Sensenbrenner, Rohrabacher Vie With Smith to Lead House Science Committee

Jim Sensenbrenner

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

With the elections over, the race to succeed Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) as chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. On Thursday, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) both formally threw their hats into the ring in a race that also includes Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).

Hall, who has been a major critic of the Obama Administration’s commercial space push, is leaving his chairmanship because he is term limited under Republican House rules to serving six years in the position.

Rohrabacher has been a major proponent of commercializing spaceflight and has backed the Obama Administration’s efforts in this area. He also has been a major proponent of more oil and gas drilling and a skeptic of global warming, positions that he shares with Smith and Sensenbrenner.

Smith has been critical of the Obama Administration’s space policy. In 2011, he called for the NASA Inspector General to “investigate the politicization of the agency” by Obama Administration appointees and attacked NASA’s commercial approach to human spaceflight.

“NASA represents the best of America’s ingenuity, exploration and discovery,” Smith said in a statement. “As Neil Armstrong testified before the Science Committee two weeks ago, the current condition of NASA’s manned spaceflight program is ‘lamentably embarrassing and unacceptable’, and this internal NASA study provides disturbing insights into the tension between NASA’s senior career managers and Obama Administration political appointees.  All of NASA should be working together to strengthen our space program and bolster America’s human space exploration.”

Sensenbrenner, who is vice-chairman of the Science Committee, formerly led the body from 1997-2001. The Congressman issued a statement in which he mentioned the need to “refocus NASA and foster the developing private space industry” and accused the Obama Administration of threatening domestic energy production by “manipulating science for political ends”.

“I am seeking the chairmanship for the House Science Committee because our nation’s science and space policy is at a critical juncture. The committee requires strong and effective leadership, and I want to bring my experience and proven record of legislative success to the committee.”

“If given the opportunity to serve as Science chair, my first priority will be to pass smart science and space policy that spurs job creation and ensures America’s future competitiveness. Specifically, we must responsibly fund our research and development programs, refocus NASA and foster the developing private space industry, and put the United States back on a path toward being a leader in STEM education.”

“Additionally, it’s more important than ever that the House exercises our constitutional oversight role. The Obama Administration has shown its willingness to manipulate science for political ends and threaten our domestic energy production and our economy in the process. I have a record of effective oversight, and I will continue to keep the Administration accountable for their use of science in crafting regulations and policies.”

Rohrabacher also issued a statement on Thursday that sounded similar themes.

“I intend to be a chairman who exemplifies the Republican philosophy that science, technology and innovation offer a pathway to a better, more prosperous future, and solve problems that bureaucracy and rampant government spending cannot,” said Rohrabacher.

As chairman, Rep. Rohrabacher’s priorities would include: making certain NASA has a real, achievable plan for near-term human space exploration; directing the Department of Energy to concentrate their resources on advanced energy concepts leading to energy independence; reforming all departments and agencies under SST jurisdiction by bringing them back to their core missions and proper roles; increasing opportunities to achieve national science goals by leveraging the capabilities and resources of industry; and making the committee a forum for respectful debate and discussion of science and science policy.

Rep. Rohrabacher has already made great strides toward these goals during his time as chair of the Space & Aeronautics Subcommittee for 8 years and the SST Energy & Environment Subcommittee for 2 years.

“Our nation’s science and technology enterprise is the source of our international strength, promotion of new industries and new jobs,” said Rohrabacher. “As a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I’ve been uniquely positioned to assist in cooperative international space and technology efforts that serve everyone well and will continue to do so as Chairman of the Science Committee.”

Going into the 113th Congress, Rep. Rohrabacher will have the most years of active experience on the Committee, excluding those who have already been Chairman.

ScienceInsider reports that the House Science Committee will have a major turnover when the new Congress is seated in January. Ten Representatives on the 40-member panel are departing due to retirements or re-election defeats.

Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL) is the only Congressman on the list of those leaving who regularly weighed in on NASA’s budget. She currently represents Florida’s 24th District, but she had to run for re-election in the 7th District after Florida redrew its Congressional boundaries following the 2010 Census. She lost in the primary and will leave office in January.

Republican Rep. Bill Posey will continue to represent the Kennedy Space Center and nearby areas as part of the new 8th District. He currently represents the 15 District.