Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Wants $17.9 Billion for NASA in FY2015

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Wants $17.9 Billion for NASA in FY2015

Two Senate Appropriations subcommittees marked up the FY2015 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) and Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) appropriations bills today.  The CJS bill includes NASA and NOAA.  T-HUD includes the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).   Many of the details are not yet available, but for NASA, the subcommittee recommended $17.9 billion, very close to what the House approved last week and a significant increase from the President’s request.

Both markups were quick, as usual.  Major debates typically are deferred to full committee markup, which is scheduled for both bills on Thursday.

The T-HUD subcommittee completed its work first.  The top-level information released by the committee today does not show what was recommended for AST.  The request is $16.605 million and the House Appropriations Committee recommended a reduction to $16.000 million.

The CJS subcommittee is chaired by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and the top Republican is Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL).  The two also lead the full committee.  In her opening statement, Mikulski said she was “deeply disappointed” in President Obama’s FY2015 request for NASA of $17.461 billion, about $250 million less than the agency received for FY2014.  She said the subcommittee was recommending $17.9 billion, $439 million more than the request and $254 million more than FY2014.  Based on those figures, her subcommittee is recommending exactly $17.9 billion, a tad more than the $17.896 billion approved by the House.  (For more details of the request and House action, see’s fact sheet on the  FY2015 NASA budget request.)

The committee’s press release provides few details about the composition of that $17.9 billion, but Mikulski and Shelby’s opening statements offered these details (note that figures like “$3 billion” or “5.2 billion” might reflect rounding):

  • International Space Station, $3 billion ($3.051 billion was requested; the House approved $3.040 billion)
  • Commercial crew, $805 million ($848 million was requested; the House approved $785 million)
  • Science, $5.2 billion ($4.972 billion was requested; the House approved $5.193 billion)
  • Space Launch System (SLS), $1.7 billion ($1.38 billion was requested; the House approved $1.60 billion)

Mikulski also said the bill contained strong support for NASA’s aeronautics program and NOAA’s weather satellite programs, but did not mention how much.  (For details on NOAA’s request for satellite programs and House action on it, see’s fact sheet on NOAA’s FY2015 request for satellites.)

Shelby noted that the bill includes language to ensure “greater accountability and budgetary transparency” in the commercial crew program and future commercial cargo missions.  He is a long standing skeptic of those programs and said the language would help ensure that taxpayers get the best value for their dollar.

Other language in the bill, he said, would require that NASA follow its own Joint Confidence Level (JCL) policies in requesting future funding for SLS.  Generally, the JCL requires that NASA fund its programs at a 70 percent confidence level that the schedule and cost estimate will be met.  Before the JCL was implemented, NASA used a lower confidence level and many of its programs encountered cost overruns and schedule delays. Using a higher confidence level increases the chance of meeting budget and schedule, but it also means that more money must be provided in the early years of a program.  That can be a problem in budget-constrained circumstances.   NASA’s JCL policy is codified in NPD 1000.5 and actually offers the relevant NASA “decision authority” quite a bit of flexibility with regard to the 70 percent.

Shelby queried NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden about what confidence level would be used for SLS at a May 1 hearing and Bolden made clear that it would not be 70 percent.  “You can’t fund enough to get SLS to a 70 percent [JCL] and I don’t want you to do that, I’m not asking for that, that would be unrealistic,” Bolden said.  He added that he was “comfortable” with using a lower confidence level for SLS because he considers it a mature system since major components like the engines are from past programs, such as the space shuttle, where they flew successfully. 

Shelby and Bolden also had an exchange about the launch date for the first SLS mission.   NASA had been saying it would be in 2017, but at the hearing Bolden hinted at a schedule slip by saying the launch would be in FY2018 (October 1, 2017-September 30, 2018).  While the first three months of FY2017 also are in calendar year 2017, the other nine are in calendar year 2018.   In his opening statement today, Shelby said the increase for SLS from the request of $1.38 billion to $1.7 billion is to keep it on track for launch in 2017.   The House approved $1.6 billion for SLS in its version of the bill.  SLS is being built at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Shelby’s home state of Alabama.

Overall, the CJS bill would provide $51.2 billion for the departments and agencies within its jurisdiction, the same as the House bill.  That amount is $1 billion more than President Obama’s request, but about $400 million less than FY2014.

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