Defense Authorization, Appropriations Bills Ready for Floor Action

Defense Authorization, Appropriations Bills Ready for Floor Action

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees completed their work on the FY2024 National Defense Authorization Act this week, with both committees approving their bills almost unanimously. The House Appropriations Committee also cleared the FY2024 Defense Appropriations bill, though on a party-line vote after sometimes bitter debate. Except for the question of where U.S. Space Command should be headquartered, the space-related portions of the bills are not controversial. Congress is taking a two-week break over the July 4th holiday, but the bills could be brought to the floor at any time thereafter.

As expected, the U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) headquarters issue came up at the HASC markup.

On Wednesday, chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) began the proceedings by saying more than 800 amendments had been submitted. Fortunately, the vast majority had enough bipartisan support that they could be collected into a few “en bloc” amendments and approved with a single voice vote.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) at a House Armed Services Commitee hearing on April 27, 2023. Screengrab.

Amendments dealing with societal issues were contentious and the subject of lengthy debate, but none concerned space activities. It was only near the end, about 11:30 in the evening, that Rep. Doug Lamborn’s (R-CO) USSPACECOM amendment came up. He wanted to modify landuage in the bill sponsored by Rogers that prohibits the use of funding to construct or modify facilities for the temporary or permanent headquarters of USSPACECOM until the Secretary of the Air Force submits a report on the justification for selecting a permanent headquarters. The language would also prohibit the Office of the SecAF from spending more than 50 percent of its FY2024 travel money until the report is submitted, but Lamborn did not disagree with that.

Lamborn argued that while he agreed entirely on the need for the Air Force to make a decision, it would harm national security to freeze funding for construction or modifications “no matter how necessary.” Rogers and two others from the Alabama delegation, one Republican and one Democrat, as well as Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) strongly opposed the amendment and Lamborn withdrew it. “I can see the handwriting on the wall,” he said, stressing again that he, too, wants the Air Force to make a decision as soon as possible.

The bill passed 58-1.

SASC began its markup the same day, but didn’t finish until yesterday. The committee released an executive summary of the bill, but details are pending. Unlike HASC, the SASC process is closed so although they revealed that 445 amendments were considered and 286 adopted, whatever was in them is not known publicly. The bill passed 24-1.

The committee’s summary highlighted these space provisions:

  • Establishes an additional lane (Lane 2A) two years into Phase III of the National Security Space Launch acquisition program to allow for greater competition within the field.
  • Directs the use of middle tier acquisition authority for the rapid fielding of satellites and associated systems for Tranches 1-3 of the proliferated warfighter space architecture of the Space Development Agency.
  • Directs the establishment of transparent regulations for entering into agreements and receiving cost reimbursements for the provision of goods and services to commercial entities conducting space launch activities at Space Force bases.
  • Directs a report on DOD efforts to better integrate space operations with allies and partners.
  • Requires a report on the initial operational capability of the Advanced Tracking and Launch Analysis System and requires the Air Force to contract with a Federally Funded Research and Development Center to conduct periodic reviews of Space Command and Control system’s software acquisition.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), Chair of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, at full committee markup of the FY2024 defense bill June 22, 2023. Screengrab.

The House Appropriations Committee’s markup of the Defense bill illustrated the strain between Republicans and Democrats this year spurred by Republican leadership’s decision to set most spending limits lower than what House Speaker McCarthy and President Biden negotiated in the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

Defense spending is exempted from cuts and the strenuous debate on this bill focused more on societal issues, but how to spend the funding also was controversial.  The Republican and Democratic press releases lay bare their differences, but they are not related to space activities so will not be further examined here.  The bill passed on a party-line vote, 34-24.

The Defense Subcommittee released its draft bill last week, but not the report with detailed information. That report now is out. A quick glance at the funding tables can be misleading because there is a lot of shuffling of money from one line item to another so what may appear as a programmatic cut or increase instead is only a shift from one line to another. Others are “classified adjustments.” Overall, the budgetary changes appear modest.

Two Space Force issues highlighted in the report are acquisition and the decision to cancel the third geosynchronous satellite (GEO-3) in the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR) program.

For acquisition, the report says that even though the Space Force has experienced double-digit growth, there still are “serious shortfalls and disconnects” that need to be addressed. On the other hand, the committee is concerned about the “poorest performing” programs especially the GPS Next Generation Operational Control Segment (OCX) whose cost has grown 73 percent. They want more “management rigor and accountability.” As for GEO-3, they want a report within 90 days of enactment on the impacts on Nuclear Command, Control and Commuications of cancelling that satellite.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.