NASA Wins Extensions For Buying Soyuz Seats, Enhanced Use Leasing in THUD Appropriations Bill

NASA Wins Extensions For Buying Soyuz Seats, Enhanced Use Leasing in THUD Appropriations Bill

Buried in Division H of the FY2020 Further Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 1865), Congress is extending a waiver to a nonproliferation law that will permit NASA to continue buying Soyuz seats from Russia for an additional five years, and to enter into Enhanced Use Leasing arrangements for two more years.  They are included in the Transportation-HUD (THUD) section of the bill, which was released yesterday and is expected to become law by the end of this week. [UPDATE: The bill passed the House on December 17 and the Senate on December 19.]

The Iran-North Korea-Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) prohibits NASA from buying anything from Russia in connection with the International Space Station (ISS) program.  The ISS and Russia’s missile proliferation activities became entwined in 1999 when allegations surfaced that entities of Russia’s space agency were violating the Missile Technology Control Regime.

However, NASA has had no way to transport crews to and from ISS since 2011, when the space shuttle program was terminated, other than paying Russia to ferry them back and forth on Soyuz spacecraft.  Congress has granted waivers so NASA could pay for these services several times already (2005, 2008 and 2013), but the authority expires on December 31, 2020.  NASA did not expect to need Russian services after that because the new U.S. commercial crew systems would be operational, but ongoing schedule delays are making the agency nervous.

The 2019 NASA Authorization Act (S. 2800) recently approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee would extend the INKSNA waiver through December 31, 2030, which would be the authorized lifetime of the ISS if that bill becomes law.

Instead of waiting for final action on S. 2800, however, language extending the INKSNA waiver through December 31, 2025 (instead of 2030) is included in this appropriations bill.   It is Title VII of Division H (the THUD section).

House and Senate appropriators released the final versions of all 12 FY2020 appropriations bills yesterday.  They are grouped into two “minibuses.” The “domestic priorities and international assistance” minibus, H.R. 1865, includes THUD and seven other bills (Labor-HHS, Agriculture, Energy-Water, Interior-Environment, Legislative Branch, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and State-Foreign Operations).  The “national security” minibus, H.R. 1158, combines Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS, which funds NASA), Financial Services, and Homeland Security.

The House could vote on both bills today and Senate action is expected quickly.  Congressional appropriators and leadership believe the White House is in agreement with the bills and the President will sign them before midnight Friday when the existing Continuing Resolution expires.

The Senate Commerce Committee also recently approved a separate bill, S. 2909, to extend NASA’s authority to enter into Enhanced Use Leasing (EUL) arrangements to lease underutilized areas on NASA property to the private sector, state and local governments, and universities, and use the money for facilities maintenance, capital revitalization, and real property improvements.  The current authority expires at the end of this month.  S. 2909 would extend it for two more years, to December 31, 2021.  It first received this authority in 2003, but it must be renewed periodically. Other agencies have similar authority and apparently there is a general concern about ensuring the government gets best value from them, hence the desire for close monitoring.

Rather than trying to pass S. 2909 separately in the short time left on the legislative calendar, the two-year extension is included as Title VI of Division H of this appropriations bill.

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