Will Administration Follow NASA Authorization? Senators Skeptical

Marcia Clark at SpacePolicyOnline.com has posted an excellent recap of yesterday’s hearing by the Senate’s full Committee on Commerce, Science & Justice, Senators Skeptical About Administration’s Intent on NASA Authorization Act. The main witnesses at yesterday’s hearing were White House Office of Science and Technology Policy head Dr. John Holdren and NASA CFO Beth Robinson.

    “Yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Commerce subcommittee chaired by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) left no doubt that Senators on both sides of the aisle remain deeply skeptical of the Administration’s intent to implement the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.”

Some of the points to come out provide a look into why some…ok, most Senators on the Committee are skeptical of the Administration’s willingness to implement the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. While NASA argues that it cannot cancel any parts of the Constellation program due to language prohibiting such changes in the Fiscal Year 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, that didn’t stop NASA from sending letters to the Constellation contractors last summer, under the rubric of adhering to the Anti-Deficiency Act, warning them that Constellation was to be cancelled. While NASA has sought advise from its General Counsel and the GAO concerning funding the technology, commercial crewed and ISS programs, which were part of the Administration’s failed proposed changes to NASA, the Agency has not been so quick off the mark to get rulings on how to proceed on the heavy-lift vehicle and the multipurpose crewed exploration vehicle programs in light of the 2010 Appropriations prohibition and 2010 NASA Authorization Act. In fact, NASA has not even asked either its Counsel or the GAO about these items.

One of the concerns for those who wrote the 2010 NASA Authorization Act was that NASA’s leadership would try to slow-boat the provisions of the Act that clearly went against the Administration’s proposals for a “new” NASA. As one Senate space staffer noted on another site,

    Well, many of the same people who wrote the 2005 and 2008 Authorization Acts were involved in drafting S.3729 [2010 NASA Authorization Act], so they are VERY aware of the potential for “non-compliance.” They are also very much aware of continuing efforts on the part of certain parties to “slow-roll” or otherwise undermine the letter and intent of what will soon be signed into law.

    With regard to the bill itself, the very detailed report required in Section 309 is the first “early warning system” built into the bill to ensure steps are taken towards compliance, well before the two-year scenario you described. If it appears that the completion of that report is being delayed arbitrarily and without justification, there are a number of fairly aggressive “oversight” steps that can–and likely would–be taken that would ensure “transparency” of those activities–and accountability for those undertaking them–which appeared intended to dilute or subvert the law.

This site has touched on concerns over NASA management’s willingness to comply with Congressional intent, as indicated in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. On more than one occasion, NASA officials have made statements that seem to point to an indifference, if not outright unwillingness, by NASA to follow the intent or language of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. Yesterday’s hearing is but one part of Congress’ efforts to keep NASA on a short leash so that its leadership will not “slow-roll” the programs that garnered a 2/3rd’s majority vote in both houses of Congress. It is curious, however, that NASA’s leadership would engage in such antics as touched on in yesterday’s hearing even as the agency’s Administrator works with in-coming Congressional leadership on confidence building. One has to wonder if the right hand of NASA knows what the left is up to?

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