Culberson Insists NASA Did Not Comply with Law Prior to China Meeting

Culberson Insists NASA Did Not Comply with Law Prior to China Meeting

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chair of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, which funds NASA, insists that NASA did not comply with the law when it participated in a State Department-led bilateral meeting with China in September 2015.   He previously said he would “vigorously enforce” that law. asked Culberson late yesterday afternoon if he wanted to respond to the release of two letters to him from NASA prior to the meeting with China that provides information and certifications required by the law. obtained the letters through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the agency and published them last evening.  Culberson was not able to respond by press time yesterday, but did so this morning. 

Via email, Culberson said:

have had a strict prohibition in the CJS bill for several years to
prevent NASA from cooperating or sharing information with the People’s
Liberation Army
controlled Chinese space program. The notice NASA sent the committee
was vague and did not disclose the details of the discussions held in
Beijing on September 28, 2015.”

As reported yesterday, the law dates back to when Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) chaired the subcommittee and instituted prohibitions on NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which is also funded in the CJS bill, on any type of activity related to bilateral civil space cooperation with China.  Culberson succeeded Wolf as subcommittee chairman and shares his views on this topic.   He led the effort to include Sec. 532 in the NASA’s FY2015 appropriations law. 

The law states that NASA may not spend any funds to “develop, design, plan,
promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or
contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate
bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company unless
such activities are specifically authorized by law enacted after the
date of enactment of this Act.”  Those limitations do not apply if “no
later than 30 days prior to the activity in question,” NASA certifies
that the activity poses no risk of the transfer of “technology, data, or
other information with national security or economic security
implications” and does not “involve knowing interactions with officials
who have been determined by the United States to have direct involvement
with violations of human rights.”   Any such certification “shall
include a description of the purpose of the activity, its agenda, its
major participants, and its location and timing.”

The first of the two NASA letters provided to under the FOIA request was signed by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden on July 31, 2015, well within the 30 day notification period in law.  It made the requisite certifications, but provided little detail. The second letter, from NASA CFO David Radzanowski to Culberson, was signed on September 16.  It provided more details and repeated the certifications, but missed the 30-day advance notice deadline for the September 28 meeting in Beijing and also revealed that NASA held a bilateral meeting with the Chinese in Washington on September 23.  To comply with the law, the notifications to Congress presumably should have been submitted 30 days before September 23, not the 28th.

Culberson told in October that he would “vigorously enforce” the law’s provisions.   Whether anything will be included in the final FY2016 appropriations bill now in its final stages of negotiations remains to be seen.   Earlier today Congress passed a 5-day extension for government funding.  December 16 is the new deadline for agreement on a full year appropriations bill that consolidates funding for all discretionary government activities, including NASA.

The September 28 meeting was the first in a State Department-led “U.S.-China Civil Space Dialogue.”  Another is planned for 2016.

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