Chairman Cartwright Statement at Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Hearing

2022-05-17 09:14

Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Chairman of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

This morning’s hearing examines NASA’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget request.  Our witness today is the NASA Administrator, Senator Bill Nelson.  Administrator, it is good to see you again. 

The last time you were in front of this subcommittee was almost one year ago: May 19, 2021.  At that time, you had been on the job for only a couple of weeks, and the president’s Fiscal Year ’22 budget had not even been released. 

Now that you’ve had a year on the job, you have a strong Fiscal ’23 proposal before us, and I’m delighted to acknowledge that you’ve completed your first in-person visit to the most important emerging-space-technology state in the union, Pennsylvania.

So, we look forward to hearing from you today, and I hope to see more of you in the Keystone State.

NASA’s budget request of almost $26 billion is clearly designed to keep the core missions of the agency on track – scientific discovery, exploration of the solar system, and educating and inspiring our children. 

The budget request expands America’s economic leadership in the Space Economy as well as our global leads in climate change research, aeronautics research, and, of course, space exploration. 

The budget prioritizes one of my favorite goals, which is to intellectually stimulate and create research opportunities for young people, through a strong increase in STEM education funding. 

After reviewing the president’s request, I also want to congratulate you on a bold vision for Earth Science research.

In addition to developing four major missions and continuing or operating more than a dozen others, the FY ’23 request proposes a new Earth Information Center that will make NASA a “go-to” resource for climate change data that can be shared across academia and the federal government.

I additionally appreciate NASA’s request for a 10% increase in Aeronautics research.  Collecting data on climate change is one thing, but NASA’s aeronautics research can be an important way to slow its progression.

To that end, NASA’s aeronautics work is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by developing more efficient aircraft engines, improving air traffic management, and pioneering electric flight. 

But, no matter how useful NASA’s general research is, the agency will continue to be known mostly for its flagship initiative to return American astronauts to the moon, the Artemis program. 

Artemis is truly a national program. When Artemis I flies later this year, it will inspire and unify our country, reminding everyone that we have important shared purposes.  And that those efforts bring us together.

When crews do go to the Moon in later missions, the plan this time is to stay there, not just plant a flag and depart.

But, even though we all support inspiration, the scientific benefits of both uncrewed and crewed space exploration must come at a reasonable and fair cost to the taxpayer. 

I mention this because, according to the Government Accountability Office, NASA has more major projects in development right now than at any other time since GAO started tracking them.

Most are related to Artemis, but NASA’s Science Directorate is also juggling an unprecedented number of major missions designed to unlock the secrets, including emerging secrets, of the universe.

Make no mistake: those are answers we all want.  But, as you well know, this Subcommittee, the full Appropriations Committee, and the Congress must be careful when appropriating and overseeing large sums of money. 

Unfortunately, across all major NASA programs, schedule slips and cost overruns have increased for the sixth consecutive year, with cumulative overruns for your major projects now exceeding $12.6 billion.

Some of the delays and cost increases are due to the continuing impacts of COVID-19.  Some are there because NASA is trying to do things it has never been done before.  You’re essentially inventing what you’re doing as you’re doing it.

So, while they are at least partially understandable, the rising costs and lengthening schedules are definitely a concern.

Given the budget realities we face, it is more important than ever for NASA to manage contractors and programs efficiently and in ways that protect the taxpayer.

Poor performers must be held accountable – so that their failures do not reflect on the agency.

Most of the companies involved in Artemis and your Science missions are doing great work, from the small mom-and-pop shops to the largest aerospace corporations.

But let’s be clear: participation in America’s space program is not an entitlement.  It is a privilege. 

Most people understand that.  Certainly, workers on the line every day assembling hardware understand that.

But, Administrator, I would ask you to let me know if there are company leaders out there who need a reminder of this principle. It is a principle on which I know we both agree.

In conclusion, I’m confident that this Subcommittee can be helpful in realizing the full potential of the Space Economy, including in parts of the country not near a NASA center of operations. 

The FY ’23 budget submission is additional evidence that the American taxpayer is, in a sense, a multiple-billion-dollar “partner” with private companies to drive commercial space growth.

The benefits of that partnership need to be felt nationally, and those benefits must always be worth their cost.

Again, Administrator Nelson, I know you understand this.  I look forward to hearing your explanation of the FY ’23 budget request and how it keeps us moving in the right direction on NASA’s indispensable missions.

117th Congress