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June 26, 2003

Mr. Chairman:

I'm pleased that we're able to take this bill up today. We need to act as soon as possible to assist NASA at this critical time.

I think it's a simple and obvious fact that NASA needs to improve its ability to attract and retain the best and the brightest. Within five years, a quarter of the NASA workforce will be eligible to retire. That point has been made in numerous reports by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), including the latest report, issued in January, not long before the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

So I don't think we can afford to wait any longer in dealing with this issue. I know that my Democrat colleagues suggested that we wait until Admiral Gehman reports before taking up this bill. I heartily disagree. Admiral Gehman's report is not likely to say anything specific about workforce reforms - that's hardly the Gehman Board's focus. If anything, Admiral Gehman will simply reiterate what we already know -- that NASA needs to do more to attract and retain the best possible workforce. We can begin to help NASA do that today, by approving H.R. 1085.

This bill is a carefully tailored approach to NASA's problems. I'll discuss some of the details of the bill when I offer my amendment. I just want to make two points now.

First, we didn't just take what NASA gave us. We rejected some ideas immediately - such as creating an industry exchange program and allowing demonstration projects to become permanent automatically. We altered the language of NASA's proposals to make sure they accomplished their stated purposes and no more. And we added significant reporting requirements, without saddling the agency with anything onerous or pointless.

Second, the authorities that we provide NASA in this bill are not radical departures from current law. They are extensions of existing authorities. For example, the bill allows NASA to pay higher bonuses than it can now - but it can already pay bonuses.

In short, H.R. 1085 is a moderate, targeted, careful approach to enable NASA to overcome one of its fundamental, pressing problems. In the next few months, this Committee is going to spend a lot of time figuring out how to address a range of issues at NASA. Here's something we know how to do right now. It's time to act.

Thank you.


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