Mikulski, Shelby Introduce Bipartisan FY2013 CR, Mixed News for NASA and NOAA

Mikulski, Shelby Introduce Bipartisan FY2013 CR, Mixed News for NASA and NOAA

Late last night Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) introduced a bipartisan FY2013 Continuing Resolution (CR) as a replacement for the version that passed the House last week.   The two are chairwoman and vice chairman, respectively, of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  The fact that it is a bipartisan bill increases the chances it might pass the Senate — though that is far from assured. 

The bill is different from the House-passed version in that it incorporates three more of the 12 regular appropriations bills and at first glance the total amount appropriated looks very different.  A Senate Appropriations Committee press release states that the total budget authority in the bill is $1.043 trillion “consistent with the Budget Control Act of 2011.”   By contrast, the House-passed CR adopted a sequester-adjusted total of $984 billion.

A careful reading of the Senate bill, however, suggests that it also provides only $984 billion.   Section 3002 of the bill “affirms that nothing in the bill changes current law with respect to sequestration” as the committee’s explanatory statement clarifies.  The Senate bill also imposes across-the-board rescissons to some of the agencies in the bill, including NASA and NOAA.  

In the House-passed CR (H.R. 933), agencies covered by two of the 12 regular appropriations bills — Defense, and Military Construction/Veterans Affairs — would get new FY2013 bills instead of being constrained by their FY2012 laws.  The Senate CR would add agencies in three more of the regular appropriations bills:  Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), which includes NASA and NOAA; Agriculture; and Homeland Security. 

At first glance, NASA and NOAA both appear to do relatively well in the Senate CR, but there are adjustments elsewhere in the bill that make it difficult to state with any certainty what the numbers are.  This is our understanding, at this point in time, subject to clarification if needed.

For example, NASA would be provided with a total FY2013 appropriation level of $17.862 billion according to the numbers in the bill itself as well as page 54 of the explanatory statement and an accompanying table with a detailed breakdown.   However, the committee’s press release says the total is $17.5 billion, probably because a provision at the end of the bill (section 3001) subjects everything in the CJS portion to a 1.877 percent across-the-board rescission.   That would lower NASA’s budget to $17.527 billion, which rounds down to $17.5 billion for press release purposes.  That is without the sequester, however, which is nominally 5 percent, which would leave NASA with $16.651 billion for FY2013. 

For comparison, the House-passed CR appears to hold NASA to its $17.8 billion appropriated level, minus the 5 percent sequester, and then imposes a 0.098 percent rescission, leaving NASA with about $16.894 billion.  In terms of dollars, NASA fares better in the House bill, but the Senate bill provides somewhat greater flexibility in spending whatever the agency gets.

As for NOAA, perhaps the best news in the Senate CR is that Mikulski withdraws her recommendation that all of NOAA’s satellite programs be transferred to NASA.  She made that recommendation in her subcommittee report on the CJS bill last year.  The report accompanying the CR does still recommend, however, that NOAA “consider” transferring one of those programs, Jason-3, to NASA.  Mikulski criticized NOAA last year for increasing the life cycle cost estimate for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) from $11.9 billion to $12.9 billion.  In the report accompanying the CR, NOAA is instructed to submit to Congress documentation that “reflects” the $11.9 billion life cycle cost.  The report has several other provisions that make it clear the appropriations committee is not yet convinced NOAA is effectively managing its satellite programs.

NOAA’s total funding for satellite procurement for FY2013 would be $1.8 billion in the CR, a $117 million increase over FY2012 and about the same as the FY2013 request.  NOAA needs the increase in FY2013 to begin procurement of launch vehicles for its new Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-R) series.  However, subtract the 5 percent sequester and the 1.877 percent across-the-board rescission and that figure is reduced by $123 million.

Again, these figures are preliminary not only because the CR has only been introduced, not passed, but also because these multi-hundred page bills may contain exceptions, nuances and adjustments that we missed.  Or more may be added as the process plays out.  But at the moment, this is our understanding of what the Senate CR would mean for the two agencies.

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