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House Science panel gives nod to Bush space agenda

The House Science Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee last week endorsed President Bush's space agenda in NASA's reauthorization measure, despite objections from Democrats on the panel. The bill (H.R. 3070) would fund the agency for one year, but set policy priorities over the next decade. The panel approved the bill Wednesday on a 10-0 vote, with six Democrats voting "present." The full panel is slated to take up the bill after the Independence Day recess and the House could vote on it the following week. A Senate panel approved a similar bill last week and that chamber could vote on its measure next month as well.

Democrats on the subcommittee said they supported the reauthorization measure, but complained that their GOP colleagues did not give them enough time to review the measure before Wednesday's markup. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn. ranking member on the House Science Committee, said the panel only on Tuesday heard from the NASA administrator on the agency' s plans and priorities.

"That does not provide members enough time to discuss and assess the administrator's testimony," said Gordon. "Neither does it provide adequate time for members to develop amendments to address areas of concern in the bill. Most of the Democrats on the subcommittee voted "present" to express their disapproval. On a motion to send the bill to the full committee, the panel agreed on a 10-0 vote, with six Democrats voting "present."

The Democrats also expressed several concerns that the bill, including the lack of language balancing NASA's core missions - science, aeronautics, human space flight and human exploration. They also said authorizing funding for only one year does not give the agency guidance on funding past next year.

"In essence, the bill provides no meaningful policy or funding guidance to NASA..." said Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., ranking member on the subcommittee.

Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., responded that the panel has discussed the NASA reauthorization measure over the last year. Both sides of the aisle pledged to work together before the full panel takes up the measure in July.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, the only Democrat voting for the bill, secured an amendment to the measure requiring NASA to provide annual budget information regarding its safety guidelines. The amendment was approved by voice vote.

Under the bill, House lawmakers endorsed Bush's initiative to return Americans to the moon by 2020 with a space launch as close to 2010 as possible. It also directs NASA to retire the Space Shuttle at the end of 2010.

"Our general approach to this authorization is to get NASA back on track so that we can move forward in a constructive way, giving NASA Administrator Griffin the flexibility he needs while providing the congress with the proper tools to perform effect oversight," said Calvert.

The panel authorized $16.5 billion for the agency and its programs next year - the same amount enacted last year and $15 million more than Bush requested. The Senate measure called for $16.6 billion in fiscal 2006, growing to $18.5 billon by fiscal 2010.

To control costs for major space programs, the committee required NASA to report to Congress annually on initiatives with a price tag greater than $100 million. The measure also included provisions directing the Office of Science and Technology Policy to conduct a study on duplicate research and technology programs across the federal government.

Before approving the bill, the panel approved by voice vote a manager's amendment that added clarifying language and requests for agency reports to the underlying measure.