Congressman Nick Lampson (D-TX), whose district includes NASA JSC but is perhaps better known as the person who won Tom DeLay’s former seat, spoke late Friday morning at the International Space Development Conference in Dallas. Lampson’s talk was something of a pep talk, encouraging attendees to lobby Congress for an increased NASA budget (the NSS is already planning such an effort with its “Moon-Mars Blitz” next month; Lampson said he has offered to help the NSS with its effort.) “There has been an unfortunate disconnect between all the rhetoric about the need to undertake a ‘once-in-a-generation change in the nation’s human space transportation system’ and the amount of money actually being budgeted for it,” he said, laying blame with both the White House and the Congress. “Instead, we’re seeing a business-as-usual approach that is not going to deliver the robust and broad-based exploration program laid out in the Vision for Space Exploration.”
He also mentioned a little-known (outside of Capitol Hill) internal lobbying effort in support of NASA called the House Action Team, or HAT. This is a bipartisan group led by Reps. Ken Calvert (R-CA) and Bud Cramer (D-AL). “Its purpose is to do much of what your Blitz is intended to do: to lobby other members of Congress, explain to them why it’s important to support space, and to put the money necessary into all of our space activities.” The HAT has about 20-25 members, Lampson said after his speech, and has been around for a few years, although “there is a greater effort to grow it” this year. When I asked him how the membership of the HAT was split between Democrats and Republicans, he said, “You know, I don’t know the answer to that, so that means it must be fairly close.”
He has fairly ambitious goals for increasing NASA’s budget. While the proposed FY08 NASA budget of $17.3 billion falls about $1.3 billion short of the authorized level approved by Congress in 2005, Lampson said he is looking to raise the agency’s budget by $1.5 billion. He said he wasn’t sure he would be able to get the full increase, “but we’re going to fight like heck to get as big a portion of it as we can.” I asked him if he thought if the controversies surrounding the NASA IG and, now, the destroyed recordings, would serve as distractions to those efforts. Lampson didn’t think it was that big an issue. “Everything’s a distraction,” he said.