New House CR Adds Money for NASA Exploration, NOAA GOES-R, But It's a Zero Sum Game

New House CR Adds Money for NASA Exploration, NOAA GOES-R, But It's a Zero Sum Game

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced the House version of a “full year” Continuing Resolution (CR) today that would fund the government for the rest of FY2013.   The bulk of the bill is about the Department of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs, but it covers all government agencies.  It gives special attention to NASA’s exploration program and NOAA’s geostationary weather satellite program, but in the end the totals for those agencies do not change.

Under a CR, agencies are generally held to their prior year funding levels not only at the account level, but for particular projects.  In this case, that would be the funding provided in the FY2012 appropriations bill (P.L. 112-55).   Exceptions can always be made, however, and a number of them are in the Rogers bill, H.R. 933.  For NASA and NOAA, though, it stil is zero sum game where the total appropriation is the same, but certain programs get more than others.

Introducing the bill is only the first step to passage, so it is too early to get excited about its contents, but it does send a signal as to what the top priorities are for House Republicans, at least.   Funding DOD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and giving them flexibility in dealing with dual impacts of the sequester and a full-year CR are at the heart of it.  About two-thirds of the 269-page bill is a revised version of the FY2013 DOD appropriations bill and the FY2013 Military Construction/Veterans Affairs bill that passed the House and were reported from the Senate Appropriations Committee last year.  The Senate never acted on them, however, so there was no conference report or final appropriations.

Rogers said in a statement that the DOD and VA portions of the bill were already negotiated with the Senate, so presumably have the backing of Senate Democrats as well.  The CR would give DOD $518.1 billion, which is $2 billion more than the Obama Administration requested for FY2013.  There is another $87.2 billion for “Overseas Contingency Operations” — the budget term for the war in Afghanistan and other activities related to the Gloal War on Terrorism.

Other than DOD and VA, however, agencies do not fare as well.   They will be held at their FY2012 levels as adjusted by the sequester that went into effect on March 1.  “This means that the funding rate within the legislation is approximately $982 billion  — the level required by the President’s sequestration order,” Rogers said.   He added that passing the legislation would avoid a government shutdown on March 27 when the current CR expires.

The bill does provide some exceptions for specific civil space programs.    Funding for NOAA’s new Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-R) program would be as requested for FY2013 ($802 million) rather than being held at the FY2012 level.   The budget request is substantially higher than the FY2012 level of $616 million because procurement must begin for the launch vehicles for the first two satellites.   NOAA warned the Senate Appropriations Committee that the launches could be delayed 2-3 years if the funding was not available.

As for NASA, the bill apparently holds NASA to its FY2012 funding level adjusted for the sequester.   Within those constraints, however, it adds funding above the FY2012 levels for the Space Launch System (SLS), commercial crew, exploration R&D, and SLS ground operations, and also allows a larger transfer of funds from the Exploration account to the Construction account for construction activities related to SLS and Orion.   Funding for Space Operations and Cross-Agency Support would be reduced to partially compensate for the increases in the Exploration account. 

Funding for the commercial crew program has been the subject of particular interest.  NASA requested $830 million for FY2013.  The House passed a FY2013 appropriations bill for NASA that provided $500 million.  The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $525 million in a bill that was never passed by the Senate.  This CR would provide the amount recommended by the Senate committee.   In FY2012, commercial crew received $406 million, so the amount in this CR is more than NASA would have gotten if it were held to its FY2012 level, but less than what it wanted for FY2013.

The House may consider the bill on Thursday, but it is a long way to go until March 27 in political terms.  Whether the White House and Senate Democrats will agree to the post-sequester total funding level of $982 billion for discretionary funding is a big if. 

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