Smith, Babin Urge Passage of NASA Transition Authorization Act
Two top Republicans on the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee are urging quick passage of the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act. As we reported yesterday, a new draft is circulating right now and could see action in the Senate this week.
House SS&T Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), who chaired the Space Subcommittee in the last Congress and is expected to do so again, both spoke at a Space Transportation Association (STA) event this evening. Smith said he hoped for action in the Senate in the next few days.
The Senate passed the 2016 NASA Transition Authorization Act in the closing days of the 114th Congress, but the House had already completed its legislative business for the year so the bill did not clear Congress. A slightly revised version is now being readied and Smith and Babin both spoke optimistically about its passage in order to achieve one of its key themes -- continuity. Congressional Republicans and Democrats have stressed the need to avoid any major disruptions to NASA programs as happened early in President Obama's administration. Obama cancelled President George W. Bush's Constellation program to return humans to the surface of the Moon by 2020 and replaced it with a program to send humans to orbit Mars by the 2030s, with the Asteroid Redirect Mission in between. Obama also shifted NASA out of transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), instead using public-private partnerships to develop "commercial crew" capabilities. NASA will buy services from companies rather than building and owning its own system. Boeing and SpaceX were chosen to develop the commercial crew systems, which have not yet flown. NASA has not been able to launch people into space since the space shuttle was terminated in 2011. It relies on Russia to take astronauts to and from ISS.
The most recent NASA authorization act became law in 2010. Its funding recommendations covered only three years, through FY2013, although its policy provisions remain in force. The new draft NASA Transition Authorization Act would recommend funding only for FY2017, which is already in progress, but provides policy guidance for most of NASA's programs. Policy provisions typically do not expire.
Smith and Babin did not commit to when the House would take up a Senate-passed bill, but made clear that they hope for quick action, followed by a 2018 NASA authorization act.
Smith also said that the committee's first space-related hearing would take place in mid-February and would be a "panoramic view" of NASA's past, present and future to acquaint the many new members of the committee with NASA's activities. Republican members of the committee have been named, but not the Democrats, and subcommittee assignments are pending. Smith said there would be many space hearings this year, perhaps more than the 19 held last year.
No news was offered on when a new NASA Administrator might be nominated. Smith said only that he expected it "in coming weeks." Babin added that although he and Smith do not know any details of what President Trump's budget request for NASA will be, he is "confident" they all are on the same page -- providing NASA with appropriate funding because "a great nation needs a robust, reliable, executable and rational space exploration program and I think that our President Trump realizes this and knows it."
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