Texas Delegation Seeks More Stimulus Money for NASA

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WASHINGTON — The Texas congressional delegation is urging U.S. President Barack Obama to redirect $3 billion in unspent stimulus money to NASA, a cash infusion the group said is needed to support a robust human spaceflight program and save jobs in Texas and around the country.

In an Oct. 5 letter to Obama, both Texas senators and 26 of the state’s 32 members of the House of Representatives said the human spaceflight program as currently configured and funded cannot support meaningful human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The lawmakers noted that an expert panel reached the same conclusion after being tasked in May to review NASA’s human spaceflight program.

The blue-ribbon panel, led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine, sent the White House and NASA a summary report Sept. 8 that laid out several alternatives to NASA’s current Moon-focused Constellation program, which the 10-member review group said could not be sustained without an increase in funds beginning in 2011. The panel’s full report is not expected to be released until mid-October, according to NASA officials.

Since the summary report was released, lawmakers have been awaiting a White House decision on the path forward for NASA’s human spaceflight program, including a potential amendment to the president’s $18.7 billion budget request for the space agency submitted to lawmakers in May. In the letter, the Texas delegation noted that the Augustine panel’s findings come “very late in the budgetary process for [fiscal year] 2010. Any path forward will require additional funding not currently within the allocation of NASA’s appropriations committees.”

In a statement accompanying the letter, Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said the U.S. government has doled out only a fraction of the stimulus money appropriated earlier this year in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

“To date only 15 percent of the $787 billion in ARRA funds have been spent,” Olson said. “The additional $3 billion in stimulus funds is critical to sustain existing operations throughout all program areas within NASA as stated in the Augustine report.”

NASA garnered about $1 billion in 2009 stimulus funds, $400 million of which is earmarked for exploration. But members of the Texas delegation urged Obama to do more.

“[W]e respectfully ask that you include in your promised amended budget request for NASA’s Exploration Systems a request to Congress to reallocate the necessary funds for NASA from the funds that we anticipate will remain available from” ARRA, the letter states.

The lawmakers argued that because the stimulus package was intended to secure good jobs and stabilize the U.S. economy, “there is no better investment that could be made than the addition of up to $3 billion to NASA” in 2010. “Regardless of the specific details of the plan for implementing a vigorous and effective exploration program, the [Augustine panel] has made it clear that additional funds are essential, and that time is of the essence in moving forward with whatever program on which you and Congress can reach consensus,” the letter states. “The NASA civil servant and contractor workforce is comprised of highly skilled and dedicated individuals performing the kinds of work and developing the industrial base that we as a nation must have in today’s global competitive economic environment.”