House appropriations subcommittee shakeup?

One of the most common complaints by space advocates is that, in the House and Senate appropriations committees, NASA is placed in the same subcommittee as the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, as well as independent agencies like the NSF and EPA. (Not to mention the American Battle Monuments Commission.) NASA, the argument goes, is then forced to battle veterans programs, low income housing, and the environment to win its funding. There are new signs that this may be changing, but not without a fight.

In an essay in Thursday’s issue of Roll Call (republished on the web site of the Center for American Progress), former House staffer Scott Lilly notes that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is pushing an unspecified reorganization of the House Appropriations Committee. Lilly argues that this push comes, in part, because DeLay is concerned that it will be even harder to get more funding in NASA in the FY06 budget under the current subcommittee structure.

(There are a number of flaws in Lilly’s essay that go beyond the issue of restructuring the appropriations committee: he repeatedly, and inaccurately, refers to the Vision for Space Exploration as the “Moon-Mars Initiative” or the “$1 billion Moon-Mars Initiative”. He also uses a false dichotomy in arguing that this $1 billion would be better spent on “any reasonably popular activity”. It may be worth a post of its own, but I’m getting off on a tangent here.)

Later Thursday, reported (subscription required) that Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is pushing ahead with a restructuring plan, presumably with DeLay’s endorsement. That plan would eliminate three subcommittees, including the VA-HUD-independent agencies subcommittee. (The District of Columbia and Legislative Branch subcommittees would also be eliminated.) The agencies currently under the VA-HUD subcommittee’s jurisdiction would be dispersed among other subcommittees: veterans programs to the Military Construction (!!) subcommittee, HUD to the Transportation-Treasury subcommittee, and the EPA to the Interior subcommittee. The report, unfortunately, doesn’t specify the fate of NASA; it could presumably go to Energy or also Transportation-Treasury (whose jurisdiction already includes a number of smaller independent agencies).

As both the and Lilly articles note, this is far from a done deal: a number of senators, including Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), who chairs the VA-HUD subcommittee in the Senate, strongly oppose this move. If the House went ahead with this restructuring without the Senate following suit, it could create chaos at budget time, since the House and Senate would have incompatible budget bills.

5 comments to House appropriations subcommittee shakeup?

  • TORO

    Let’s put NASA in with DOT, and then compare the ethics. Say there were no infant car seats, or it was up to parents to take the risk of a child in the front seat with an airbag that could blow their head off…”my child knows the risk it is taking, just like them astronauts.” The 1950’s pre-seat belt automaker ethics slogan “The driver understands the risk” is the 2005 NASA astronaut slogan. Ethically comparing, NASA is about 50 years behind the automaker schedule for a new human LEO transport. I wonder how long it took the French to get rid of the Guillotene. It is no longer ethical for this nation to shove its finest into the three remaining Doo Doo birds. Everyone agrees trash day is approaching…I’m simply suggesting setting the garbage out now before it rots and stinks. Ivan and the Sinosaurus have better vehicles. This nation’s utilitarian space program and the moon have something in common: a seemingly permanent dark side. The automakers stepped forward, and NASA stepped backwards. Automakers add the crash dummy test, NASA takes it away. Leadership? The space shuttle should have been canceleld STS-1 or prior.

  • Jeff,

    Are you sure NASA’s in the sane subcommittee?


  • Matthew Brown

    heh, I think thats “Same”. if it wasn’t a typo thats something i expected from you Sam in your tounge in cheek way :)

    Mayhaps its a feudian slip and he was thinking insane subcommitie :)

    But yeah i personally thought it was insane to have them in the same subcomittie as vets and low income housing.

  • I’m very pleased this issue is being examined, and all credit to those who brought it up.

    In an ideal world, I would want NASA to have to compete for their dollars with other (perhaps underperforming) civil agencies involved with space, aeronautics and R&D. For example this might be the FAA and/or NOAA.

    I’m not sure it’s wise to trade off NASA’s budget against the NSF though. That confuses sciense with engineering.

    When large engineering projects are in progress, as they are at NASA and DoD, they often go over budget. I’ve seen firsthand how that’s paid for with the science budget, decimating research groups and projects that otherwise would have born fruit. Basic research is a high inertia game and should have a completely separate money supply to engineering. And that goes for NASA internally too.

    I make this point explicitly because so few lawmakers are scientists, and this needs to be pointed out if deliberations are underway.

  • John Malkin

    DoE is playing a significant roll in future robotic and man mission within the framework of VSE. Energy is the most important component of transportation, as oil has shown us in the past and present. The more energy available increases the distance and speed of any vehicle. Mechanically one of the biggest hold back on robotics is energy; the power system usually weighs as much as the robot itself.

    Science projects should be separated from spaceflight technology programs and each one their own protected budget. NASA cannot set its own priorities since they have a conflict of interest, perhaps we need governing board of scientist and engineers to help congress set priorities for space policy. Something more in line with the group that develop the Hubble report with scientist, engineers and astronauts.

    Almost any change to the organization of the committees would be an improvement. I would like to see a line item veto but that won’t happen.