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A Look at the New House Science, Space and Technology Committee


The November 2010 elections brought change in party leadership to the U.S. House of Representatives, including new roles and new faces for the various committees of the House. This was particularly the case for the House Science and Technology Committee, which starts 2011 with a new chair, a new name, a long list of new members, and a new focus on oversight, government efficiency and the space program.

The committee’s roots go back to 1958 and the establishment of a House Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration created in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik. Their first major accomplishment was passage of the legislation creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, laying the foundation for the U.S. space program.

The Select Committee was rechartered as a standing committee in 1959, and renamed the House Science and Astronautics Committee. Its authority encompassed the programs of NASA, the National Science Foundation and the National Bureau of Standards. In 1974, it was renamed again, as the House Science and Technology Committee, and its jurisdiction expanded to include energy, environmental, atmospheric, and civil aviation R&D, and the National Weather Service. In 1977, it was assigned responsibility for civilian nuclear research and development.

The new committee retains this broad jurisdiction, but has changed its name to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee (HSSTC), to reflect the new Chairman’s renewed focus on the U.S. space program.

New Leadership

The HSSTC Committee will be chaired by Rep. Ralph M. Hall (TX), who has served on the committee since his election in 1980. His Fourth Congressional District stretches from east of Dallas to Texarkana. The senior Republican on the committee in 2010, Hall was challenged for the chairmanship by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (Ca), but got the GOP nod in early December. Former HSSTC chair Jim Sensenbrenner (MI) was named vice chair, a new and as yet undefined role.

The oldest U.S. Representative at age 86, Hall is not only the longest-serving member of the committee, but also the first Member to serve as a Ranking Member (or minority party leader) as both a Republican and Democrat, having switched parties in 2004. Born in Fate, Texas, Hall was an aircraft carrier pilot in World War II, completing college and entering law practice after the war. He served as a county judge and was later elected to the Texas Senate, where he served from 1962-1972.

A self-described “an old-time conservative Democrat”, Hall switched parties in 2004, explaining that “I have voted with the Republicans most of the time” and expressing concern that minority party status was hurting his ability to secure federal funding for his district.

Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX) replaces the retiring Bart Gordon (TN) as the senior committee Democrat. A registered nurse who served as a hospital administrator, Johnson was elected to the Texas legislature in 1972 before taking an appointment in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare during the Carter Administration. She was elected to the Texas state senate in 1986, and again as U.S. Representative for the 30th District encompassing Dallas county, Texas in 1993. Johnson was third on the seniority list among committee Democrats. She was named to head the Democratic contingent following the retirement of Gordon and after the announcement by Rep. Jerry Costello (IL) that he would not seek the Ranking spot, so that he could focus on his work in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Hall and Johnson have considerable history working together both on HSSCT and stretching back to their days as Texas state legislators. On news of her selection as Ranking Member, Hall was quoted as saying “as representatives of neighboring districts in Texas, we've known each other a long time, and have worked together on many occasions. The Science and Technology Committee has a long history of bipartisanship and I look forward to maintaining that tradition in the 112th Congress, as we tackle issues that are critical to our Nation's economic competitiveness."

Johnson also released a statement noting “Although we are no longer in the majority, I feel as though I will be able to work with Chairman Hall to advocate for American priorities in science and technology issues. America is facing serious challenges, and science and technology issues play an integral role in our future economic prosperity."

Committee Membership Named

The Republican members of committee were announced on January 18. Serving with Chairman Hall will be Vice Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), Lamar Smith (TX), Dana Rohrabacher (CA), Roscoe Bartlett (MD), Frank Lucas (OK), Judy Biggert (IL), Todd Akin (MO), Randy Neugebauer (TX), Michael McCaul (TX), Paul Broun (GA), Sandy Adams (FL), Ben Quayle (AZ), Chuck Fleischmann (TN), Scott Rigell (VA), Steven Palazzo (MS), Mo Brooks (AL) and Andy Harris (MD).

The list includes seven new members of the committee, including six newly elected Members of Congress:

·         Rep. Sandy Adams represents Florida’s 33 District and brings an Air Force and law enforcement background to Congress. Her district is home to the Kennedy Space Flight Center.

·         A lawyer by background, Rep. Ben Quayle represents Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District centered on Phoenix.

·         Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is a lawyer and small businessman who represents Tennessee’s eastern 3rd District, encompassing the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

·         An auto-dealer, Rep. Scott Rigell hales from Virginia’s coastal 2d Congressional District.

·         A Gulf War vet and small business owner, Rep. Steven Palazzo represents Mississippi’s 4th District, which includes Biloxi and Gulfport.

·         Rep. Mo Brooks represents northern Alabama’s 5th Congressional District. His path to Congress includes a career in law, with service as a prosecutor and as a state legislator.

·         Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland’s Eastern Shore 1st District is an MD anesthesiologist and commanded John Hopkins Naval Reserve Medical Unit during the Gulf War.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX) will serve as the Ranking Member on the Democratic side of the aisle. The other Democratic members of the committee were announced on January 19 and include (in order of seniority): Jerry Costello (IL), Lynn Woolsey (CA), Zoe Lofgren (CA), David Wu (OR), Brad Miller (NC), Daniel Lipinski (IL), Gabrielle Giffords (AZ), Donna Edwards (MD), Marcia Fudge (OH), Ben Lujan (NM), Paul Tonko (NY), Jerry McNerney (OH), John Sarbanes (MD), Terri Sewell (AL), Frederica Wilson (FL), and Hansen Clarke (MI). The new Democrats included three congressional freshman:

·         Terri Sewell is a former securities lawyer who represents Alabama’s western 7th Congressional District, which extends to encompass the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

·         A former teacher and school principal, Frederica Wilson served in the Florida legislature from 1998-2002. Her 17th Congressional District encompasses the North Miami area.

·         Hansen Clarke represents Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, which includes eastern Detroit and its inner suburbs. An attorney by training, Clarke ran for Congress after serving as Chief of Staff to U.S. Rep. John Conyers.

Although many of the committee members have significant government laboratories, research universities or other S&T interests located in their districts, it is noteworthy that only a handful of HSSTC members have a background in science, engineering, technology or medicine, a problem compounded by the retirement of long-time committee member and physicist Vernon Ehlers.

Among the continuing members, Rep. Todd Akin has a degree from Worcester Polytech in Engineering Management and worked for IBM as an engineer. Rep. Paul Broun (Ga) is an M.D., with a background in chemistry. Rep. Jerry McNerney (Ca) was a wind power entrepreneur with a math and engineering background and spent several years working for Sandia National Laboratories and the Electric Power Research Institute. Rep. Paul Tonko (NY) is a mechanical engineer by training and helped lead New York’s energy R&D authority.

Long time committee member Roscoe Barlett of Maryland identifies himself as a “scientist and inventor.” Educated in human physiology, his experience includes a stint as director of a Space Life Sciences research group at the John Hopkins Appied Physics Laboratory. Rep. David Wu (OR) earned an undergraduate degree in biology before studying law at Yale and building a law practice focused on serving high tech companies in Oregon’s Silicon Forest.

Subcommittee Chairs and Members Announced

In mid-January, the House Committee Republicans met to elect subcommittee chairs, four of which were allotted to incoming Freshman members.

Rep. Harris of Maryland will chair the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. In terms of subcommittee priorities, Harris stated, “I want to secure America's energy future, enhance research on new and existing energy technologies and to look for environmentally safe methods of obtaining the energy that our economy needs to grow and create jobs.”
Rep. Quayle of Arizona will head the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation with a focus on creating jobs, cutting spending and reducing burdensome government regulations.

The Research and Science Education Subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama.

Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi will head the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. On appointment he noted that “South Mississippi is home to many NASA assets” and promised “I will work with my colleagues from all NASA-impacted states to help shape the future of space policy.”

Committee Focus for 2011

In mid-January, Chairman Hall released a statement noting “our Committee is tasked with utilizing science and technology to keep America competitive globally and to improve the lives of our citizens.” He added: “In November the American people made it clear that they want Washington to work more efficiently….we will uphold the American people’s expectations and make science and technology a driver of innovation for our economy.”

Chairman Hall has outlined a “Vision for Science in the 21st Century”, which encompasses the following priorities that are likely to shape the committee’s legislative and hearing agenda:

·         Maintain America’s technological edge through space exploration and research and development;

·         Improve quality of life by promoting programs that advance medical, energy and technological breakthroughs;

·         Increase America’s energy independence by promoting research and development in alternative energy sources and new technologies;

·         Equip students and workers with the knowledge and skills necessary for 21st century jobs;

·         Promote safety from natural disasters through better prediction and communication;

·         Strengthen cyber security and information technology integration;

·         Advance effective use of taxpayer dollars through proper oversight.

The ordering of the list and Hall’s decision to add “Space” back to the name of the full Committee highlights his focus on NASA, whose manned space program was recently redirected, creating a host of budgetary and political issues. Hall can expect support from fellow Texan Johnson, as NASA is a major employer and “economic engine” for that state.

Hall is also expected to be at the forefront of GOP efforts to probe the Obama Administration’s climate policies. Hall is not as skeptical of climate change science as some of his committee colleagues, but has made clear that the committee will aggressively investigate any allegations of climate change research misconduct, such as last years’ “Climategate” controversy in England. In an interview for the Hill newspaper POLITICO, Hall said “I've never said it's outrageous to even think about global warming. I want some proof.” He added, “I'm going to subpoena people from both sides and try to put them under oath and try to find out what the real facts are.”

Although “oversight” is posted at the bottom of his priority list, Hall’s first major announcements were that Rep. Paul Broun would continue as chair of the Science Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee and that “The Science, Space, and Technology Committee will be paying very close attention to NASA’s human spaceflight program and holding several hearings to provide strong Congressional oversight.”

Hall’s critical response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address on Jan. 25 also highlights his priorities for the committee. Hall offered that “leading the world in innovation must start with a strategy that fosters private investment and economic growth,” which would come by shrinking the reach of Federal Government and giving “entrepreneurs an environment in which to invest and grow by lowering taxes, limiting burdensome and costly regulations, cutting spending, and reducing our Nation’s debt.”

With respect to federal S&T programs, which are the committee’s principal legislative jurisdiction, Hall noted “while appropriate investments in science and technology are important, they must be made prudently within the confines of a disciplined budget.” He welcomed the President’s statements on basic research, but questioned a federal role in helping industry to commercialize clean energy technologies.

He also criticized the Administration’s energy policies and the decision to abandon the Yucca Mountain site as a nuclear waste repository, while expressing disappointment that “the President used this moment only to reflect on NASA’s history, rather than promoting a strong vision for the future of space exploration.”

Hall’s comments suggest a more partisan tone is in store for the committee’s deliberations on S&T issues, driven in part by policy disagreements over the appropriate roles of government in applied research and promoting the private sector commercialization of new technologies.

With America COMPETES legislation and a NASA reauthorization bill passed in 2010, it is not clear what legislation is likely to drive the Science Committee’s agenda in 2011. As this article is written, no hearings have been scheduled and only a few bills have been introduced and referred for committee consideration. Among those on the committee’s agenda are Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s Cybersecurity Education Enhancement Act (H.R. 76) and 21st Century Energy Independence Act (H.R. 230), a bill by Rep. Kevin Brady (H.R. 235) that would cut DOE fossil energy R&D programs, and a bill by Rep. Randy Forbes (H.R. 431) to authorize a new “Manhattan Project” for energy independence.

To keep tabs on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, its hearings and legislation, visit the committee’s website at: http://science.house.gov/. Democratic members of the committee maintain their own website at: http://sciencedems.house.gov.



Comments may be submitted to todaysengineer@ieee.org.

Copyright © 2011 IEEE

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