Congress Approves FY2019 Appropriations to Avoid Another Shutdown, Now Up to Trump

Congress Approves FY2019 Appropriations to Avoid Another Shutdown, Now Up to Trump

The Senate and House passed the FY2019 Consolidated Appropriations Act today, clearing it for President Trump’s signature.  The bill includes funding for NASA, NOAA and the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation through the end of FY2019.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump assured him today that he will sign the legislation, but then will declare a national emergency to obtain additional funding for his border wall.  Whatever happens on that front, from a space policy perspective, it provides a few months of funding certainty for the civil space agencies that just endured a 35-day shutdown.

The bill, H. J. Res. 31, passed the Senate by a vote of 83-16 and the House 300-128.  If Trump signs the bill as expected, it will avoid another partial government shutdown that otherwise will occur at midnight tomorrow.

The bill provides $21.500 billion for NASA, an increase of $1.608  billion above Trump’s request.  Congress rejected Trump Administration proposals to terminate four NASA Earth science programs (PACE, CLARREO-Pathfinder, OCO-3,  and the Earth-facing instruments on DSCOVR) and the next flagship space telescope project (WFIRST); eliminate NASA’s education programs and space technology mission directorate; and restrucuture the RESTORE-L satellite servicing program.  It adopts new Trump Administration proposals related to human and robotic exploration of the Moon; maintains the SLS/Orion program, including funding for a second mobile launch platform and the Exploration Upper Stage; and retains two robotic missions to Jupiter’s moon Europa championed by former Congressman John Culberson.

For NOAA’s satellite programs, the bill provides $1.455 billion, an increase of $55 million.  It supports NOAA’s geostationary and polar-orbiting weather satellites (GOES and JPSS) and increases funding for new space weather capabilities.

NOAA also houses the Office of Space Commerce and the Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs.  The Trump Administration wants to merge those offices, elevate them to the Secretary of Commerce’s level, and significantly expand their responsibilities in accordance with White House Space Policy Directives.  Authorizing legislation to accomplish that goal, the Space Frontier Act, was defeated in the House in December.  This appropriations bill funds both offices at $1.8 million each, still within NOAA, and directs the Department to work with authorization and appropriations committees to implement the Administration’s reorganization proposal.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is also funded in the bill. The FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) are part of DOT.  The bill provides $24.949 million, more than $3 million above the request of $21.578 million and about half way between what the House and Senate appropriations committees approved.  It also adds $2 million to the $7 million requested for integrating commercial space launches and reentries into the National Airspace System (NAS), and funds the requested $2.5 million for commercial space safety (AST’s Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation and AST’s R&D activities related to integration of launches and reentries into the NAS).

FY2019 ends on September 30, 2019.  Trump has not yet submitted his budget request for FY2020, which begins on October 1.

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