About that Congressional Letter to NASA Re Compliance With the Law

About that Congressional Letter to NASA Re Compliance With the Law

Several media outlets and websites have reported on the letter sent to NASA Administrator Bolden by 27 Members of Congress that has been characterized as alleging that NASA is not complying with the law. The letter actually stops a bit short of that, but does state that NASA’s decision to cancel a solicitation for a contract related to the Constellation program and other actions the agency is taking to begin terminating the program may violate the Impoundment Control Act and the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 3288, P.L. 111-119). The latter includes language prohibiting NASA from spending any funds to terminate any aspect of Constellation or initiate a new program. Whether or not NASA is violating the law will have to be settled by lawyers. However, while any letter from Members of Congress is important, what may be most notable about this letter is who did NOT sign it.

The signatures are from 20 Republicans and seven Democrats, largely from Alabama, Florida and Texas where much of the work on Constellation was planned or is ongoing. Some of the signers are members of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee who would have been involved in writing the NASA portion of the appropriations bill. However, the chairman and ranking member of that subcommittee, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) are not among the signers. Nor are the chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), and the chairwoman of that committee’s Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Their Republican counterparts (Rep. Ralph Hall and Rep. Pete Olson, both from Texas) did sign it.

The letter “reminds” NASA that its actions “may” violate the law, and asks or urges NASA to take certain actions and cease others. If Congress wanted to press the case that an agency was violating an appropriations act, one would expect not only House but Senate members to voice such a complaint. A letter from the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate appropriations CJS subcommittees — or the full committees — would garner much more attention than a letter signed by any number of other members. Also, the letter likely would be addressed to the Comptroller General, head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), who is responsible for issuing legal opinions on appropriations laws.

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