Congress Poised to Pass Final FY2019 Appropriations

Congress Poised to Pass Final FY2019 Appropriations

House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on an appropriations package to keep the entire government functioning after Friday.  President Trump has not agreed to sign it, but said on Tuesday that he does not want another government shutdown, implying that he will.  Still, as events in December starkly illustrated, it’s not over till it’s over.

The new bill, H. J. Res. 31, combines the seven FY2019 appropriations bills that have not yet been enacted, including the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that funds NASA and NOAA.  Departments and agencies in the seven bills are currently funded by a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires tomorrow, February 15, at midnight.  That CR was signed into law on January 25 after a record 35-day partial government shutdown.

The bill was filed just before midnight last night.  The House and Senate could vote on it as early as today, although that requires agreement in the House to waive a rule that requires appropriations bills to be filed 72 hours before a vote.  If not, another CR would have to be passed to keep those departments and agencies operating until this bill, which funds them for the rest of FY2019, becomes law.

The CJS portion is Division C.   A quick review of the bill and explanatory statement indicates that the NASA and NOAA sections appear to be the same as what negotiators agreed to last fall.  As we reported earlier, the key features are as follows.


The bill includes $21.500 billion for NASA.  The President’s request was $19.892 billion.  The House Appropriations Committee approved $21.546 billion while the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $21.323 billion. (See’s fact sheet on the NASA budget request on our fact sheets page for more information.)

This table from the explanatory statement shows the allocations for NASA.

The bill adopts many Administration requests, but rejects many others including proposed terminations of Earth science programs, a new space telescope, and education programs, and an agency reorganization.

One request that would be approved is increasing the budget cap for JWST, which has experienced many schedule delays and cost overruns. The most recent breaches the $8 billion budget cap for development set by Congress beginning in 2011.  The new estimate is $8.803 billion, a 10 percent increase, which requires Congress to raise the cap or spending will have to stop when the $8 billion mark is reached. Language in the explanatory statement warns NASA that although the bill raises the cap to $8.803 billion, “NASA should strictly adhere to this cap or, under this agreement, JWST will have to find cost savings or cancel the mission.”  It expresses “profound disappointment with both NASA and its contractors regarding mismanagement, complete lack of careful oversight, and overall poor basic workmanship on JWST….”

“NASA and its commercial partners seem to believe that congressional funding for this project and other development efforts is an entitlement, unaffected by failures to stay on schedule or within budget.”  Joint Explanatory Statement on H. J. Res 31

JWST’s follow-on is the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), whose development was delayed for many years because funding had to be diverted to JWST.  The Trump Administration proposed cancelling WFIRST, but the bill rejects that proposal, providing $312 million in FY2019 to keep the program on track for launch in 2025.  It stresses the program must adhere to its $3.2 billion cost cap.  Included are $10 million the development of starshade technology and $10 million for search for life technology development.

It also rejects Trump’s proposed terminations of several Earth science projects (PACE, OCO-3, CLARREO-Pathfinder, and the Earth-facing instruments on DSCOVR).

The bill retains the priorities set by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), who chaired the House CJS subcommittee until the end of the 115th Congress, to build both an orbiter and a lander to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa.  Culberson lost his reelection bid so is no longer in Congress to advocate for these missions, but for FY2019 at least, they would continue.  The bill does slip the mandated launch dates for the orbiter from 2022 to 2023 and the lander from 2024 to 2025, but keeps the requirement that they be launched using SLS.

Among the many other provisions, the explanatory statement also appears to reject the proposed reorganization of NASA HQ that would eliminate the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), which develops cross-cutting technologies for a variety of NASA missions.  The Trump Administration proposed melding those programs with others in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD). The explanatory statement retains Space Technology as a separate budget category and “reiterates … the need to maintain an independent research and technology portfolio to support both science and human exploration programs.”  Under space technology, it specifies funding for several activities including $18o million for RESTORE-L, $48.1 million for solar electric propulsion,and $100 million for nuclear thermal propulsion of which not less than $70 million is for a flight demonstration by 2024.

Regarding human exploration, it provides $2.15 billion for the Space Launch System plus $48 million for a second mobile launch platform.  Of the $2.15 billion, $150 million is for the Exploration Upper Stage.

For the Moon to Mars program, the agreement approves the new —

  • Lunar Discovery and Exploration program in the Science Mission Directorate (“up to” $218 million, including $21 million for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter);
  • Advanced Cislunar and Surface Capabilities in HEOMD ($116.5 million); and
  • Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in HEOMD ($450 million)

For aeronautics, it provides $725 million, including no less than $35 million for hypersonics research.

NASA’s activities that were under the Office of Education are rebranded as “STEM Engagement.”  The Trump Administration proposed eliminating all of them, but the agreement provides $110 million as follows:

  • EPSCoR, $21 million
  • Space Grant, $44 million
  • MUREP, $33 million
  • SEAP, $12 million (not stated, but inferred from arithmetic)

The agreement also includes the House language restricting bilateral cooperation with China by NASA, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the White House National Space Council.

NOAA Satellite Programs

The agreement includes $1.455 billion for NOAA’s satellite programs.  The President’s request was $1.4 billion.  The House Appropriations Committee approved $1.412 billion, while the Senate Appropriations Committee allocated $1.498 billion. (See’s fact sheet on the NOAA budget request on our fact sheets page for more information.)

Allocations for procurement, acquisition and construction of NOAA’s satellite programs are shown in this table from the report.

It rejects the Administration’s proposal to merge NOAA’s two polar weather satellite programs — Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Polar Follow On (PFO) — but says it will continue to consider the request.  The JPSS account funds the first two of the four next generation polar satellites.  PFO funds the other two.  The request was $877,991,000 for the combination of the two accounts, which is the same as what is allocated in the agreement.

For Space Weather Follow-on, the agreement provides $27 million, almost three times the $10 million requested.  It directs NOAA to build two compact coronagraphs.  One is to be integrated onto the GOES-U geostationary weather satellite, which was NOAA’s proposal.  NOAA is also directed to work with NASA to launch the other as a ride-share with the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Program (IMAP). IMAP will be launched to the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point where other space weather sensors are located so they can provide early warning of space weather events, instead of in Earth orbit where GOES-U will be positioned.

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