WASHINGTON — A group of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives is proposing to shift funds from NASA’s climate change research coffers to the agency’s manned spaceflight program, an effort they say could preserve what they described as the agency’s core mission even as the new GOP-controlled House seeks to make good on vows to roll back federal discretionary spending this year.
“With your help, we can reorient NASA’s mission back toward human spaceflight by reducing funding for climate change research and reallocating those funds to NASA’s human spaceflight accounts, all while moving overall discretionary spending toward [fiscal 2008] levels,” states a Feb. 7 letter to Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the panel’s commerce, justice, science subcommittee that oversees NASA spending.
The letter was signed by Reps. Pete Olson (R-Texas), Bill Posey (R-Fla.), Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Sandy Adams (R-Fla.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Mo Brooks (R-Ala.). All hail from states with a major stake in U.S. human spaceflight.
In the letter, the lawmakers took issue with recent increases in climate change research spending, which has topped President Barack Obama’s environmental policy agenda since he took office in January 2009. Congress approved Obama’s $1.4 billion request for Earth science for 2010, even increasing the number slightly to $1.42 billion. And though Congress has yet to approve a federal spending bill for 2011, leaving NASA and other agencies to operate at 2010 spending levels, House and Senate authorizers endorsed Obama’s $1.8 billion request for Earth science programs during the current year in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which was signed into law in October.
The authorization measure also endorses spending $3.8 billion on manned space exploration programs this year. With Republican leaders in the House pushing to curtail federal discretionary spending, the letter urges Rogers and Wolf to ensure that NASA stays focused on that activity.
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“For years, Presidents and Congress have charged NASA with completing tasks that fall outside the scope of NASA’s primary mission,” the letter states. “Specifically, NASA spent over 7.5 percent — over a billion dollars — of its budget on studying global warming/climate change in Fiscal Year 2010.”
The letter also says climate change research garnered the lion’s share of NASA’s $1 billion in 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, though NASA’s plan for spending the economic stimulus money included just $325 million for major climate change research priorities set in the U.S. National Research Council’s most recent decadal survey.
The letter states that excessive spending on climate monitoring initiatives is not limited to NASA.
“Overall, the government spent over $8.7 billion across 16 Agencies and Departments throughout the federal government on these efforts in [fiscal 2010] alone,” the letter states. “Global warming funding presents an opportunity to reduce spending without unduly impacting NASA’s core human spaceflight mission.”
The appeal also cited the need to ensure U.S. national security and economic competitiveness with China, India| and Russia.
“We must not put ourselves in the position of watching Chinese astronauts planting their flag on the moon while we sit — earthbound by our own shortsightedness,” the letter states.
During a Feb. 10 hearing of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee, Wolf did not mention the letter, but questioned NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin as to whether NASA is duplicating the functions of other federal agencies.
“Are there things that NASA’s doing that are not initially part of the organic act that other agencies are doing, meritorious — I’m not knocking — but that we could then take the resources and put them into what the authorization said?” Wolf asked Martin during the hearing.