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Who's Who in Space Sciences in the New Congress

Tuesday, March 19, 2019 - 17:08

U.S. Capitol with a Westerlund 2 sky

We are now nearly three months (one-eighth of the way!) into the 116th Congress, and the committees have been organized, though they were delayed due to the federal shutdown and spending negotiations that took up most of lawmakers' attention through January. Here we identify who is set to play a prominent role in oversight of and legislation around the astronomical sciences at NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy (DOE).

With each new Congress, everything resets: bills must be reintroduced, rules must be re-approved, and committee membership and leadership is reorganized. Membership and leadership on (sub)committees is determined by members' seniority and can also reflect the personal and/or district interests of a given member (and, in reality, the fundraising potential, as House Science Committee Chair Johnson lamented to Politico in January). Once a member is on a committee — particularly a very powerful one — they tend to stay on that committee, if they can, but circumstances do change. The ratio of membership of committees between the parties is also set at the beginning of each Congress by the majority party, and there are always more majority members than minority in a given committee.

For the 116th Congress, then, the biggest shakeups are on the House side, of course, because of the change from Republican to Democratic control of that chamber. For the space sciences in particular, there are many new faces to get to know. Not only has the change in party control of the House brought more Democrats onto relevant committees, but also, several prominent (in space sciences) members of both chambers have left Congress, including former House Science Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX, retired); Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee chairman John Culberson (R-TX, defeated), Senate Commerce, Science, and Technology Committee Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL, defeated), and House Science Committee members Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA, defeated), Steve Knight (R-CA, defeated), Barbara Comstock (R-VA, defeated), and Randy Hultgren (R-IL, defeated). In fact, all of the subcommittee chairs on the House Science Committee are new members (Conor Lamb is technically not new, but just came to Congress in April 2018 through a special election).

Below we list the members of the most relevant committees to the astronomical sciences, which include the appropriations (spending) and authorization (policy) committees that cover NASA, NSF, and the DOE Office of Science. The leadership of the committees tend to have the most power and influence over what issues and legislation are considered by the committee. Generally, the most senior majority-party member of a committee is the chair. This is subject to some secondary requirements set within the party caucuses, like restrictions on serving as chair for more than one (sub)committee or as both a chair and in another party leadership position. The second-most-senior majority-party (sub)committee member is generally designated the vice chair of the (sub)committee (though the except is on Senate Appropriations, where the most senior minority-party member is called the "vice chair").

Appropriations Committees

The House and Senate Appropriations committees have parallel structures: they are each divided into twelve subcommittees to cover the full range of discretionary spending by the federal government, which must be set annually. For the astronomical sciences, the most relevant Appropriations subcommittees are:

  • the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over NASA, NSF, the Smithsonian Institution, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the National Space Council; and
  • the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the Department of Energy, including its Office of Science.

While each of the subcommittee bills must also pass through the full Appropriations committee, the subcommittees are where almost all of the decision-making happens, generally speaking, so the subcommittee leadership and membership are listed below, rather than the full committee membership.

House

Senate

Appropriations Committee

Lowey (D-NY)
Granger (R-TX)
Chair
Ranking Member

Appropriations Committee

Shelby (R-AL)
Leahy (D-VT)
Chair
Vice Chair

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee

Serrano (D-NY)
Aderholt (R-AL)
Chair
Ranking Member
Cartwright (D-PA), Vice Chair
Roby (R-AL)
*Case (D-HI)
Palazzo (R-MS)
*Crist (D-FL)
*Graves (R-GA)
*Kaptur (D-OH)
*Lawrence (D-MI)
Meng (D-NY)

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee

Moran (R-AL)
Shaheen (D-NH)
Chair
Ranking Member
Alexander (R-TN)
Coons (D-DE)
Boozman (R-AR)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Capito (R-WV)
Leahy (D-VT)
Collins (R-ME)
Manchin (D-WV)
Graham (R-SC)
Reed (D-RI)
Kennedy (R-LA)
Schatz (D-HI)
Murkowski (AK)
Van Hollen (D-MD)
*Rubio (R-FL)

Energy and Water Development Subcommittee

Kaptur (D-OH)
Simpson (R-ID)
Chair
Ranking Member
*Frankel (D-FL)
Calvert (R-CA)
*Kilmer (D-WA)
Fleischmann (R-TN)
*Kirkpatrick (D-AZ)
Newhouse (R-WA)
*Pocan (D-WI)
Visclosky (D-IN), Vice Chair
Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)

Energy and Water Development Subcommittee

Alexander (R-TN)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Chair
Ranking Member
Collins (R-ME)
Coons (D-DE)
Graham (R-SC)
Durbin (D-IL)
Hoeven (R-ND)
Merkley (D-OR)
*Hyde-Smith (R-MS)
Murray (D-WA)
Kennedy (R-LA)
Shaheen (D-NH)
McConnell (R-KY)
Udall (D-NM)
Shelby (R-AL)

*denotes new members to the committee (some, but not all, are newly elected to their current office)

Authorization Committees

All of the other House and Senate committees are authorizing committees, which can set overall spending authority, but largely are involved with setting policy, directing programs, and carrying oversight over management. Authorizing legislation can expire, but it does not need to be renewed or reviewed regularly like appropriations legislation. The authorizing committees do not necessarily have the same names or parallel portfolios between the House and Senate sides. In particular, the Office of Science (SC) of the DOE is handled differently in the Senate from in the House.

For the astronomical sciences, the most relevant authorizing subcommittees are:

Occasionally issues with relevance to the astronomical sciences might appear on other subcommittees or even other committees (e.g., Department of Education issues like financial aid and K-12 STEM education go to the separate committees, space weather was just featured as part of a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on threats to the electric grid, etc.), but the below committees are the ones the AAS community should follow most closely.

Included in the listing below are the committee leadership and membership, as well as the leadership for the most relevant subcommittees. For the House Science and Senate Commerce committees, I have denoted subcommittee membership after the names. For the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I have just included the Energy subcommittee membership, and not the full committee roster.

House

Senate

Committee on Space, Science, and Technology

Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
Lucas (R-OK)
Chair
Ranking Member
Bera (D-CA), Vice Chair, SA
Babin (R-TX)
Beyer (D-VA), SA
*Baird (IN-4)
Bonamici (D-OR)
Balderson (R-OH)
*Casten (D-IL)
Biggs (R-AZ)
Cohen (D-TN), RT
Brooks (R-AL)
Crist (D-FL), SA
Cloud (R-TX)
*Fletcher (D-TX)
Dunn (D-FL)
Foster (D-IL), RT
*Gonzalez (R-OH)
*Hill (D-CA), SA
Marshall (R-KS)
*Horn (D-OK)
Norman (R-SC)
Lamb (D-CA)
Olson (R-TX)
Lipinski (D-IL), RT
Posey (R-FL)
Lofgren (D-CA), SA
Waitz (R-FL)
*McAdams (D-UT), RT
Weber (R-TX)
McNerney (D-CA)
Vacancy (R)
Perlmutter (D-CO), SA
Vacancy (R)
*Sherrill (D-NJ), RT
*Sherman (D-CA), RT
*Stevens (D-MI), RT
Tonko (D-NY), RT
*Wexton (D-VA), SA

Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Wicker (R-MS)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Chair
Ranking Member
*Blackburn (R-TN), AS
Baldwin (D-WI), SOFW
Blunt (R-MO), AS
Blumenthal (D-CT), SOFW
Capito (R-WV), AS
Duckworth (D-IL), ATS
Cruz (R-TX), AT, SOFW
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Fischer (R-NE)
Markey (D-MA)
Gardner (R-CO), AS, SOFW
Peters (D-MI), AS
*Johnson (R-WI)
*Rosen (D-NV), AS
Lee (R-UT), AS
*Sinema (D-AZ), AS
Moran (R-KS), AS
Schatz (D-HI), AS
*Scott (R-FL)
Tester (D-MT), AS
Sullivan (R-AK), SOFW
Udall (D-NM), AS
Thune (R-SD), AS
Young (R-IN)

Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee (SA)

*Horn (D-OK)
Babin (R-TX)
Chair
Ranking Member

Aviation and Space Subcommittee (AS)

Cruz (R-TX)
*Sinema (D-AZ)
Chair
Ranking Member

Research and Technology Subcommittee (RT)

*Stevens (D-MI)
Baird (R-IN)
Chair
Ranking Member

Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Water Subcommittee (SOFW)

Gardner (R-CO)
Baldwin (D-WI)
Chair
Ranking Member

Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Murkowski (R-AK)
Manchin (D-WV)
Chair
Ranking Member

Energy Subcommittee

Cassidy (R-LA)
Heinrich (D-NM)
Chair
Ranking Member
Alexander (R-TN)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Daines (R-MT)
*Cortez-Masto (D-NV)
Gardner (R-CO)
*Hirono (D-HI)
Hoeven (R-ND)
King (I-ME)
*Hyde-Smith (R-MS)
Sanders (D-MA)
*Lee (R-UT)
*Stabenow (D-MI)
*McSally (R-AZ)
Wyden (D-OR)
Risch (R-ID)

*denotes new members to the committee (some, but not all, are also newly elected to their current office)

The House and Senate authorizing committees have just held their first hearings on space (coincidentally, at the same time), looking at the broad picture of where we are now and where we are going. The Senate Commerce Committee had NASA Administrator Bridenstine and the Department of Commerce's Office of Space Commerce Director O'Connell for their hearing, "The New Space Race: Ensuring U.S. Global Leadership on the Final Frontier," and the House Science Committee had for their hearing, "America In Space: Future Visions, Current Issues," with witnesses Ellen Stofan (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Director, former NASA Chief Scientist), Peggy Whitson (retired astronaut, former NASA Chief Astronaut), and Frank Rose (Brookings Institution, former State Department Assistant Secretary). We anticipate more hearings soon from the agencies briefing their appropriators and authorizers on their FY 2020 budget proposals.

It is also worth noting that some new members of Congress have connections to the space sciences from before their terms in office. Among those:

Ashlee N. Wilkins
John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
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