Senate Begins Debate on FY2015 Appropriations Bill for NASA, NOAA, FAA Space Office

Senate Begins Debate on FY2015 Appropriations Bill for NASA, NOAA, FAA Space Office

The Senate Appropriations Committee says that the Senate will begin consideration of a FY2015 “minibus” appropriations bill today that bundles three regular appropriations bills together:  Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS, including NASA and NOAA), Transportation-HUD (T-HUD, including the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation), and Agriculture.   The White House supports the Senate bill, but expressed concerns about certain NASA provisions.

Congress routinely combines several appropriations bills together.  When all 12 of the regular appropriations bills are grouped into one it is called an “omnibus” bill.  When a smaller number are bundled they are somewhat jokingly referred to as a minibus.

The Senate is using the House CJS appropriations bill, H.R. 4660, as the vehicle for its minibus, inserting its language combining the three Senate bills in place of what the House passed.  This “amendment in the nature of a substitute” is posted on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s website.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on the bill today.  The SAP supports the bill overall, but warns against using it to “advance ideological riders, which the President has made clear are unacceptable.” 

With regard to NASA, the SAP expresses concern about three issues in the version of the bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee:

  • Language inserted by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) requiring commercial crew companies to abide by accounting requirements associated with cost-plus rather than fixed-price contracts.  Opponents of the language call it a “poison pill” because complying could cost a small company like SpaceX a lot of money because it does not have a cadre of personnel in place to handle the paperwork while larger companies like Boeing do.  The SAP says the requirements are “unsuitable for a firm, fixed-price acquisition” and could increase cost and delay schedule.
  • The reduction in the budget for Space Technology.  The White House requested $706 million while the Senate bill allocates only $580 million. 
  • Language regarding two NASA science programs — a Landsat follow-on and a Europa mission.   Saying that it is premature to specify elements of future missions, the SAP asserts that it is “not feasible” to build a new Landsat as described by the committee within the committee’s cost cap of $650 million, and it is premature to designate the Space Launch System (SLS) as the launch vehicle for a Europa mission before the costs and benefits are understood.

The SAP does not list any concerns about NOAA’s satellite programs or the FAA’s space office.

These three bills — CJS, T-HUD and Agriculture — also were bundled together for FY2012.  The House already has passed its versions of  the FY2015 CJS and T-HUD bills and begun consideration of the Agriculture bill, stoking optimism that this may be a rare year when at least some appropriations bills are enacted before the new fiscal year begins on October 1.  That is far from guaranteed, of course, but it has been many years since Congress has gotten even this close.

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