On the same day that President Obama delivered his annual State of the Union Address stressing science and education investments, Democrats announced their picks for ranking members on the subcommittees of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The selections will be finalized during the committee’s organizational meeting, slated for early February.
The committee, chaired by Ralph Hall (R-TX), will have to grapple with how to direct funding for the agencies it oversees, including NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), when the President’s speech called for both scientific investment and federal fiscal restraint.
The Democrats have assigned Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) as ranking member of the space and aeronautics subcommittee, which oversees NASA’s budget. Jerry Costello (D-IL) will be acting ranking member in Gifford’s stead, while she undergoes physical therapy after a shooting in Tuscon, Arizona on 8 January left her battling brain damage.
NASA, in particular, is facing tough decisions after it released plans for a third shuttle launch before the fleet retires, a move that will cost $500 million but is currently unfunded. As well, the agency needs a new budget, due in February, before it can stop funding the already-cancelled Constellation Program, which directed it to bring astronauts to the Moon and Mars.
The other ranking members of subcommittees are also familiar faces, having held chairmanships in the last congress. The sole change is Donna Edwards (D-MD), who will be ranking member of the investigations and oversight subcommittee, replacing Brad Miller (D-NC), now ranking member of the energy and environment subcommittee.
In contrast, the Republicans have mainly brought new faces to the committee; four of the five subcommittees will be chaired by representatives serving their first term.
Chairing the space and aeronautics subcommittee will be freshman congressman Steven Palazzo (R–MS), whose district includes the Stennis Space Center, NASA’s rocket test facility. It is unknown how Palazzo will vote on NASA issues, though he has a stated that he will try to return the U.S. Capitol to a “limited government” mentality.
The other freshman chairs will be Andy Harris (R–MD) for the energy and environment subcommittee, Mo Brooks (R–AL) for the research and science education subcommittee, and Ben Quayle (R–AZ), son of former vice president Dan Quayle, for the technology and innovation subcommittee.