Van Hollen Vows to Protect Scientific Integrity, Fight for NASA Science Programs

Van Hollen Vows to Protect Scientific Integrity, Fight for NASA Science Programs

Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) vowed today that he will fight to protect scientific integrity at NASA and to fund NASA’s programs, especially science.  He is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee.  He added that he hopes the issue of finding a new NASA Administrator is resolved as soon as possible.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland)

Van Hollen spoke today at the annual American Astronautical Society (AAS) Goddard Memorial Symposium in Greenbelt, MD.  He touched on many topics about NASA and NOAA, both of which have a strong presence in Maryland along with the companies that support them, but his steadfast support for science at NASA was reminiscent of his predecessor, Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

Mikulski retired in 2016 and Van Hollen was elected as her replacement.  He noted today that Mikulski helped convince Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to put him on the Appropriations Committee, a coveted assignment that often can take years of seniority to secure, to represent Maryland’s interests.

The appropriations process for the current fiscal year, FY2018, is not completed yet.   NASA, NOAA and most other government agencies are operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires a week from tomorrow (March 23).

Van Hollen spent most of his speech summarizing where negotiations stand between the House and Senate on NASA and NOAA satellite funding.  He noted that the House had been expected to release the final version of the FY2018 bill yesterday, but it has been delayed. The latest rumor is that the bill will be released this weekend.  That will give Congress and the White House essentially five working days to reach agreement or another CR will be required to avoid a partial government shutdown.

The House passed all of its FY2018 appropriation bills.  The Senate has not passed any, but they were all approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.  The House-passed and Senate committee-approved bills are the starting point for negotiating a final deal.  Van Hollen urged audience members to contact House appropriators to convince them to adopt the Senate committee’s budget numbers, which generally are higher for NASA’s science programs than what the House passed.  For example, the Senate committee recommended $200 million more for NASA’s Earth science programs than the House.  The Senate committee also recommended $150 million for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telesope (WFIRST) for FY2018, an increase over the $126 million requested by the Administration and approved by the House.  (The Trump Administration has proposed terminating WFIRST in the FY2019 budget request.)

More broadly, Van Hollen vowed to protect scientific integrity at NASA.  After saying that he will work to secure the resources needed for science, he added: “I will also stand up for the scientists who are doing that work, regardless of what administration may be in power” whether Republican or Democrat. Noting the “ongoing national debate between facts and alternative facts,” he said “in the world of science there is real evidence and real facts” and “I will stand up for scientists when they are letting the world know what their findings are, whether it has to do with something in the universe or climate right here on Earth.”

He paid tribute to outgoing Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot and said he thought everyone wished that the search for a new NASA Adminsitrator “was not as contentious as it has been.  I am hopeful that we will resolve this as soon as possible because it is very important” that NASA have “someone at the helm” to stand up for NASA’s missions.


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