defined as the technologies, policies, and people necessary to promote sharing of geospatial data within all levels of government and in the private sector and academia. Palatiello said the U.S. still does not have a national geospatial strategy and we are not tying geospatial data management to national priorities. He argued that we would have seen the mortgage crisis that began in 2008 sooner if the land information system had been in place. Palatiello added that there is a lack of coordination and too much duplication within federal agencies saying, “The buck stops nowhere.”

Ms. Susan Marlow of Smart Data Strategies, Inc. also testified to the lack of interagency cooperation in geospatial data management. She said that the U.S. needs a federal property database and urged passage of H.R. 1520, the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform Act of 2009, which would develop a multipurpose comprehensive survey of federal real property and identify inaccurate, duplicate, and out-of-date federal land inventories.

Lamborn asked the panelists, “What should Congress do to improve geospatial data management?” Palatiello suggested elevating the role of coordination from DOI to the Executive Office of the President and proposed legislation to deal with such a reorganization if necessary. Siderelis responded that they should encourage innovation, ensure collaboration with non-federal partners, and look at the NSDI as a national structure. Lamborn also asked about how they can prevent duplication and improve efficiency in the federal government’s efforts. Byrne called for coordination within all departments of the government and transparency in information technology investments. Lamborn asked Palatiello if the stimulus funds would be wasted because of duplication. Palatiello replied the government was going to waste “tens of millions” on broadband mapping even though the data is already available from the national census but cannot be used right now due to privacy laws. and in buying new equipment for the federal government which will cause job losses in the private sector since less work will be contracted out from the government. Costa asked if citizens’ privacy could be protected if the census data was released. Byrne responded that privacy could be maintained because the locations of homes would not be linked to the residents.

Niki Tsongas (D-MA) asked the panelists why the federal government lags so far behind the private sector in geospatial data management and if the federal government should try to catch up. Byrne responded that a company like Google uses federal government data and is a “presentation company” so they can be “elegant” in presenting the data to the public. He added that Google does not provide geospatial data information for policymakers. Byrne also said that a successful NSDI would have nationally recognized data, collection, information technology, human workforce, and standards components. Palatiello added that there has to be a partnership between the federal government and the private sector because “there is a role for both.” Costa asked what a successful NSDI would look like and Palatiello responded that “it would not be a static thing” because the data is changing all the time. Byrne said that the NSDI would make it possible for data to be looked at before policy decisions are made, and Siderelis added there would need to be “transparency” and it would be an assumed commodity.

John Sarbanes (D-MD) called himself a “map fiend” and asked the witnesses how optimistic they were that there would be a new level added to the geospatial mapping we currently have. Palatiello said that he was “not optimistic, but hopeful,” and Marlow said that she was “guardedly optimistic.” Sarbanes also asked if there were federal agencies that have been leaders in coordination and if they advocated partnerships with the private sector. Palatiello said that the mission of the federal agency is its first priority, not coordination with other agencies, and that partnerships with the private sector “need to start at local levels.”

Rush Holt (D-NJ) asked the witnesses for examples where geospatial data collected at the state or local levels “flowed” to the federal government. Byrne said that California has successfully provided data to the Department of Homeland Security. Siderelis said that two-thirds of the data in the national wetland layer used by the DOI Fish and Wildlife Service comes from the states because of a data sharing standard.

The second part of the hearing focused on H.R. 2489, the AmericaView Geospatial Imagery Mapping Program Act, sponsored by Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD). AmericaView is nationwide program administered through USGS and the AmericaView Consortium focused on satellite remote sensing data and technology that support research, education, workforce development, and technology transfer. Herseth Sandlin said this legislation would facilitate the ability of the federal government to use geospatial data, authorize AmericaView for five years, and ensure resources were readily available to educators, researchers, and stakeholders. Lamborn said that AmericaView was originally established by the Appropriations Committee in 2000 and this bill is a “long overdue authorization” of this program.

Dr.  Suzette Kimball, acting director of the USGS, said that “DOI supports the goals” of this legislation but she does not believe further legislation is necessary to meet the goals of AmericaView. She called AmericaView a “highly successful partnership” which is now in 35 states through USGS and other agencies.

Dr. Rebecca Dodge of Midwestern State University said that H.R. 2489 will ensure the impact of AmericaView improves in each state and will promote the sharing of techniques by and within states. She also said that the cooperation between states in AmericaView “has benefited the American public.”

Ms. Mary O’Neill of South Dakota State University testified that H.R. 2489 will “enhance the quantity and quality” of the AmericaView program. She said that AmericaView is necessary because the program will look different by state so there needs to be coordination at the national level. She added this program can be used as “a conduit of remote sensing technology transfer.”

Dr. Sam Batzli, WisconsinView Director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, testified that AmericaView “bridges a gap” and makes up for infrastructure missing at the local level. He said that it works because those people involved are colleagues not competitors, it fulfills a need for creating a network of geospatial data, and provides flexibility for states within the program.

Costa asked how the responsibilities for USGS under H.R. 2489 will compare with their current responsibilities for mapping, and if there will be redundancy that will occur with this legislation. Kimball responded that USGS currently has an effective working relationship with states and an effective governing structure in place and that she anticipates this “mechanism would continue to work effectively.” She said the legislation would extend the activities of USGS and also complement current activities. Kimball added that USGS would like to see clarification in the legislation regarding its role and responsibilities under H.R. 2489.

Lamborn asked what level of appropriations the witnesses would like to see for AmericaView. Dodge responded that her assessment showed that at $5 million each state View program could participate in two or three activities called for in the legislation, at $25 million each state could do four to six activities, and at $50 million “each could do all with a high level of effort.”

Testimony from the chair, ranking member, and panelists can be found here, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing.


House Science and Technology Committee Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Hearing on “Enhancing the Relevance of Space to Address National Needs”
July 16, 2009

General [U.S. Air Force, retired] Lester L. Lyles
Chair of the Committee on the Rationale and Goals of the U.S. Civil Space Program Aeronautics & Space Engineering Board, National Research Council
Ms. Patti Grace Smith
Board of Directors, The Space Foundation
Ms. Deborah Adler Myers
General Manager, Science Channel, Discovery Communications
Mr. Miles O’Brien

Committee Members Present
Gabrielle Giffords, Chairwoman (D-AZ)
Pete Olson, Ranking Member (R-TX)
Parker Griffith (D-AL)
Donna F. Edwards (D-MD)
Suzanne M. Kosmas (D-FL)
Charlie Wilson (D-OH)
David Wu (D-OR)
F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI)
Alan Grayson (D-FL)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Ralph M. Hall* (R-TX)

*Ranking Member of full committee

On July 16, 2009, the House Science and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing on “Enhancing the Relevance of Space to Address National Needs.” Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) opened the hearing saying it was especially fitting to discuss this topic on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo launch, but that “the civil space program is about the future, not about the past.” She said it is important that we “maximize the benefits” of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and called the agency’s work “incredibly important to the future of our nation’s well-being.” Ranking Member Pete Olson (R-TX) said that he was “discouraged we have to hold” a hearing about the relevance of space, pointing out that NASA’s “only goal was not to land on the moon.” He added that most Americans are not aware of the wide breadth of work that NASA does, including its work in Earth research.

Retired Air Force General Lester Lyles testified that “we have a preeminent civil space program” which is “vastly capable” of contributing to national challenges beside space exploration, including climate change and the economy. He spoke about the importance for the U.S. to “maintain strategic leadership” to influence other nations and promote international cooperation. Lyles said the four goals the civil space program should focus on are promoting stewardship of the earth, increasing knowledge of the universe, gaining new societal benefits, and enhancing U.S. global leadership. To achieve these goals, he said we must have greater coordination within NASA and other related agencies, a competent technical workforce, sufficient infrastructure to conduct research, and “priority reinvestment” to make space research as important to the nation as it once was.

Ms. Patti Grace Smith of The Space Foundation testified that “space is so relevant that many of us would be at a loss” without the many societal benefits that have been gained from advances through space research. She echoed Lyles, saying “space influences other parts of our economy” citing the transportation sector as having cleaner, safer, and more efficient air travel as a result of space research. Smith also said our “national security is enabled by space” due to satellites in orbit. This remote sensing capability also provides data about Earth, adding that “policymakers need accurate data” to make the best decisions.

Ms. Deborah Adler Myers from the Science Channel testified about “the cliché that science is dry and boring” and the need to show the public that it “improves your life everyday.” She said that they are striving to bring education about space into the classroom and on television, adding “when we cut back on space programming we hear about it” from viewers. Myers said the challenge is creating excitement about science and space and they have begun promoting science programming using celebrities and making the material relatable. She showed recent promotions featuring Buzz Aldrin, Morgan Freeman, and Will Smith.

Mr. Miles O’Brien, a journalist who was formerly a reporter for CNN, testified that “adventure is inherent in exploring a new frontier,” but that NASA has served up a mission in recent years that “seems mundane.” He said NASA needs to “let the public in a little more” to see what they are working on, and that “the public affairs mission is not a priority at NASA.” O’Brien acknowledged that NASA created excitement about the Mars Rover and has been using Twitter from space, which is beneficial in creating excitement because “friends tell friends, and on it goes.” However, he cited one of NASA’s public relations problems as being dispersed geographically throughout the country and so the agency “doesn’t speak with one voice.”

Giffords asked the witnesses, “What can the members of Congress and the White House do to make space relevant?” Lyles responded that they could “let NASA know PR is ok” and they should look at some of the current legislation because there is language that could be construed as prohibiting appropriations from being used on marketing. Smith said that they can encourage NASA to promote their programs and tell them there is nothing wrong in doing so. She added they need to “make their message come alive” and public relations should become “a bread and butter issue” for them.

Olson asked the witnesses about what people in NASA could do to make space more relevant. Myers responded that they could showcase “hero stories” of people within their agency and “find great science communicators” to find a way to make it relevant to people’s lives. O’Brien added that “NASA suffers from a bit of timidity” and people within the agency do not want to talk publicly about their work for fear of being “off-message.” He said the agency should “empower” their people to get the word out about their work which will make marketing easier.

Representative Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL) said that if we do not increase the relevance of space to the American public we could be “missing an opportunity” with the next generation going into science and technology. She asked the panelists about how to advance recognition of the significance of the International Space Station. Myers responded that NASA should “capture stories” on the space station to “make it real, make it alive. O’Brien said that he blames Hollywood in part for the public’s indifference to space for making space exploration look too easy in movies. Lyles said NASA should show “what it is, and what it could be” with the space station. Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) asked the panelists about what they see as the next business and tourism opportunities available through the space station. Smith responded that possibilities include work in solar energy, atmospheric testing, tourism, space habitats and astronaut training.

Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) asked, “How can NASA highlight failures in a positive way that shows the importance of its projects?” Smith said that it should “share the risk” with private industry by engaging in more partnerships. Myers said it is important to share these stories which will “get people invested” and “take them along for the ride.”

Representative Parker Griffith (D-AL) said that when the space program started the U.S. was a nation in turmoil, but we “stayed committed to space.” He added that “we must remain strong” now to maintain scientific and military superiority, saying “we have to do this, it is no longer an option.” Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said that we are “weak in promoting space-based assets.” He also added that engineers and scientists should be paid well, and it needs to start in education by paying science teachers more. Lyles responded that scientists and engineers need great things to work on so NASA needs to continue pursuing challenging projects. Full committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) said that we need more research and development and that we “need to close the four year gap” between scheduled U.S. space flight capability. He added that “we can’t be subject to Russia’s whims” and have to keep the space station going.

Testimony from the chair and panelists can be found here, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing.


House Science and Technology Committee Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Hearing on “Continuing Independent Assessment of the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System”
June 17, 2009


Mr. David Powner
Director, Information Technology Management Issues, Government Accountability Office
Mr. Tom Young
Chair, NPOESS Independent Review Team
Ms. Mary Glackin
Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Committee Members Present
Brad Miller, Chair (D-NC)
Paul C. Broun, Ranking Member (R-GA)
Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA)
Lincoln Davis (D-TN)
Brian P. Bilbray (R-CA)

On June 17, 2009, the House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the Science and Technology Committee held a hearing on “Continuing Independent Assessment of the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System.” The National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) has been plagued with a lack of interagency cooperation and technical problems, resulting in delays in launch dates and increasing costs of the project. Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) said during his opening remarks, “NPOESS is cursed by too many cooks and no agreed upon recipe for the proper mission of the program,” citing lack of cooperation between the three agencies in charge: Department of Defense (DOD), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He added, “Only the White House can settle these differences and carve a clear path forward.” While money has been misspent on NPOESS and the project has been mismanaged, “stopping NPOESS is not an option” because the American public relies on the weather and climate data that would be collected by the satellite system. Ranking Member Paul Broun (R-GA) cited “partner agencies having differing priorities and levels of commitment” as a main problem of NPOESS in his opening remarks, adding “this is NOAA’s flagship mission, yet this barely amounts to a rounding error in the Pentagon’s budget.” Broun said that “failure is not an option” for NPOESS, calling the project “a critical national asset.”

Mr. David Powner, from the Government Accountability Office, testified that “NPOESS has been plagued by ineffective management” from EXCOM, the executive committee of NPOESS, due to the tri-agency structure. Specifically, key acquisition executives do not attend EXCOM meetings, delaying their ability to make decisions and implement them. He also testified that with the current, unforgiving launch schedule “we will have gaps in satellite coverage” if there are any problems with the launch of the satellites. Powner also said the cost of the system was likely to exceed $15 billion by March 2014. Powner’s recommendations for NPOESS included that the EXCOM establish a realistic timeframe for revising the project’s cost and schedule baselines, and develop plans to mitigate the risk of gaps in satellite continuity. Progress has been made on the project, three of five instruments for the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) have been delivered and integrated on the spacecraft and “the satellites’ command, control, and communications system has passed acceptance testing.”

Mr. Tom Young testified for the NPOESS Independent Review Team (IRT) which has ten findings and recommendations to correct the problems of the project. Young said, “The current NPOESS program has an extraordinary low probability of success.” He also stated that “NPOESS EXCOM is ineffective. Members must have decision authority,” and “the critical issue is the lack of alignment of DOD/Air Force (AF) and NOAA priorities.” He said the IRT believes it will be necessary for the White House to step in and define the project within NPOESS “that is in the national interest.” Young also asserted that “responsibility for program implementation must be assigned to one organization,” either AF or NOAA, adding “either can do the job.” IRT recommends that “NPOESS be assigned to NOAA with NASA acting as NOAA’s acquisition organization,” citing NOAA’s broader responsibility for weather and climate data than other agencies. He concluded his testimony telling the subcommittee that implementation of the IRT’s recommendations is “urgently required.”

Ms. Mary Glackin testified on behalf of NOAA to the work they have been doing since the last congressional hearing about NPOESS. She cited installation of a government program manager at the contractor facility developing the Visible/Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), the main imaging sensor for the system, establishment of a Tri-Agency Joint Assessment Team (TJAT) by EXCOM, implementation of an Alternative Management Study, and the IRT. She added, “NOAA is taking the team’s grim assessment of the program very seriously,” and is addressing the problems in the three areas of management, satellite coverage, and budgeting and cost. Glackin said the tri-agency partnership is considering new management options for NPOESS that involve different configurations for the leadership structure of the project. She said, “NOAA is acting quickly to support the important decisions that are likely required to modify the program” to make sure NPOESS can be successful.

Miller asked the panelists, now that new people have assumed these posts with the Obama administration, “Is there any chance EXCOM can work with new people in charge?” Powner indicated it was necessary for one agency to lead the project, and that EXCOM was structured in a way “to save money and it hasn’t saved money.” Young said that he does not think it is “a personality issue.” “The partners have different priorities,” which leads to problems in decision making. He added that the people in EXCOM “need to have decision making authority.” Miller asked if Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should pick the priorities of NPOESS, and Young responded NPOESS is a “program that should be in the best interest of the country” and suggested the Office of the President decide this, perhaps through OSTP, because “we need a decision maker” and “EXCOM cannot come to resolution.” Broun wanted to know if the panelists thought the mission of NPOESS was more in align with one of the agencies over the others. Glackin responded that it was NOAA saying NPOESS is “germane to our mission” and NOAA is “ready to take leadership” on the project. Young echoed this saying NOAA should be the lead agency due to “climate leadership,” wanting to “assign it to where it is a number one priority.” He added that NOAA will need NASA as a partner. Powner also expressed that NOAA should be the lead agency.

Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA) asked the panelists why they have not seen cost stabilization in the project even after the Nun-McCurdy recertification in 2005. NPOESS had to defer to the Nun-McCurdy Amendment of the 1982 Defense Authorization Act and thus design its satellites with lesser capabilities than originally planned after its cost increased to more than 15 percent of the original project cost as dictated by the amendment. Powner responded that there has been “mismanagement throughout” and “unforeseen technical problems” including integration issues that have led to the ballooning costs of the project. He told the subcommittee that an additional $1 billion would be needed and likely more, saying the final cost “will be higher than $15 billion.”

Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-CA) asked if the biggest problem was incompatibility of hardware being used on the satellite system. Young indicated that the different priorities of the leadership was the biggest problem. Bilbray commented that all agencies involved are “going to get benefits out of things they don’t realize” and should work together to get the job done.

Miller asked the panelists to name the one thing that needs to be done to turn NPOESS around. All panelists were in agreement that a clear decision on the program’s top priority needs to be made with effective leadership from a lead agency.

Testimony from the chair and panelists can be found here, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing.


Sources: Hearing testimony.

Contributed by Stephanie Praus, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern and GAP Staff; Joey Fiore, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; and Mollie Pettit, AGI/AAPG Fall 2009 Intern

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Last updated on December 7, 2010

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