Crime takes a bite out of NASA

On Wednesday the full House, debating the full-year continuing resolution HR 1, voted 228-203 to approve an amendment that would transfer $298 million from NASA to the Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services, a program that provides funding for local police forces. The amendment, introduced by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) was actually debated Tuesday evening by the House and failed by a voice vote, but prevailed in the recorded vote hold over to the next day, with 70 Republicans joining 158 Democrats to approve the amendment. In the debate Tuesday night (starting on page H890 of the Congressional Record), Weiner indicated he only reluctantly chose NASA as the source of the funding to support the COPS program. "Now, do I like the idea we have to take it from NASA space exploration? I don't know any of the crime statistics on Mars, and I'm interested, but it's a bad choice," he said. "If any of you like space exploration, so do I. In a way, I'm playing the game too. I'm taking from one place to give to another. But I do believe it's in the interest of all of us to try to set these priorities straight." Defending the agency was Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the CJS subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. "This bill makes deliberate choices within NASA to strike an appropriate balance between achieving budget savings, procurement support for NASA's $16 billion in annual contracts, and safety and mission assurance to prevent spaceflight accidents," he said. "To do this, you would almost guarantee that something could potentially happen." Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) tried to find a middle ground, saying he supported COPS but that the funding should not be taken from NASA. The $298 million would specifically come from NASA's Cross-Agency Support account, a relatively poorly understood part of the agency's overall budget that covers management and operations of the agency and its various field centers, as well as its safety and mission assurance work. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) was critical of the growth of that account over the last several years in his comments on the amendment. "This is a cross-agency support budget which has gone up six times, 600 percent in 2 years, and it's going to go up again here today, and we're going to slash the heck out of the COPS program. Now, go home and explain that to your constituents," he said. "You can't even say, Look up there, because it's not a satellite. It's not headed to the Moon or to Mars. You have to say, Hey, it's the cross-agency support budget at NASA, and when the criminal is breaking down your door, call NASA. That probably isn't going to work too well." Passage of the amendment doesn't guarantee NASA's final FY11 appropriations will include that cut. While the House will likely pass HR 1 (debate on the bill continued as of Wednesday evening), Senate appropriators have expressed their opposition to the bill, raising the prospect of an impasse and even a government shutdown if some kind of continuing resolution isn't passed when the current one expires on March 4. Also: if you continuing reading the Congressional Record after the end of the debate on the Weiner amendment, there's also a brief debate on an amendment introduced, and then withdrawn, by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) to transfer $517 million of NASA funding from the agency's climate change research to human spaceflight, continuing a recent theme by Olson and several other members. "The 15 other agencies conducting climate research can pick up the slack while freeing up resources for NASA to make a truly unique contribution, maintaining U.S. dominance in human space flight," he argued. Olson did not explain why he withdrew the amendment, but Rep. Wolf said he would work with Olson and others in the future "to maintain a robust human space flight program at NASA."

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