Amendments to FY2021 Minibus Seek $2.6 Billion More for NASA, Changes For Other Civil Space Offices

Amendments to FY2021 Minibus Seek $2.6 Billion More for NASA, Changes For Other Civil Space Offices

The House will take up a FY2021 appropriations bill this week that includes funding for NASA, NOAA, and the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). Hundreds of amendments have been offered to the “minibus” of seven appropriations bills. Several would significantly impact civil space activities, including a proposed $2.6 billion increase for NASA above what the House Appropriations Committee recommended. Others would increase funding for FAA/AST or elevate NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce to the Department level.  Whether any of them get a chance for debate on the House floor will be determined by the House Rules Committee on Tuesday.

The House is moving expeditiously through the 12 FY2021 appropriations bills after a weeks-long delay as it figured out how to conduct its business in the coronavirus pandemic environment. The House Appropriations Committee approved all 12 in the first half of this month. Last week the House passed four of them grouped together in the first of two “minibus” bills.

For many years, Congress would combine all 12 bills into one piece of legislation called an “omnibus” appropriations package. More recently they use two or more smaller groups of bills wryly referred to as minibuses.

If all goes according to plan, the House will take up a second minibus beginning Wednesday that combines seven:

  • Defense
  • Commerce-Justice-Science (including NASA and NOAA)
  • Energy and Water Development
  • Financial Services and General Government
  • Homeland Security
  • Labor-Health and Human Services-Education
  • Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (including FAA/AST)

Most U.S. government space activities are funded in the Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), and Transportation-HUD (THUD) bills. They are Divisions A, B and G, respectively of the minibus, H.R. 7617.

The House Rules Committee will meet on Tuesday morning to formulate the rule under which the bill will be debated. The rule sets time limits and other conditions, as well as specifying which of the proposed amendments may be discussed. This is not a complete list of proposed amendments that would affect civil space activities, but could have the greatest effect if they clear the Rules Committee and survive the many other steps to a final bill.



A bipartisan group of eight Representatives wants to add $2.6 billion — $2,616,985,000 to be precise — to NASA’s exploration account to “match the overall budget request for NASA.”

The House Appropriations Committee kept NASA at its FY2020 funding level, $22.6 billion instead of the $25.2 billion requested. The program hardest hit was Human Landing Systems for the Artemis program, which gets $2.72 billion less than requested ($628 million versus $3.37 billion). It is in the exploration account.

Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Don Beyer (D-VA), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Bill Foster (D-IL), Randy Weber (R-TX), and Bill Posey (R-FL) do not propose offsetting reductions from elsewhere in NASA or other agencies in the bill, however, which usually dooms such amendments.

Other amendments to the NASA section include:

  • Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) would prohibit using money to fund the development of Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) that are not majority-designed, majority-developed, and majority-manufactured in the United States.  The committee’s report (H. Rept. 116-455) “strongly encourages” NASA to do that, but does not prohibit it from spending money on services that do not meet those requirements. According to NASA, the companies must be majority U.S. owned, but may partner with international companies as long as 51 percent of the components are American and all manufacturing and launch services occur on U.S. soil.
  • Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Steven Palazzo (R-MS), and Darren Soto (D-FL) want to move $30 million within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) to “compliment report language enhancing the small satellite mission launch services.”  The report directs NASA to work with industry to examine ways for small satellite missions to procure launch services more tailored to their needs while minimizing launch costs. The amendment does not specify where the $30 million would come from within SMD or how it would be spent.
  • Reps. Darren Soto (D-FL) and Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) want to move $40 million within NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division (PSD) to add funding for the Near Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM).  The committee’s report says only that NASA shall continue instrument formulation for NEOSM. The amendment does not say where the $40 million would come from within PSD.

NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce

Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) has an amendment to restore NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce (OSC) and Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) to “where they are authorized by statute.”  It achieves its goal by moving money — $4.1 million — from NOAA to the Department of Commerce’s Departmental Management account.

The $4.1 million is the combined amount approved for OSC and CRSRA in the FY2020 appropriations bill. The House Appropriations bill for FY2021 provides $500,000 million less — $3.6 million — so this would be a slight increase.

The amendment is part of the ongoing debate over whether OSC and CRSRA should remain in NOAA or be merged and elevated out of NOAA to the Secretary of Commerce’s office where they would be the nucleus of a Bureau of Space Commerce with much broader responsibilities for commercial space activities.

Authorization legislation to permit the move and create a Bureau of Space Commerce has not passed Congress. The amendment’s reference to where they are authorized in statute is to legislation decades ago that established OSC within and assigned responsibility for commercial remote sensing regulation to the Department of Commerce (the 1998 Technology Administration Act and the 1992 Land Remote Sensing Policy Act, respectively). Their assignment to NOAA was made by previous Secretaries of Commerce.

House and Senate appropriators remain unconvinced of the value of elevating them to the Secretary’s level and the implied expansion of OSC’s authority as contemplated by President Trump’s Space Policy Directive-2 and Space Policy Directive-3.

Last year, the House Appropriations Committee rejected the proposal, but Babin succeeded in getting the House to adopt an amendment to elevate the offices to the Department level during debate on the FY2020 CJS appropriations bill.  It did not survive in the final bill, however, because Senate appropriators also objected. Instead, the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee — Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) — required NOAA to contract with the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to independently assess the pros and cons of the proposal.

That report is due in September. For now, the House Appropriations Committee again rejected the Administration’s request to move the money — and therefore the offices — to the Department level.  House CJS subcommittee chairman José Serrano (D-NY) received a confused response from Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross about the status of the offices at a March 2020 hearing, but made clear the committee wants them to remain within NOAA. The committee also rejected the requested FY2021 funding level of $15 million keeping them at their FY2019 funding levels ($1.8 million each).

That is less than the final FY2020 appropriations bill, which provided a total of $4.1 million: $1.8 million for CRSRA and  $2.3 million for OSC.  OSC got the extra $500,000 to help pay for the NAPA study.

Babin’s amendment would take the two (combined) back to the $4.1 million level as well as elevating them to the Department level.


FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation

Rep. Ross Spano (R-FL) has an amendment to the THUD portion of the bill to increase funding for FAA/AST by $5.48 million over its FY2019 authorized level (not the FY2020 appropriated level).

He is on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees the FAA.  He succeeded in adding $8 million for FAA/AST last year when the House considered the FY2020 THUD bill, bringing the total to $33 million. That was the same amount authorized for FY2019 in the FAA Reauthorization Act, which was enacted in 2018 and envisioned substantial increases for FAA/AST through FY2023.

The Senate did not agree last year, however, and the final FY2020 appropriation was $26.040 million, barely more than the request. This amendment would give FAA/AST $38.5 million for FY2021, compared to the $27.6 million requested.


Note: This article originally stated that CLPS providers must be 100% U.S. owned, based on information provided to in July 2019 by NASA. However, under 51 U.S.C. 50101, U.S. commercial providers must only be majority U.S. owned.  We sought clarification from NASA, which responded with the following statement: 

“Some key points from Section I.21 of the CLPS RFP include:

“‘Controlling Interest’ means ownership of an amount of equity in such entity sufficient to direct management of the entity or to avoid transactions entered into by management. Ownership of at least fifty-one (51) percent of the equity in an entity creates a presumption that such an interest is controlling; however, the ultimate determination as to whether the interest is controlling resides with NASA.

“CLPS space transportation vehicles will be considered domestic end products only if the cost of their components, mined, produced or manufactured in the United States exceed fifty (50) percent of the cost of all their components. The cost of each component includes transportation costs to the place of incorporation into the CLPS and any applicable duty (whether or not a duty – free entry certificate is issued).”

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