House Vote on NASA Authorization Bill Delayed

House Vote on NASA Authorization Bill Delayed

Despite the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 appearing on the list of legislation scheduled for consideration by the House today on the House Majority Leader’s website, it was not, in fact, brought up for a vote.  The bill, S. 442, passed the Senate on February 17 after extensive negotiations between the House and Senate dating back to last year. Its inclusion on the House’s suspension calendar — used for noncontroversial legislation — suggested it had an easy path to passage. 

Varying views exist on what happened to cause the vote’s sudden postponement as well as the implications for the future of the bill.  Throughout much of today, the House Majority Leader’s website sent conflicting messages, with S. 442 included on one list of legislation scheduled for consideration today, but omitted from another.

This is the first NASA authorization act to get this far since 2010.   Its purpose is to codify congressional intent with regard to NASA’s future during a presidential transition in order to avoid the type of disruption that occurred when President Obama cancelled the George W. Bush Administration’s Constellation program.  It is a very broad bill,146 pages in length, that addresses all of NASA’s activities except earth science.  That is one of the few NASA topics that creates partisan discord and to advance the bill, earth science is simply omitted.

Three sections are cited as having raised flags at the White House and/or the Department of Justice as needing further review: 303, 305 and 702.  Section 303 requires NASA to produce an “ISS transition plan” to move from the government-operated International Space Station to a regime where NASA is only one of many customers of a low Earth orbit commercial human spaceflight enterprise; Section 305 provides government indemnification for commercial launch and reentry services provided to NASA that are unusually hazardous (presumably including carrying crews) or nuclear in nature; and Section 702 concerns space technology investments.

Some sources are optimistic that this is a temporary problem that will soon be resolved.  Others think is an indication that certain parties want to sink the legislation permanently. What happens next is unclear.   Stay tuned.  [SpacePolicyOnline.com’s fact sheet on NASA’s FY2017 budget request summarizes the bill as it passed the Senate.]

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