Biden Signs 2022 NASA Authorization Act Into Law

Biden Signs 2022 NASA Authorization Act Into Law

President Biden signed the 2022 NASA Authorization Act into law this morning, the first such act in five years. Incorporated into the CHIPS and Science Act, the bipartisan legislation supports NASA’s full suite of programs in aeronautics, human spaceflight, science, and technology. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson later enthused the bill gives NASA everything it needs, except appropriations, and he’s optimistic about that.

In a White House ceremony on the South Lawn, Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act amid great fanfare and bipartisan enthusiasm for the wide-ranging bill whose main purpose is reinvigorating the U.S. semiconductor industry.

Title VII is the 2022 NASA Authorization Act, which sets policy for the agency and its programs. It does not provide funding.

President Biden (seated) signs the CHIPS and Science Act at the White House with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other dignitaries, August 9, 2022. Photo credit: White House

Biden gave NASA a shout-out towards the end of his remarks when talking about how the legislation will inspire a new generation of Americans.

“Right now, as Bill can tell you, NASA has a mission. Going back to the moon, then to Mars, the Sun and beyond, capturing — capturing images of distant galaxies we can only once dream existed and we could never think we could see.” — President Biden

“Bill” is Bill Nelson, who was in the audience. Now NASA Administrator, he chaired the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee during part of his 18 years in the Senate. The current chair, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), was a key player in getting the NASA Authorization Act into the CHIPS bill and the entire package through the Senate. She tweeted this selfie of the two of them at the event.

Shortly thereafter Nelson spoke at a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council at NASA Headquarters. He ebulliently said now the bill was signed “we have basically gotten what we need” including “things we have sought for years” such as extending the U.S. commitment to the International Space Station from 2024 to 2030.

But not money. That is done through the appropriations process.

FY2023 appropriations are still under consideration in Congress. The House Appropriations Committee approved an increase over the $24.04 billion provided for FY2022, but not as much as NASA requested: $25.45 billion instead of the $25.97 billion requested. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not approved any FY2023 bills, but the Democratic leadership released their version last month and recommended the full amount requested, although there are changes in how it is allocated to various programs.

Nelson is optimistic Congress will complete action on all the appropriations bills before October 1, when FY2023 begins. That would be extremely unusual. Continuing Resolutions are the norm, especially in election years.

He acknowledged that, but pointed out the two leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), are retiring at the end of this year and “want to get this thing wrapped up.”

Time will tell if that’s possible. Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee could not even agree on the bills that were released. Partisan tensions in the Senate have only intensified in the past week because of the Inflation Reduction Act. But Congress is often full of surprises.

Nelson is already thinking about FY2024.  “Appropriations is always a struggle,” he told NAC, and it “starts with the Office of Management and Budget” in the White House, which prepares the President’s Budget Request. The request isn’t sent to Congress until February, but the process for FY2024 already is well underway. Nelson said he “had a few conversations down at the White House today about that” though he didn’t mention with whom. OMB Director Shalanda Young was one of the officials in attendance, but the President is the ultimate decision-maker.

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