FY2022 Appropriations Bills Make Progress in House Committee

FY2022 Appropriations Bills Make Progress in House Committee

The House Appropriations Committee continued to make progress today in approving the FY2022 appropriations bills that fund space activities. Subcommittees approved the bills that fund NASA, NOAA and the FAA space office, while the full committee released the detailed report on the defense appropriations bill that will be considered tomorrow.

The Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee made quick work of the bill that funds NASA and NOAA this afternoon. No amendments were offered to the text released yesterday, a step that usually is not done until full committee markup. That is scheduled for Thursday.

The bill provides $25.04 billion for NASA, $240 million more than President Biden requested, and $1.77 billion more than FY2021.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Alabama)

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), the subcommittee’s Ranking Member, was the only member to talk extensively about the NASA provisions. He praised the funds added for the Space Launch System (SLS), which is managed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL near his district. The request is $2.487 billion, a reduction from the $2.561 billion Congress appropriated in FY2021. Aderholt complained NASA “seldom, if ever” requests sufficient funds for SLS. The subcommittee is proposing $2.636 billion.

Aderholt went on to advocate for building a cargo version of SLS, a controversial issue because SLS is very expensive ($1 billion-$2 billion per launch depending on how costs are calculated). NASA wants to use commercial launch vehicles for everything other than sending crews to the Moon and Mars in order to save money. SLS supporters argue the cost per launch will come down if there are more launches so they want a cargo version, too, that could support human exploration as well as launching science spacecraft. Aderholt further called for an SLS multi-year acquisition plan “to make long-lead purchases cost efficient and engage contractors at a full rate of production.”

Aderholt also thanked subcommittee Chairman Matt Cartwright (D-PA) for adding $110 million for nuclear thermal propulsion development, another program managed at Marshall. NASA requested none. Congress has been adding about that amount every year for the past several years and usually directs NASA to use part of the funds for design of a flight demonstration. Aderholt complained that direction is not in this year’s bill and asked for it to be restored.

While those are all areas where he agrees with the bill, he also has disagreements and one of them concerns the Human Landing System (HLS). It is not clear from the bill what the subcommittee’s proposed funding level is, but Aderholt criticized NASA’s “unwise” decisions that have “jeopardized” the program. “In my opinion, the HLS program, while still in its inception, is perilously close to losing any prospects of ensuring system redundancy not to mention market competition. This in turn threatens our valuable investments to land the first woman on the Moon.”

The bill does not get into specifics about NOAA’s space programs and they were not discussed at the markup. Those details should become available when the report to accompany the bill is released in coming days.

Similarly, the Transportation-HUD subcommittee approved its FY2022 bill today, but what it provides for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation will not be known until that report is out.

The report on the defense appropriations bill was published today. The bill was marked up at subcommittee level last week. Full committee markup is tomorrow.

The Biden Administration is requesting $17.5 billion for the U.S. Space Force.

The report has extensive language about the Space Force’s acquisition efforts. The Space Force is part of the Department of the Air Force, which continues to have acquisition authority over Space Force programs until next year. The committee criticized the Air Force for not taking “more aggressive action in addressing longstanding space acquisition issues and has made little progress in defining what the Space Force will be doing that is fundamentally different” than the past.

The committee also was quite blunt in its criticism of the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) missile warning system, noting that DOD’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) concluded the schedule is “unrealistic” and its cost estimate “overly optimistic” and the Government Accountability Office came to similar conclusions.

The Committee cautions the Space Force that providing unrealistic cost and schedule estimates undermines the credibility of the Space Force’s management of this and other programs. Therefore, the Committee directs the Secretary of the Air Force to conduct a thorough review of the program, the acquisition strategy, the realism of its cost and schedule estimates, and the adequacy of plans to mitigate program risks.

The committee cut Space Force’s $3.44 billion Operations and Maintenance (O&M) request by $68.5 million, of which $51 million is from administration because of “unjustified growth.”  Procurement was cut $25 million from the $2.77 billion request.

Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) was cut $492 million from the $11.27 billion request. The largest portion, $410.5 million, is from classified programs. The committee also denied the request of $37 million for a Space Warfare Analysis Center because it thinks the existing Space Security and Defense Program can do the job. The National Security Space Launch Program-EMD was cut $36.9 million because of “inadequate justification.”

Separately the committee directed DOD and the National Reconnaissance Office to use National Security Space Launch-class missions unless they certify to Congress that an alternative is better for the government and provide a “cost analysis and any other rationale…”

The committee also expressed concern about threats to low Earth orbit satellites from ground-based lasers and directed the Secretary of Defense to come up with a plan to understand and mitigate the threat.

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