Lightfoot: No Negative Impact for NASA From New CR

Lightfoot: No Negative Impact for NASA From New CR

NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot said today that the agency does not expect any negative impact from the second FY2017 Continuing Resolution (CR), which will last through April 28, 2017. The bill has not yet cleared the Senate, but even if Senate Democrats succeed in delaying a vote until Sunday, the NASA provisions will not change.

NASA and most other government agencies are currently funded through a CR that expires at midnight tonight.  A second CR — the Further Continuing and Security Assistance Appropriations Act, 2017 (H.R. 2028, as amended) — passed the House yesterday.  It contains a provision extending health benefits for retired coal miners for four months, but two Senate Democrats from coal mining states, Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) are fighting to extend that for a year. They are bringing attention to the issue by vowing to delay — but not block — Senate passage of the CR through procedural moves.  Negotiations are ongoing and hope remains that a deal can be struck before midnight to avoid a partial government shutdown tomorrow and Sunday.  The procedural delays end on Sunday, so if the CR does not pass earlier, it will pass then.

CRs generally fund agencies at their existing levels and programs cannot be initiated or terminated.  However, exceptions can be made.  Called “anomalies,” they permit agencies to spend money in order to achieve a special objective.

This CR grants NASA an anomaly whereby it may spend money on its deep space human exploration program — Space Launch System, Orion, and Exploration Ground Systems — at a rate to ensure that the launch date for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) does not slip.  NASA plans to launch EM-1 no later than November 2018.  It is an uncrewed test of SLS, Orion and their associated ground systems.

Lightfoot said at a Space Transportation Association (STA) luncheon today on Capitol Hill that NASA looked at its budget needs in detail and determined that no other program would be impacted by the extension of current funding through the end of April.  It will have to reassess the situation if a FY2017 appropriations bill is not passed by that time and a third CR is under consideration.

NASA’s FY2016 budget was $19.285 billion, so that is roughly how much is available under the CR.  President Obama requested $18.262 billion in appropriated funds for the agency in FY2017, but Congress was poised to increase that to $19.306 billion or $19.508 billion in the Senate and House versions, respectively, of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill.  The funds were allocated differently than in FY2016, however.  Some programs, like commercial crew, have passed their peak spending years and were slated to go down, while others need to ramp up.

The CJS bills did not pass, however, and at the end of a Congress, all pending legislation dies.  The process must begin again when the next Congress convenes. The 115th Congress will convene on January 3.  There is no indication as to when the new Trump Administration will submit a FY2018 budget request and Congress will have until April 28 to complete action on FY2017 appropriations bills — or pass yet another CR.

Lightfoot noted that Chris Shank, who is leading the incoming Trump Administration’s NASA “landing party,” had arrived at NASA on Monday and additional members would be named imminently.  (Shank was in the room, actually, and said their names had just been made public.)  Shank was a high ranking NASA official during Mike Griffin’s tenure at NASA (2005-2009) so is very familiar with the agency’s programs and operations and has been serving as a staff member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, which oversees NASA, for the past several years.  Many of the new landing party members also have extensive prior experience at the agency.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Deputy Administrator Dava Newman are political appointees and must tender their resignations when Trump takes office on January 20.  Lightfoot is the top ranking civil servant in NASA.  Typically, the person in that position serves as acting administrator until a new administrator is confirmed by the Senate, but whether the Trump team will follow that tradition is unknown.



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