House Committees Make Progress on FY2024 Defense Authorization, Appropriations

House Committees Make Progress on FY2024 Defense Authorization, Appropriations

The two House committees that authorize and appropriate money for the Department of Defense made progress this week on legislation for FY2024, which begins on October 1. Defense spending is one of the few areas exempted from the steep budget cuts proposed by House Republicans, although the recommended funding for the U.S. Space Force is below the request. More action is scheduled in both the House and Senate next week.

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) released its draft of the FY2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Monday and the seven subcommittees marked up their portions over the next two days.

Then on Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee Defense Subcommittee marked up its bill.

Authorization bills set policy and recommend funding levels. Appropriators are the ones who actually have money to spend. They take authorization recommendations into account, but are not bound by them.

HASC subcommittee markups are rather pro forma affairs with controversial issues held over until full committee markup. That’s scheduled for next Wednesday. The Strategic Forces subcommittee, which oversees most space issues, cleared its portion of the bill on Tuesday in about 12 minutes.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) at an April 27, 2023 HASC hearing. Screengrab.

In their opening statements on the authorization bill, subcommittee chairman Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Ranking Member Seth Moulton (D-MA) briefly mentioned space issues. Both stressed the need to take advantage of the commercial space sector and to share information with them on threats they face. That means more of the information must be unclassified or declassified, an issue that has been raised both by the military and Congress for several years, but on which progress is glacial.

“In military space, we continue to find ways to drive innovation and support commercial and small businesses contributions to the space enterprise. If we are truly going to get the benefit of our commercial partners, especially on the use of commercial space situational awareness data for combatant commanders, we need to incentivize and create more opportunities to share information on the threats they will face. This requires addressing the overclassification of space systems by mandating a relook at classification guidance documents.” — Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO)

“While we have much work to do to maintain our nuclear deterrent into the future, the space domain is evolving at a far faster pace. For decades, space was essentially a peaceful domain, reserved for monitoring, communicating, and exploring. But no more. In just the past several months, we have seen unprecedented demonstrations of both Russian and Chinese capabilities that are specifically designed to degrade and destroy U.S. space assets.  To employ a more robust and resilient architecture, this mark continues to press the Department to leverage commercial capability when available, and improve its sharing of threat data with commercial companies that provide services to the DOD. It also continues to emphasize the fact that the Department needs to have a coherent, unclassified strategy when it comes to Space, in order to explain the threats and the stakes to the American people, which has long been a position of this subcommittee and Congress.” — Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA)

The bill released by the committee this week is the “Chairman’s Mark,” the text the committee will consider during the markup process.

The most contentious part for space activities is expected to be location of U.S. Space Command headquarters, but there are other issues as well.

Three key provisions related to the U.S. Space Force would —

  • Limit the use of funds to procure another Wideband Gapfiller Satellite communications satellite, WGS-12, until the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisitions and Integration certifies that commercial providers cannot fulfill that requirement. Appropriators added $442 million in FY2023 for Space Force to procure another “protected wideband satellite” and it currently plans to buy another in the Boeing-built WGS series.
  • Limit the use of 10 percent of travel funds for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy (ASD/SP) until the Secretary of Defense submits two reports that were required in the FY2022 NDAA, one on classified programs managed by the Space Force and the other a review of DOD’s space policy. The committee complained they created the ASD/SP position in 2019, elevating it from a Deputy Assistant Secretary level, but it has “repeatedly not responded to mandates from Congress for unclassified reports on space policy topics.” Also, it is “concerning” that the ASD/SP has been given other responsibilities “leading to the inability to complete the primary duty of the office.”
  • Require the Secretary of the Air Force to maximize competition for the acquisition of space launch services in the Phase 3 National Security Space Launch program including providing opportunities for emerging launch providers.

The NDAA’s funding recommendations would made substantial cuts to Procurement, increase Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E), and keep Operations and Maintenance (O&M) about the same.  All together they would be authorized at $28.3 billion versus the $28.9 billion request.

  • Procurement would be cut almost $1 billion, from a request of $4.714 billion to $3.752 billion. It denies all $434 million for WGS-12 as well as $497 million for Special Space Activities. It says only that the latter is related to a “classified overrun.”
  • RDT&E would see an increase of $357 million, of which $336 million is for classified programs.
  • O&M remains about the same: $5.03 billion authorized versus $5.02 billion requested.

The bill does not specify an amount for personnel. The request was $1.2 billion.

As for appropriations, the House Defense Subcommittee approved its bill on Thursday. The Space Force would get $29.079 billion, about $1 billion less than the $30.131 billion requested.  The markup was closed and the committee has not released further details on where the reductions or any additions were made.

Prepared by using data in the DOD budget request and subcommittee mark.

The full Appropriations Committee will mark up the bill on Thursday, June 22.

The appropriations process in the House is quite fraught at the moment with Republicans and Democrats sharply at odds. The House Appropriations Committee adopted subcommittee allocations on Thursday that are lower than the agreement negotiated by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden in the Fiscal Responsibility Act signed into law on June 3. The committee generally is holding spending to FY2022 levels instead of FY2023.

Democrats claim Republicans are reneging on the deal. Republicans assert that the total McCarthy agreed to was merely a “ceiling, not a floor” and they are free to appropriate less than that.

Defense is one of the few areas where cuts are not required, but the increase adopted by the House committee is modest, just 3.6 percent more than FY2023. That’s less than inflation.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will set its subcommittee allocations and begin marking up some of the bills, though not Defense, next week. So far the Senate has not appeared as intent on making the drastic spending cuts proposed by House Republicans. Some Republican Senators even are talking about supplemental appropriations to augment whatever is approved through the regular process.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will mark up its version of the NDAA next week as well.

The upshot is that while it’s good news that FY2024 authorization and appropriations legislation is finally making progress in both chambers, there is a long way to go before they reach agreement and the end of the fiscal year is just three-and-a-half months away.

Continuing Resolutions have become a fact of life in recent years to keep the government funded when a new fiscal year begins without appropriations, but the acrimonious situation in the House has some Members worried they will not be able to agree even on that. Without appropriations or a CR, a partial government shutdown would ensue.

Even if there is agreement on a short-term CR, the Fiscal Responsibility Act says that if a CR is in effect on January 1, 2024, an automatic 1 percent across-the-board cut will go into effect for all discretionary spending and that would include defense. While FY2024 defense appropriations and authorizations are on the move, the road ahead is even bumpier than usual.

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