Culberson Named New House Appropriations CJS Chair

Culberson Named New House Appropriations CJS Chair

The House Appropriations Committee announced today that Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) will succeed Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) as chair of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee in the 114th Congress.  Wolf is retiring.

Culberson said in a press statement that it is a “real privilege” to succeed Wolf and it will be “a source of great joy for me to help lift up NASA and the NSF to ensure that America will always lead the world in space exploration and scientific discoveries.”

Culberson’s district includes Houston, home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center.  He is a member of the CJS subcommittee now and an ardent advocate for robotic planetary exploration, particularly a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa.  Culberson and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA, whose district includes the Jet Propulsion Lab) are the key proponents for adding money for a Europa mission to NASA’s budget even though the agency did not have plans to pursue such a mission at the current time.

The most recent National Research Council (NRC) planetary science Decadal Survey identified Europa as the second priority for a flagship-class mission (behind returning a sample of Mars to Earth), but Congress added $75 million in FY2013 (about $69 million after required reductions due to across-the-board cuts that year) and $80 million in FY2014 for NASA to conduct studies and begin preliminary work on a Europa mission.  In response, the Obama Administration requested $15 million for Europa in its FY2015 budget request, but it was a one-time request (there is nothing in the projected budget for the next four years).  Congress is still working on the FY2015 appropriations bills, but the House added $85 million in the version of the CJS bill it passed in May.  The Senate Appropriations Committee did not add money for the mission, but expressed support and directed NASA to design it to be launched on the Space Launch System.  At the time of the Decadal Survey, the mission was estimated to cost $4.7 billion.  JPL subsequently developed a downscaled concept — Europa Clipper — with an approximately $2 billion pricetag.

Note:  This article was updated on November 20 at 5:20 pm ET with the quote from Culberson reacting to being named chairman.

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX).  Photo Credit:  Rep. Culberson’s website.

Speculation that Culberson would succeed Wolf has been rampant for the past year.  In an interview with the Houston Chronicle’s Eric Berger in December 2013, Culberson laid out his views on NASA:

  • Regarding NASA’s proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission:  “It’s not gonna happen.”
  • On whether NASA instead should focus on returning humans to Moon:  “Yes.  Absolutely.” 
  • On whether he agrees with Wolf on not allowing U.S.-China space cooperation:  “Yes.”
  • On planetary science and a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa:  “…I’m particularly energized about the planetary science program… I’m certain that there’s life elsewhere in the universe. And I’m also certain that the first place we will discover life on another world is Europa.”

Wolf remains chair of the subcommittee until the end of the 113th Congress.  Culberson will take over in the 114th Congress, which convenes on January 3, 2015.

The CJS subcommittee funds NASA, NSF, the Department of Commerce (including NOAA), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Department of Justice, and a number of smaller “related agencies.”

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