House Passes FY2021 Appropriations for NASA, NOAA and FAA

House Passes FY2021 Appropriations for NASA, NOAA and FAA

The House passed the FY2021 funding bill that includes NASA, NOAA and the FAA today. Overall, there were only minor changes to the recommendations of the House Appropriations Committee. Efforts to add $2.6 billion to NASA’s budget and to elevate the Office of Space Commerce to the Secretary of Commerce’s office failed.  The next step is action by the Senate, which has not marked up any of its FY2021 appropriations bills yet.

The bill that passed, H.R. 7617, is a “minibus” combining six appropriations bills including Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), which funds NASA and NOAA, and Transportation-HUD, which funds the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation. It also includes the Defense, Energy-Water, Financial Services, and Labor-HHS-Education bills.  The Homeland Security bill originally was included, but was removed because of ongoing disagreements.

For NASA, the House Appropriations Committee criticized the Administration’s “ominous” shift in priorities away from legacy programs and those with environmental and educational benefits to meet a “politically motivated timeline” for the Artemis program to put astronauts back on the Moon by 2024. The hardest hit program was for Human Landing Systems (HLS) to take astronauts from lunar orbit down to and back from the lunar surface.  It will get just $628 million of the $3.4 billion requested for the coming fiscal year. That does not mean the House opposed human exploration of the Moon. Indeed, the bill provides more funding than requested for the Space Launch System as well as the requested funding for the Orion crew spacecraft in addition to the $628 million for HLS.  The question is about schedule, not whether to return humans to the Moon or not.

An amendment by a bipartisan group of eight Members to add $2.6 billion for NASA’s exploration program, which includes HLS, did not get further than the House Rules Committee. It did not permit the amendment to be debated on the floor, probably because the sponsors did not propose offsetting reductions elsewhere.

In the end, the House adopted several amendments to shift, but not add, money within various NASA accounts. For example, $40 million within the Science Mission Directorate’s (SMD’s) Planetary Science Division (PSD) is to be allocated to the Near Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM), but that will have to come from other activities in PSD.  Another $30 million in SMD is to be allocated to small satellite mission launch services.

Top Republicans on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and its space subcommittee, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Brian Babin (R-TX), issued statements criticizing the reduced funding for Artemis.  Lucas called it “shortsighted.” Babin complained the bill funds “every pet-project” and unrealistic increases for other agencies, making it all the more “surprising that they refused to prioritize America’s return to the Moon.”

A Babin amendment to the Department of Commerce portion of the CJS bill to elevate the Office of Space Commerce and Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs out of NOAA and to the Secretary of Commerce’s office failed.  It was part of “en bloc” amendment, which packaged about two dozen amendments together, that was rejected by voice vote.

A Spano (R-FL) amendment to the THUD portion of the bill was adopted. It increases funding for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation from the $25.6 million requested to $38.5 million.

Nonetheless, Spano, as well as Babin, Lucas, and most other Republicans, voted against the bill. It passed 217-197.  All 217 yes votes were Democratic. Another 12 Democrats voted no, joining 184 Republicans and one Independent.  Two Democrats and 14 Republicans did not vote.

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