American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Update on Remote Sensing Issues (6-18-97)

Most Recent Action
On June 18th, the House Committee on Science reported out H.R. 1702, the Commercial Space Act of 1997, by voice vote with two non-controversial amendments. "I am pleased that H.R. 1702 was reported out of the Subcommittee with such broad bipartisan support," stated subcommittee chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). "Today we took the first step towards sending this legislation to the President for his signature later this year, which will be a great advancement for U.S. leadership in international development of the space frontier." Two additional amendments were added to the text before the full committee reported the legislation out on Wednesday June 18, 1997. "We've made several changes in this bipartisan legislation to meet the Administration's concerns. I am prepared to resolve the Administration's two main concerns in exchange for a White House commitment of support for H.R. 1702," Chairman Sensenbrenner said. The administration has cited two main issues of concern regarding the publication of lists related to international obligations and national security issues and the removal of language from current law that refers to "international policies."

The Commercial Space Act of 1997 was introduced on May 22, 1997 by Science Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). The Act streamlines regulations governing commercial space activity and encourages the federal government to use commercial goods and services. Specifically, H.R. 1702 includes the following provisions: 1) directs NASA to study commercial possibilities for the International Space Station, 2) amends the Commercial Space Launch Act to license commercial space transportation vehicles to reenter Earth's atmosphere and return space payloads to Earth, 3) encourages policies to secure the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) as the world's standard, 4) streamlines the licensing process for remote sensing satellites and 5) requires government procurement of commercial space transportation services.

The Commercial Space Act of 1997 updates the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992. The Act includes a series of provisions which are intended to preserve national security through a more in-depth licensing and tracking process. H.R. 1702 also includes a provision about data purchase and a proposed study about how best to meet the needs of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth using data acquisitions from licensed technology.

Two amendments to the Act were proposed and accepted without objection during the Space Subcommittee markup, held on June 12. The first, the bipartisan managers amendment, was proposed by Chairman Rohrabacher and Ranking Member Bud Cramer (D-AL). The amendment acknowledges the willingness of Congress to "work in good faith" with the executive branch and continue discussions with the administration regarding commercial space enterprises. The second amendment, introduced by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), would require NASA to directly fund its space centers operated by universities and research institutes across the country. Currently, these centers which have been shown to generate two to three times their initial investment have to compete for funding and are subject to "unique, regional political struggles." Chairman Rohrabacher stated his support for such a consistent process, which would also involve judging the centers on their merits through peer review and a consistent set of standards in determining funding.

During the full Science Committee markup, held on June 18, two further amendments to the bill were proposed and accepted without objection. Chairman Sensenbrenner introduced an amendment to address the concerns of the Administration and the Department of Transportation. He restated the Committee's intention of working cooperatively with the administration in addressing concerns which have been stated as well as any that may arise in the future. Rep. Weldon (R-FL) introduced a second amendment intended to ensure that "the potential contributions of state governments are not overlooked as we promote the commercial space amendment simply states that all of the studies and reports that are ordered under Section 101 of H.R. 1702 must consider the potential role of state governments as 'brokers' of commercial space work between NASA and the private sector." Weldon noted that several states are currently investing state funds in space-related facilities and activities. State governments can provide additional sources of capital and expertise that could be important resources for commercial ventures. The bill as amended was reported out of full committee without objection.

A series of three hearings was held to discuss the implications and possibilities of the Commercial Space Act of 1997.

House Hearing on the Commercial Space Act of 1997: Commercial Remote Sensing, Part I
This hearing, held on May 21, 1997, focused on the perspective of the scientific community as regards commercial remote sensing. To read the full testimony of the witnesses submitted to the committee, visit the House Science Committee website.

House Hearing on the Commercial Space Act of 1997: Issues of Space Transportation
Held on May 22, 1997, the second hearing specifically addressed issues of space transportation. To read the full testimony of the witnesses submitted to the committee, visit the House Science Committee website.

House Hearing on the Commercial Space Act of 1997: Commercial Remote Sensing, Part II
The third hearing held to address the Commercial Space Act of 1997 occurred on June 4, 1997. This hearing addressed the viewpoints of government officials and industry. A representative from both the Department of Commerce and the Department of Defense, as well as a representative from the Global Positioning System (GPS) Industry Council, were present. To read the full testimony of the witnesses submitted to the Committee, visit the House Science Committee website. A more extensive report on this hearing is available on AGI's hearings site.

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

Contributed by Jenna Minicucci, AGI Government Affairs Intern
Last updated June 18, 1997

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