Friday afternoon’s hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee on the effects of the shutdown on various agencies under its purview, including NASA, didn’t yield may new insights about the effects of the shutdown or a solution to it; at times, it was primarily a platform for committee members to vent about the shutdown (particularly since, for much of the hearing, attendance was dominated by Democratic members as Republican senators were returning from a meeting at the White House.)
During the hearing, committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (D-WV) released a report discussing the effects of the shutdown on those agencies. The NASA section of the report discussed the potential delays the shutdown could cause for satellite programs, including the scheduled launch next January of the next TDRS data relay satellite, as well as financial difficulties some NASA contractors are facing. The section on NOAA’s weather satellite program warns the shutdown will exacerbate a projected gap in weather satellite services by delaying the next-generation satellites under development.
Marion Blakey, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), also outlined the effects the shutdown of most NASA activities was having. “NASA is operating… with a skeleton crew,” she said. Work by various companies on “high visibility” NASA programs has been largely unaffected by the shutdown, she said, “due to very smart prior planning on the part of industry and NASA,” but warned they are “on borrowed time” and work will slow or stop if the shutdown continues. She added that the shutdown has also delayed the processing of launch license applications at the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. “This is burdening companies that are already risking their own capital to restore America’s launch leadership and help NASA become independent of Russia for crew launch.” Her prepared statement goes into some greater detail on the shutdown’s effects on NASA in particular.
While Blakey and other witnesses called for an end to the shutdown, her comments weren’t enough for one member of the committee. After Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) saids that he appreciated “the restraint of the panel” of witnesses as they described the effects of the shutdown, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) chimed in. “I don’t appreciate the restraint of the companies,” he said, arguing that they weren’t putting enough pressure on key members of Congress to resolve the shutdown. He singled out Blakey and the members of her industry association. “When I have talked to your CEOs, and have asked them if they have gone and talked to the members of Congress who are causing the shutdown, they haven’t,” he said, asking if she had talked to members to ask them if they knew the impacts the shutdown was having.
“The short answer is yes,” she said, noting that the AIA had a delegation of industry officials, including some from small businesses, who met with members of the House and Senate recently. “I can’t, of course, account for every one of our CEOs’ appointments up here on a daily basis, but I can also testify that they are spending a great deal of time making certain that people understand” the effects of the shutdown.
Nelson, though, pressed for more action from Blakey and her organization’s members. “I met with two of your CEOs last week, and they were not ready to step up and go talk to the leadership in the House of Representatives that were allowing this shutdown to continue,” he said. “Where are the people that are so affected at the Johnson Space Center in Houston? Where are they going to the congressional delegation and talking to them… You need to put a fire under your executives.”