Representative Frank Wolf, Chairman of the House Commerce, Justice, Science, & Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, spoke today before the Space Policy Institute. Rep. Wolf’s comments make clear his frustration with the direction in which the Obama Administration has tried to take NASA, whether through the lack of a destination for human spaceflight or its continued lack of focus in maintaining the lead the U.S. currently has in human spaceflight. In the past, he has been vocal against efforts by the Administration to cut funding below levels Congress authorized for Orion or the Space Launch System.
The key points are raised by Congressman Wolf:
- Astroid Rendezvous Mission universally ill-conceived and unpopular.
- A Return to the Moon will inspire generations and prepare us for Mars.
- Building international partnerships for space requires vision that has been missing.
- Seriousness of security Violations at NASA’s Ames and Langley centers.
Representative Wolf’s comments:
Good afternoon. I appreciate Dr. Pace’s invitation to be with you today. I have served as chairman of the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations subcommittee, which funds NASA, from 2001 to 2006 and again since 2011 through the end of this Congress. I have long been committed to NASA and the other science agencies funded through the CJS bill, including the National Science Foundation and NIST, because I believe these investments are essential to our country’s future and competitiveness.
Great nations invest in science and space because they know the innovations that result will create jobs, grow the economy and strengthen national security. Despite the subcommittee’s allocation being cut from $64 billion to around $50 billion over the last three years – not including sequestration – we have gone to great lengths to preserve funding for our space and science programs.
Appropriations is a zero-sum game. Our allocation is fixed, and every dollar invested in one agency means a dollar less for another. That leads to tough choices each year. For example, to ensure we preserved our investments in NASA and NSF, the subcommittee has made deep cuts to grant programs to help local law enforcement and agencies likes the Census Bureau.
During my time on the subcommittee, I have worked closely with NASA during a tumultuous decade that included the aftermath of the tragic Space Shuttle Colombia accident and return to flight,and later the development of the Constellation program and completion of the International Space Station. More recently, I have tried to support NASA and mitigate damage resulting from this administration’s efforts since 2010 to dismantle our nation’s exploration program and unnecessarily prolonged our reliance on the Russians for access to the International Space Station.
Concerns about Exploration Program
Today, I am deeply concerned about the state of NASA’s human spaceflight program and, ultimately, American leadership in space for the 21st century. This concern is not because I believe NASA isn’t capable of great things, or because the American people don’t support space exploration. They do. In fact, they hunger to do great things in space again.
My concern is rooted in this administration’s mismanagement of NASA and our relationships with our international partners. Simply put: our exploration program is floundering. Since the cancellation of the Constellation program by the Obama Administration in 2010, we have seen an agency adrift, grasping for purpose and direction while receiving little support or leadership from the White House.
Perhaps the best example of this administration’s mismanagement of our space program is its current plan to “lasso an asteroid” into lunar orbit. The proposal, unveiled in last year’s budget proposal, was hardly vetted before its release and has since been found to be poorly thought-out and lacking in support from both the American people and our international partners.
No matter how much NASA tries to dress up or rationalize this proposal to the Congress and to the public, it continues to ring hollow. The selection of the asteroid as NASA’s near-term destination goal is little more than a line drawn from President Obama’s April 2010 speech delivered at Kennedy Space Center, a speech he only gave after his cancellation of the Constellation program and its lunar mission set off a firestorm of negative press.
The current asteroid mission was born not out of a strategic vision for American leadership in space, but out of a reactionary need to justify the cancellation of the program to return to the Moon. Strategic space policy should not be made like this. And it’s precisely why a few years later I joined with Mr. Culberson, Mr. Posey and several other of my colleagues in proposing reforms to NASA’s management to insulate it from politics.
These reforms included a 10-year term for the administrator, just like the FBI director, an independent board of directors and the ability for the agency to submit its own budget to Congress. I believe these reforms, all of which have been used successfully by other agencies, could be helpful in bringing stability to NASA’s programs and direction.
I also have worked in the Appropriations Committee to address NASA’s strategic direction – or lack thereof. I included language in the FY 2012 CJS Appropriations bill to have the National Research Council convene a commission to review NASA’s strategic direction. The commission’s chairman, Dr. Albert Carnesale, said upon the completion of the review last year: “If you ask people in the bowels of NASA, in the field offices – and we spoke with everybody from the directors of each of the field offices to college interns and everybody in between – [the asteroid mission] is not generally accepted.”
He also noted, “The more we learn about it, the more we hear about it, people seem less enthusiastic about it.” Unfortunately, NASA ignored the findings of the commission’s report and has pressed ahead with its misguided plans.
The asteroid mission is not worthy of a great nation, and Congress has made it pretty clear that this is a non-starter. Notably, Congress restricted funding in the FY 2014 Omnibus bill to only develop technologies that could also be applied to missions involving the Moon and Mars. Most people believe the next administration is likely to abandon this uninspiring mission and pivot towards more compelling missions.
Quite frankly, I believe it’s insulting to the men and women at NASA that this is all the White House will allow them to pursue. They know – and the American people know – we can do better. At a time when this administration is thinking small, we need bold, visionary thinking to infuse NASA with a destination and goals that will capture the interest and imagination of the American people. We need missions that push the limit and engage the public’s imagination.
Need for a Return to the Moon
I am a little older than some of you, and can vividly remember the excitement in the country and around the world as NASA achieved remarkable milestones in space during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, culminating in the lunar landings. These missions spurred a generation of children to become scientists and engineers, fueling our country’s competitiveness and economic success.
I still believe that our future in space lies in President Kennedy’s call to go to the Moon. This remains as compelling a destination today as it did in the 1960s.
Neil Armstrong, shortly before he died, said, “I am persuaded that a return to the Moon would be the most productive path to expanding the human presence in the solar system.” There is no question that a human return would galvanize the American people – and the world’s – attention. As Neil Armstrong alluded, human missions to the Moon is essential to proving out the technologies necessary for missions to Mars.
There is no question that we would want to test these capabilities for long duration missions on the Moon – which is only days away from Earth in the case of an emergency – before we send American astronauts on mission to Mars that would take more than a year. Lunar missions also would restore the confidence of our international partners that the U.S. intends to lead again, after a period of disarray in our space policy.
It is also worth noting that since the abrupt dismantling of the Constellation program, this administration has also unilaterally terminated a Mars science mission with our European partners and just this year proposed mothballing the SOFIA mission right as the mission was ready to begin operations, another unwelcome surprise to our German partners. It is no wonder our international partners, who commit significant portions of their space budgets to NASA programs, are questioning just what the U.S. is thinking.
That is why – after years of this administration’s mismanagement of these international partnerships – a clear, strategic and coherent exploration mission is necessary now more than ever. And the global consensus for such a mission appears to be the Moon.
Dr. Carnesale noted that his commission found, “a great deal of enthusiasm, almost everywhere, for the Moon.” A lunar return accomplishes two important goals:
- It reinvigorates our Exploration program with short-term mission that will capture the nation’s interest;
- It provides an excellent testing ground for the systems and habitats necessary for eventual missions to Mars.
This is the right thing to do both in terms of reasserting American leadership in space as well as contributing to our ability to go on to Mars. That is why I wrote President Obama in December, shortly after the Chinese rover landed on the Moon, urging him to convene a summit to revisit lunar missions, especially in light of steady advances by China. Unfortunately, the administration never responded.
This White House doesn’t care about space, and it doesn’t seem to care that it is squandering America’s historical leadership in exploration as others catch up. It simply is not on its radar screen, which is unfortunate because we have never before relied so much on our space assets in our everyday lives.
Strategic Importance of Space
The need for a clear strategic vision and strong international partnerships with allies who share our values and interests are more critical now than they have been in decades. For the first time in many years, the U.S. is facing real competition in space; this time from China, a country that may pose a serious threat in the years ahead. We also face, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, an overtly hostile Russia that is threatening our allies in Europe.
While NASA has assured the Congress that cooperation on the International Space Station remains strong despite the current tensions, recent events in Ukraine have demonstrated the perils of relying on partners that don’t share our security interests. This should be a cautionary lesson as we consider the qualities by which we select partners for future missions.
And lest we think Russian aggression is limited to the Ukranians and the Georgians, CNN reported earlier this month that “U.S. officials say a Russian fighter jet made a dozen low-altitude passes on the USS Donald Cook in the Black Sea this weekend, in what could be the most direct confrontation between the United States and Russian forces in years.”
For the first time since the end of the Cold War, we are living in a world where major powers are defying the U.S. and the international community in ways that would have been unimaginable five or 10 years ago.
Today, we find ourselves unexpectedly facing twin threats from our continued dependence on a belligerent Russia for access to space as well as an increasingly assertive China that is challenging the U.S. on many fronts:
- Threatening America’s role in the Pacific while attempting to intimidate our allies in the region;
- Conducting comprehensive cyber espionage campaigns aimed at stealing sensitive U.S technologies;
- Investing in military space assets that pose an unprecedented threat to U.S. security.
Despite these serious developments, the U.S. still maintains a historical lead in space exploration that we can capitalize on but that lead gets smaller with each passing year that is wasted on uninspiring missions that are unlikely to outlast this administration, and certainly don’t excite the international partners who share our values and interests to join us.
Unless we adjust our course, we will soon come to regret the time lost these years while others pressed ahead. Our allies want to work with NASA on their exploration programs, but our failure to lead compelling lunar-focused exploration missions will almost certainly mean that our partners will turn to others. And that would be a serious loss, not just for our space program but for our strategic security alliances.
Simply put: this administration’s recalcitrance in leading a lunar mission is creating a crisis of confidence in the U.S. space program.
One of the great, but too rarely celebrated, successes of the International Space Station program over the last 20 years is that it aligned the resources and energies of our international partners’ space programs with the U.S. to create one of the most amazing technological achievements in human history.
This didn’t just fall into place: it was the product of years of strategic planning and outreach to build a program that garnered the support of the Congress, the American people and key foreign partners. As these countries consider how to spend their space dollars in the years ahead, they will be deciding whether to remain closely aligned with the U.S. or instead align with other countries, some of whom may not share our values or national security interests. This will have very real diplomatic and security consequences for our country.
Whether we like it or not, the U.S. finds itself in real competition with another country vying for preeminence in space for the first time since the 1960s. Because of our historic feats in space and the expertise of NASA and U.S. industry, America still has a distinct advantage and a head start, but the window is rapidly closing.
I believe that the decisions made in the next year or two will likely determine whether the U.S. leads the first return to the Moon or if we will sit by and watch others fill the void left by our absence.
Now, I don’t blame Charlie Bolden for this administration’s actions. I believe he came into this job with good intentions, but has been constrained by a White House that doesn’t care and infused space policy with partisan politics. It is clear that this administration will continue to make it difficult to substantially improve our space program absent strong authorization and direction from Congress.
Unfortunately, there’s no substitute for presidential leadership, which is sorely lacking. Leadership abhors a vacuum, and if the U.S. chooses not to lead, others certainly will. The question we will face in the very near future is whether or not our international partners will stay with us or will they look to the Chinese or others for compelling exploration opportunities?
Concerns about China
Before raising two other issues today, I want to talk briefly about a perspective that I bring to my views on space policy due to my other roles in Congress.
Because my subcommittee funds the FBI, I often receive briefings on national security threats to our country, particularly with regard to cyberattacks and espionage by foreign states. I have seen up close how certain countries, particularly China, have targeted federal agencies, contractors and law firms to steal billions of dollars of cutting-edge technology that diminishes our national security and undermines job creation. This gives me a unique view of how others are stealing our technologies, even as we have fewer and fewer dollars to invest. I wish everyone could see the full picture of what’s happening, but much of it is classified.
To put all this in context:
FBI Director James Comey recently said that the cyber threat, which is largely from China, has eclipsed terrorism as the great security threat to our country.
- The NSA has called Chinese espionage of technology from U.S. contractors, including many in this room, as “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.”
- Former NSA director General Keith Alexander said that one U.S. company “recently lost $1 billion worth of intellectual property over the course of a couple of days – ‘technology that they’d worked on for 20-plus years – stolen by one of the adversaries.'”
- Last April, Verizon released its annual cyber report which found that “96 percent of recorded, state-affiliated attacks targeting business’ trade secrets and other intellectual property in 2012 could be traced to Chinese hackers.”
This is just a snapshot of the unclassified information about the security threat from China. So you can imagine how concerned I am from what I learn from other briefings. I wish everyone could see the list of agencies, contractors and law firms targeted by the Chinese. It is stunning. It is safe to assume that nearly every organization represented in this room has been targeted.
When you receive the briefings I receive about China’s actions in cyberspace and espionage, combined with my decades of experience meeting with the victims of Chinese persecution, it’s becomes difficult to support further cooperation absent improvements in the PLA’s behavior.
To date, we have not seen any improvement. If anything, it is getting worse.
In addition to these security concerns, as co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, I meet regularly with dissidents from around the world who have been persecuted by their governments for their faith or for speaking out. I have met with prisoners who have been wrongfully imprisoned or tortured in some of the worst conditions you can imagine, whether in the former Soviet Union or China.
All of these perspectives inform my views of our space program and our investment in it. That is why I have focused so much on NASA’s strategic direction for the years ahead, while also raising concerns about some of the security challenges it faces, especially from China. I am constantly surprised that the American people, and the international community, are not more outraged by these actions. Should such behavior be rewarded with more access, or marginalized by the international community? I would argue the latter.
Any deeper cooperation should be predicated on improved behavior on security and human rights, not as a token gesture by the U.S. in hopes of future improvements. Recent comments made by Chinese leadership are not encouraging. Earlier this month, Chinese premier Xi Jinping called for “greater military use of space.”
According to an April 15 article, “Xi, who is also head of the military, told [Chinese military] officers ‘to speed up air and space integration and sharpen their offensive and defensive capabilities.’” The article also noted that “Xi has said he wants China to establish itself as a space superpower.”
As some of you may know, our subcommittee has had strong oversight of NASA’s security, including a provision to limit its bilateral cooperation with the Chinese space program, which is run by the People’s Liberation Army, the same PLA that is developing offensive space weapons Xi urged be accelerated.
I took the step of including language restricting bilateral cooperation because I became concerned that some in NASA, and in this administration, failed to understand that the same people they sought to work with on civil space cooperation were also developing space weapons, targeting NASA and its contractors with cyberattacks and are the same people responsible for the brutal detention of human rights activists in China.
While I do not believe it is wise to pursue significant cooperation with the PLA on human spaceflight, it is important to note that the congressional restriction does provide several venues for the U.S. to maintain its dialogue with Chinese counterparts as well as opportunities for limited engagement. For instance, the language only restricts bilateral cooperation, not multilateral venues where representatives from all countries participate.
Second, the language provides an exception allowing limited cooperation so long as the administration can certify to the Congress that there is no risk of technology transfer to the PLA and none of the individuals have a history of human rights abuses.
So there is some flexibility for NASA when it comes to China. But these restrictions ensure a degree of prudence and serious review before NASA can enter any cooperative arrangements with China, which I believe would not otherwise be seriously considered by this administration absent the congressional restriction.
Security Violations at Ames and Langley
I also have spent a significant amount of time over the last year looking at security on NASA centers and with its IT systems after several whistleblowers from different centers independently approached me about serious problems. As I mentioned earlier, my subcommittee has gone to great lengths to protect NASA and other science funding in a tough budget environment because I want America to be number one.
We made very tough cuts to other agencies to preserve funding for space and science. We did this because I know how critical these investments are to cutting edge technologies that can fuel our economy and maintain our leadership in space. But those efforts are undermined if the technology developed from these scarce resources is stolen by China, which can use them in both its exploration and military space programs.
In making these tough trade-offs on funding, I expect that federal agencies that receive these resources do everything possible to protect these new technologies from unauthorized access.
Unfortunately, NASA has failed to take this responsibility seriously.
In late 2012 and early 2013, I was alerted to serious security violations at NASA’s Ames and Langley research centers. At Langley, I learned of the case of a Chinese national who travelled twice to China for extended trips with a NASA laptop and terabytes of cutting-edge, taxpayer-funded research. Although he was terminated after security staff learned of the serious security violation, NASA was not going to conduct a further investigation until I went public with the concerns. Worse, the IG office showed little interest in reviewing how this violation took place or making recommendations on how the center could prevent future incidents.
Ultimately, the contractor was arrested after lying to federal law enforcement about the contents of his computers and hard drive as he prepared to leave the U.S. He ultimately pled guilty to downloading pornography on a government computer. He has since been deported, but I understand that federal law enforcement continued to investigate this matter and its repercussions well after that incident.
I also was informed that a number of export-controlled documents had been placed on a Langley public server. That allowed any person in the world with Internet access – whether they lived in the United States, Great Britain, China, Iran or North Korea – to see them. When I raised this issue publicly, NASA appropriately responded by removing all of the data until it could determine how many of the documents were export controlled. The State Department ultimately confirmed in February that ITAR violations had occurred.
The whistleblowers were correct.
The Ames case is worse. In the late 2000s, the FBI conducted a multi-year investigation into a serious security breach and disclosure of export-controlled information at Ames. The Justice Department, in my opinion, slow-walked the case. After the statute of limitations expired, I pressed the IG to get involved. The IG has finished his investigation and the public summary last month. Let’s just say I wasn’t surprised by what I read.
The violations are serious, and it is disappointing that the American public won’t be able know more because the NASA IG is invoking “privacy concerns” as a reason to only allow a limited portion of the report to be released. It is my understanding that the NASA IG is even restricting other federal agencies that are investigating this matter from reading the full report. This is unacceptable and leads me to question the IG’s motivations.
I challenge any of the media here today to push NASA to have the entire report released. The names can be redacted. But the violations identified in the report deserve to be known and there needs to be accountability.
I knew what was happening at Ames and Langley was serious, and that is why last year I publicly called on Administrator Bolden to commission an independent assessment of NASA’s security across the entire agency. To his credit, he quickly asked the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to assemble a team of security experts, including former FBI and CIA agents, and led by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, to conduct a comprehensive review. They worked throughout the last year and presented their final report to NASA and to me earlier this year. What they found was comprehensive, systematic failures in both NASA’s security processes as well as in the agency’s culture.
In testimony to the CJS subcommittee earlier this month, Thornburgh testified that his independent review panel found that NASA’s computer systems are “compromised,” and stated, “due to the fact that NASA systems lack the necessary controls to protect information, allow foreign national access to the networks, and allow remote access, the [p]anel concludes that the NASA networks are compromised.”
Thornburgh went on to add: “Publicly available reports on systematic data breaches across the country, NASA’s own internal reports, and briefings given to Academy staff leave little doubt that information contained on the NASA IT systems is compromised.”
He also said recent security incidents involving foreign nationals at NASA research centers led to “justifiable scrutiny” by Congress.
Among the other findings of the independent review panel, Thornburgh testified that:
- “NASA facilities, personnel, technologies, and information are highly regarded and of great interest to the world,” including some “whose intent is to compromise those facilities, co-opt the personnel, and steal those technologies and information”
- “Specific intelligence regarding threats posed by foreign nationals and insiders to specific NASA assets is available from [Intelligence Community] agencies, but has been inconsistently utilized to educate NASA personnel.”
- “NASA Headquarters (HQ) Officials and Center Directors have not adequately communicated that strict compliance was and is required for foreign national hosting, sponsoring, and escort policy and procedures.”
- “There is little accountability for non-compliance when identified through specific incidents or periodic assessments. This validates the identified perception among NASA personnel that ‘mandatory compliance’ means little, as there are few, if any, consequences for deliberate or inadvertent violations of the mandates.”
- “The Agency tends not to hold individuals accountable even when they make serious, preventable errors. Whenever an example of such an error was mentioned during the interviews, Academy staff would follow-up with: what happened to those responsible for the error? In almost every instance, the answer was either ‘nothing’ or ‘I don’t know'”
I should pause here to point out that more than a year after the Langley violations and several years after the Ames violations, not a single NASA employee has been held accountable.
- Thornburgh also noted, “After fixing a problem, the Agency has a tendency to lapse back into old habits once the spotlight is off the area under review.”
- Certain NASA centers “take a more laissez-faire approach with [export control] training either being optional or if mandatory, provides no sanctions against those who fail to take the training.”
These are just some of the serious concerns identified in Thornburgh’s testimony, and there is even more information included in the full report, which NASA has restricted access to. The full report confirmed not only the serious security challenges that need to be addressed, but a persistent organizational culture that fails to hold center leadership, employees and contractors accountable for security violations.
NASA’s leadership at headquarters and centers, which turns a blind eye to security violations and holds no one accountable, must do better. Administrator Bolden can start changing this culture by releasing the full NAPA report, with whatever redactions are necessary to prevent the disclosure of specific vulnerabilities. But the first step towards changing this culture is by publicly acknowledging the problems that were identified.
We should all be concerned that NASA has tried to sweep the report under the rug. There is no reason all, or nearly all, of the report can’t be shared with the American people. That’s precisely why I devoted the first hour of our recent NASA hearing to hearing from Attorney General Thornburgh and his staff about these very troubling findings.
According to a recent article, NASA spends approximately $2 billion per year on IT equipment. Yet the review panel concluded that the networks that this equipment is used on are compromised by foreign entities that want to steal NASA technology. This should be unacceptable to all Americans, especially given how much we spend on IT resources and invest in developing cutting edge technologies. And NASA should be doing everything possible to fix these security problems this year, not over a series of years as proposed in their budget.
In addition to the findings, the NAPA team produced 27 detailed recommendations for NASA to reform its security posture, which Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot assures me will be swiftly implemented.
The reasons I have pursued these security matters so doggedly is because I know NASA can and should do better. The current absence of mission, direction and leadership only exacerbates all of these issues. If we are going to continue to prioritize spending for our space program, often at the expense of other agencies, the American people deserve to know their investment is no being stolen and is contributing to meaningful exploration missions.
I want America to beat China back to the Moon and be the first to Mars. I want the international community – countries that share our interests and values – working with the U.S., not the People’s Liberation Army, on their exploration programs. But this requires vision and leadership. Congress can only do so much without the White House, and unfortunately I don’t see that happening under this president.
Historian Niall Ferguson wrote in his book Civilization that when great nations decline, they decline rapidly. I worry that we are approaching that tipping point with the U.S., and the American space program may be a perfect example of our precarious leadership position.
There is still time to reinvigorate NASA with purpose and direction, and rebuild our international partners’ confidence in our ability to lead. But we need to move quickly on an exploration program that is bold and inspiring.