Borrowing insights gleaned from the FBI and the National Science Foundation, six U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation today that would revamp the leadership structure within NASA and U.S. space program.

The Space Leadership Preservation Act, introducedby Reps. John Culberson (TX), Frank Wolf (VA), Bill Posey (FL), Pete Olson (TX), James Sensenbrenner (WI) and Lamar Smith (TX), would create a 10-year term for the NASA Administrator.

“We have filed this bill today to make NASA less political and more professional by modeling their internal leadership after the FBI and the National Science Foundation,” said Rep. Culberson, member of the Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee which funds NASA.

“We also plan to make NASA funding more stable and predictable by enabling them to design and build new rockets and new spacecraft in the same way that the Navy designs and builds new submarines and ships. These reforms will save money and help their budget go farther in tough times, but more importantly, we hope to restore the NASA we knew when we were young and America landed the first man on the moon,” he said.

“The U.S. enjoyed 40 years of unquestioned dominance in space, but the 21st Century has already seen increased competition from other countries, including those that don’t share our democratic institutions or values – like China,” said Rep. Wolf, chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee (pictured at lectern).

“This status quo has to change, and the Space Leadership Preservation Act is our effort to start a national conversation on this very necessary reform effort,” he said, speaking outside the Capitol today.

The congressmen made the case that in the last 20 years, NASA has spent more than $20 billion on development programs that were ultimately cancelled, in large part because of the inability of NASA to escape the gravitational reality of annual budget cycles imposed on it by the Office of Management and Budget and the changes in the administrations.

Wolf pointed to the progress the FBI has made under Director Robert S. Mueller, who was appointed to a 10 year term, and the challenges the FBI would have faced fighting terrorism if the FBI’s leadership kept changing.

“NASA has suffered from a lack of continuity and long-term vision,” said Posey, who represents Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Posey said the bill enables NASA to operate beyond short-term political agendas and would put an end to the abrupt terminations that have wasted too many limited dollars. The ability to commit to longer term projects will provide stability, which benefits our national space program, our national security, and will build the stable workforce that is needed to maintain U.S. Space leadership.”

Rep. Culberson said Captain Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, also offered his support. Cernan said, in a briefing document, that the space program “has lacked long-term stability and focus because of the constantly changing political whims of the Executive Branch of government. This legislation is critical to providing the much needed continuity for the future of NASA’s far-reaching goals in space.”

According to a summary of the bill’s provisions, the legislation would, in addition to extending the term of the Administrator to a 10 year term:

Create a board of directors chosen by the administration, House, and Senate, made up of former astronauts and eminent scientists responsible for:

  • Preparing a budget submission approved by the Administrator and submitted concurrently to House and Senate Appropriations and the president.
  • Recommending three candidates for NASA Administrator, Deputy Administrator and CFO; the president is encouraged to select one of the positions, who would then be approved by the Senate.
  • Preparing a quadrennial review of space programs and other reports.

Board terms would change to three, three-year terms (versus two, six-year terms currently). It would also include a clause stating that no board member can work for a company which has business with NASA. The board would be allowed to remove the NASA Administrator for cause.

The legislation extends the provision for long term contracting from Evolvable Expendable Launch Vehicle to rocket propulsion systems and manned and unmanned space transportation vehicles and payloads, including expendable launch vehicles, and related services.