New HSS&T Chairman Optimistic, Enthusiastic About NASA

New HSS&T Chairman Optimistic, Enthusiastic About NASA

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) expressed optimism and enthusiasm about NASA’s future today as he takes the gavel as chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. A 20-year veteran of the committee, Lucas acknowledged the House’s new Republican majority is focused on cutting government spending, making it imperative to justify the resources that will be needed to keep the United States ahead of foreign competitors in space.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), Chairman, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

Speaking to the Space Transportation Association this afternoon just hours after officially being elected by the House Republican Conference as committee chairman, Lucas was upbeat and focused on the work ahead not only for NASA, but NOAA and commercial space.

His to-do list includes a “comprehensive” NASA authorization bill, a commercial space bill to streamline regulations, input to the research and development portion of the FAA reauthorization bill, and a NOAA organic act.

Lucas circulated a draft NOAA bill last month noting the agency was created by Executive Order, not law, in 1970 and it is time to give the agency formal statutory authority. Among the provisions is moving the Office of Space Commerce out of NOAA and elevating it to a higher level within the Department of Commerce.

House SS&T is an authorization committee that sets policy and recommends funding levels. He stressed that the House Republican Conference has had a lot of discussions recently about the need for programs to be properly authorized and it is his responsibility to ensure that happens for agencies under the committee’s jurisdiction.

“This new majority will be very tight-fisted financially,” Lucas asserted. “We need to have our authorization acts in place, have our justifications and explanations for everything that we need to spend money on” ready to ensure leadership and appropriators on both sides of the aisle and both sides of Capitol Hill continue to make resources available. “We can’t stop now.”

His top priority for NASA is “back to the Moon and on to Mars” and associated human space flight programs that support it. He also gave a shout-out to “nudging asteroids.” Lucas and four other committee Republicans wrote to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson last month asking for details on the funding needed to keep the NEO Surveyor program on schedule.

More broadly he is intent on ensuring the United States does not fall behind foreign competitors. “Our competition around the world has figured out our success formula” and is trying to imitate and out-spend us. “We cannot allow that to happen.”

“We are in an international competition unlike anything we’ve seen since the 1960s and 1970s. If we do not make the investments, continue to develop the technology to be able to implement the mission goals of going back to the Moon and on to Mars, someone else will. We don’t want to be left behind. That’s going to be my appeal to leadership.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ranking Member, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

But he also praised international cooperation. “Having our international partners just brings the best of everything together.”

A farmer by background, Lucas has been a member of Congress since 1994 and on the House Science committee for 20 years. He was the top Republican, or Ranking Member, for the past four years while Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) was chair. Johnson, the first woman and the first African American to chair the committee, just retired. He said he would miss working with her, an “exceptional” person who was always “forward focused, always positive.”

House Democrats elected Rep. Zoe Lofren (D-CA), another long-time member of the committee, to be Ranking Member now. Lucas said he looks forward to having a “great working relationship” with her so they can “move forward together.”

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