WASHINGTON – Today, in a hearing with Dr. Michael Griffin, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Committee on Science and Technology discussed the President’s fiscal year 2008 (FY08) budget request, specifically raising concern that the budget falls $1.4 billion short of the recommended funding in the NASA Authorization Act, passed in 2005.

As a long-time supporter of a robust space exploration program, Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) spoke highly of the President’s Vision, and noted, “NASA performs best when it has a clear mission.  In the aftermath of the Columbia tragedy we all recognized that NASA needed a new, clearly defined, affordable mission that would take us beyond low Earth orbit.  After careful study, the Administration proposed the Vision for Space Exploration – which I support – and which this Committee and the entire Congress endorsed through the NASA Authorization Act of 2005.  That consensus gives NASA the stable direction it has lacked.   

“Since the Vision was first announced, two major financial obstacles have occurred,” Hall continued.  “First, earlier estimates for the remaining Shuttle flights understated the cost by roughly $3 billion.  Second, the five-year budget runout presented at the time the Vision was announced [in 2004] assumed a higher funding profile.  In the years since, the Administration requests for NASA have come in lower, and unfortunately Congress failed to fully fund the FY2007 request.  Everyone bears some blame for the funding shortfalls, but the point I want to stress is that NASA continues to hold to its original schedule for the Vision, but doing it with smaller budgets.  Consequently, the stress on the agency is enormous.”

Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Member Ken Calvert (R-CA) echoed this sentiment, pointing out that the lack of funding comes at a bad time, with pressures from rival counties’ space programs threatening US preeminence.  “Unfortunately, the FY2008 budget request seeks just $17.3 billion for NASA, substantially less than authorized but still with a 3% increase that is well above many other agencies within the discretionary budget,” Calvert said.  “Nevertheless, this disparity, paired with the Agency’s FY2007 appropriations reduction of $545 million, jeopardizes NASA’s ability to successfully accomplish its portfolio of missions.  And it comes at a time when other countries, such as China, are eagerly ramping up their own space and aeronautics programs.  Their recent ASAT strike should remind us all that the Second Space Age will be a crowded and competitive.”

Calvert concluded that NASA is being asked to do too much with insufficient resources, and therefore recommended a bottom line increase in NASA’s proportion of the overall federal budget, saying, “For an Agency that has made immense contributions to our quality of life, economy and international relations, the little more than one-half of one percent of the total federal budget investment we are providing is just not sufficient.  NASA stakeholders must stop fighting each other for a larger piece of the NASA pie and work on a securing a bigger overall NASA pie.”

Recognizing that the budget request falls short of expectations, Administrator Griffin, defended the request, framing the budget in terms of an extremely tight funding environment, saying, “The FY 2008 budget request for NASA demonstrates the President’s continued commitment to our Nation’s leadership in space and aeronautics research, especially during a time when there are other competing demands for our Nation’s resources.  The FY 2008 budget request reflects a stable plan to continue investments begun in prior years, with some slight course corrections.”  Griffin concluded, “Overall, I believe that we are heading in the right direction. We have made great strides this past year, and NASA is on track and making progress in carrying out the tasks before us.”