(Washington, DC) -The House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing to discuss the key issues and challenges facing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as seen by the agency’s “watchdogs”: the NASA Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP).

“As Congress prepares to reauthorize NASA, it is important that we focus on the issues and challenges that will determine whether or not NASA succeeds or fails in the coming decade,” said Subcommittee Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). “I appreciate the objective assessments that we received, which will help inform our deliberations over NASA’s future.”

The hearing addressed the areas of management, mission execution, and security and safety oversight. The discussion focused on critical issues and challenges facing NASA that may warrant congressional attention and witnesses’ opinions of the corresponding commitment, initiatives, and policies needed by NASA to successfully address these issues and challenges.

Witnesses and Members discussed three recent reports:

  • The annual memorandum from the NASA Office of the Inspector General (OIG), identifying what it views as NASA’s most serious management and performance challenges, namely 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.
  • The annual GAO report, Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects, which found that 9 of the ten projects that have been in the implementation phase for several years experienced cost growth ranging from eight to 68 percent, and launch delays of one to 33 months, in the past three years. Contract management has been on GAO’s high-risk list since 1990.
  • The ASAP’s 2009 Annual Report, which expressed concerns about the need to: establish human rating requirements for potential commercial and international vehicle systems that might be used to carry U.S. astronauts; analyze the ramifications of any decision to extend the Space Shuttle beyond the current manifest; transition the workforce from the Shuttle to the follow-on program; candidly communicate the risks of human space flight with the public and the Congress; and more aggressively use robots to reduce the risk of human exploration.

“NASA is an agency with a range of programs and responsibilities in science, aeronautics, and human spaceflight–and we need to make sure that the agency is proceeding as effectively as possible to carry out its diverse missions,” said Giffords. “I look forward to working with Members on both sides of the aisle as we strive to ensure that Congress crafts the most responsible and productive future for the nation’s space and aeronautics programs, taking into account the input we received. The stakes for America are too high for us to attempt anything less.”

Members also expressed their concern about aspects of NASA’s proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget request, especially the proposed cancellation of the Constellation program that is developing the vehicles needed to send U.S. astronauts beyond low Earth orbit. The Subcommittee plans additional hearings to examine the budget request in detail over the coming weeks.