Rep. Frank Wolf (VA-10) and five other key players in Congress on space exploration and science issues today introduced legislation that would overhaul the leadership structure within the U.S. space program and bring long-term stability to NASA.
The Space Leadership Preservation Act would create a 10-year term for the NASA administrator so decisions are made based on science and are removed from the politics of differing administrations. The 10-year term is modeled after the leadership structure within the FBI and National Science Foundation.
The legislation also establishes a new board of directors to provide additional oversight of space programs to better ensure American preeminence in the space industry. Wolf, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA and many of the nation's science programs, said in the past 20 years alone, 27 programs have been cancelled, resulting in more than $20 billion wasted on uncompleted programs.
"We've seen a continuous stream of canceled programs due to cost-overruns, mismanagement, or abrupt program changes at the start of each new administration, which has been costly to taxpayers, has had a demoralizing impact on the NASA workforce and ultimately stunts U.S. competitiveness," said Wolf.
"The U.S. enjoyed 40 years of unquestioned dominance in space, but the 21st Century has already seen increased competition from other countries, including those that don't share our democratic institutions or values -- like China," Wolf continued. "The status quo has to change, and the Space Leadership Preservation Act is our effort to start a national conversation on this very necessary reform effort. Our bill gets America back on the road to being a leading competitor in the next space race by outlining a leadership structure to develop a bold, strategic and long-term direction for the future of NASA and U.S. space exploration according to national priorities and bipartisan expert input -- not White House politics."
Virginia is home to a number of high-tech, space-related jobs that Wolf has worked to strengthen and preserve. Much of the expertise, vision and initial plans for the Apollo program came from NASA's Langley Research Center, which today plays a critical role in supporting rocket wind tunnel tests and the development of the Orion crew exploration capsule, as well as cutting-edge aeronautics research and science programs. NASA's Wallops Island rocket launch complex, including the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), is supporting Orbital Science's upcoming Antares rocket launches to resupply the International Space Station.
Calling this bill vital to the nation's STEM workforce -- short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics -- Wolf said, "I know the NASA workforce and contractors are capable of doing great things and delivering an exceptional space program for the American people -- but they need sustained and stable leadership."
The bill's other cosponsors are: John Culberson (TX-07), who serves on the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee with Wolf and represents part of Houston; Bill Posey (FL-15), who represents the Kennedy Center; Pete Olson (TX-22), who represents part of Houston and is the former ranking member of the Science subcommittee with NASA oversight; James Sensenbrenner (WI-05), vice chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and Lamar Smith (TX-21), who also serves on the Science Committee.
The bill also has also been endorsed by former astronaut Gene Cernan, the legendary captain of Apollo 17 and the last man to walk on the moon. Cernan, who spoke at the memorial service for Neil Armstrong, recently met with Wolf and Culberson.
"We have filed this bill today to make NASA less political and more professional by modeling their internal leadership after the FBI and the National Science Foundation," said Culberson, the bill's primary author. "We also plan to make NASA funding more stable and predictable by enabling them to design and build new rockets and new spacecraft in the same way the Navy designs and builds new submarines and ships. These reforms will save money and help the budget go farther in tough times, but more importantly, we hope it will restore the NASA we knew when America landed the first man on the moon."
Said Cernan: "America's space program is just that -- America's space program. It has been a bipartisan commitment in the Congress since the days of JFK's challenge to go to the moon. But, it has lacked long-term stability and focus because of the constantly changing political whims of the Executive Branch of government. This legislation is critical to providing the much-needed continuity for the future of NASA's far-reaching goals in space."
The Space Leadership Act would:
Create a board of directors chosen by the administration, House, and Senate, made up of former astronauts and eminent scientists responsible for:
o Preparing a budget submission approved by the administrator and submitted CONCURRENTLY to House and Senate Appropriations and the president.
o Recommending three candidates for NASA administrator, deputy administrator and CFO; the president is encouraged to select one of the above, who would then be approved by the Senate.
o Preparing a quadrennial review of space programs and other reports.
Board terms would change to three three-year terms.
o It will also include a clause that states that no board member can work for a company that has business with NASA.
The administrator would be selected for a 10-year term.
o This mirrors the FBI directors 10-year term.
o The board will be allowed to remove the NASA administrator for cause.
The legislation extends the provision for long term contracting from EELV (Evolvable Expendable Launch Vehicle) to rocket propulsion systems and manned and unmanned space transportation vehicles and payloads, including expendable launch vehicles, and related services.