House Appropriators Say No to Elevating Office of Space Commerce

House Appropriators Say No to Elevating Office of Space Commerce

The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) said no to the Trump Administration’s proposal to elevate the Office of Space Commerce from NOAA to the Office of the Secretary of Commerce and merge it with NOAA’s Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA).  That keeps Trump Administration plans to make the Department of Commerce (DOC) the “one-stop shop” for commercial space in limbo.

DOC is funded in the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill, the same one that funds NASA.  The FY2020 bill was approved at subcommittee level last week and will face the full committee tomorrow.  The committee released the draft text of the report to accompany the bill today, which provides details on what the subcommittee recommended.

The Office of Space Commerce and CRSRA are currently part of NOAA, which also is part of DOC.  Each is funded at $1.8 million.  The Trump Administration’s budget request is to merge them, elevate them organizationally so they report directly to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and add $6.4 million to the $3.6 million they jointly have now — a total of $10 million for FY2020.

Kevin O’Connell, Director, Office of Space Commerce. Credit: NOAA.

Ross’s goal is to use this elevated, merged Office of Space Commerce as the nucleus of a new Bureau of Space Commerce to oversee the many new responsibilities President Trump assigned to DOC in Space Policy Directive-2 (SPD-2) and Space Policy Directive-3 (SPD-3).  They include regulatory authority over all commercial space activities not already regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and becoming the interface with the domestic and international civil and commercial space sectors on space situational awareness and eventually space traffic management.

Kevin O’Connell is the Director of the Office of Space Commerce and is expected to become Director of the Bureau if it is created.  He testified to the Senate Commerce Committee just two weeks ago about what DOC is already doing and plans to do in the future to facilitate the U.S. commercial space sector and implement the SPDs.

Congress is still debating whether DOC or DOT is the best location for those new authorities, however.  Legislation to authorize creation of a Bureau of Space Commerce, but without the new responsibilities, came close to passage at the end of the last Congress, but failed on the House floor in the final days.  A new version of the bill, the Space Frontier Act,  cleared the Senate Commerce Committee this spring.  Like last year’s bill, it creates the Bureau of Space Commence, but is silent on whether DOC or DOT should be in charge of the new areas.

The House CJS appropriations bill would keep the situation as it is now.  Although creating a new Bureau and assigning its duties is the jurisdiction of authorizing committees, merging appropriations accounts and allocating funding are responsibilities of appropriators.

The draft House Appropriations bill would keep the two offices as they are now within NOAA’s National Environmental, Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) and funded separately at $1.8 million each.  The committee explained its decision with a very succinct statement of disapproval.

Office of Space Commerce.—The Committee rejects the proposal to transfer the functions of the Office of Space Commerce and Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs and instead maintains their funding within NOAA NESDIS. — House Appropriations Committee

Full committee markup begins at 10:30 am ET tomorrow morning and will be webcast.



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