House Committee Delays Vote on NASA Termination Liability Bill

House Committee Delays Vote on NASA Termination Liability Bill

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee delayed its planned markup today of a bill that would affect how NASA handles termination liability for three of its major human spaceflight programs — Orion, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the International Space Station (ISS).   The committee did approve three other bills, but committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said that committee Republicans and Democrats needed more time to work on this one.  The markup was rescheduled for Tuesday.

The bill, H.R. 3625, was introduced by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) earlier this week.   The language originally appeared as sec. 702 of the committee’s version of the 2013 NASA Authorization Act (H.R. 2687), which was approved by the committee on a party line vote in July, but has not been reported from the committee yet.   The chances of that bill passing anytime soon is rather slim, and committee Republicans apparently are anxious to deal with this one issue sooner rather than later.

Early in today’s markup session, Smith said that he supported an amendment to the bill by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), the top Democrat on the Space Subcommittee, which gave the bill bipartisan support and he urged all members to vote for it.   However, after completing action on the three other bills, Smith announced that more time was needed to iron out the language and the committee would recess for 10 minutes.   When he returned, he said that Edwards and Brooks needed still more time and the committee would recess “likely” until Tuesday at 2:00 pm ET.   Smith said he was confident Brooks and Edwards would reach agreement “because they have the same goals.”

In a statement explaining the intent of the bill, Brooks said that a total of $507 million is being held by the Orion, SLS and ISS contractors against the possibility that the government might terminate the contracts.  Government contracts include a provision that the contract can be cancelled at the convenience of the government and under Federal Acquisition Regulations the government is liable to pay certain costs if it does.  In some cases funds are set aside to pay for those costs.  Brooks wants that money spent on executing the programs rather than being held in reserve.  The bill would also prohibit NASA from unilaterally cancelling the programs without congressional consent.

“According to NASA reports to Congress, as of October 2013, $192 million from SLS, $226 million from Orion, and $89 million from the Space Station are being held to cover termination liability costs that would otherwise be used to timely complete these scientific efforts,” Brooks asserted.   He added that “the issue of limiting funding for potential termination liability costs contributed to the Obama Administration’s decision to cancel the Constellation program.”

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