Space Amendments on Tap as House Gears Up for Appropriations Week

Space Amendments on Tap as House Gears Up for Appropriations Week

The House is getting ready to debate most of the FY2022 appropriations bills this week. The first stop is the House Rules Committee that will decide which of the hundreds of proposed amendments will make it to the House floor for consideration. Among them are amendments that could affect where U.S. Space Command will be headquartered, what Department is responsible for civil space situational awareness, and how much NASA will spend on certain programs.

The House Appropriations Committee completed markups of all 12 appropriations bills last week. Now they must be voted on by the full House and all members, not just those on the committee, may propose amendments. The House Rules Committee is the arbiter of which actually make it to the floor of the House and how long each can be debated.

Ten of the 12 bills are now before the Rules Committee. Amendments affecting space activities are in the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA), Transportation-HUD (THUD), and Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bills.

House leadership is combining MilCon-VA, THUD and five others into H.R. 4502, a bundle called a “minibus” because it is a small version of an “omnibus” package that incorporates all 12 bills.

CJS (H.R. 4505) is moving separately as are State-Foreign Ops and Legislative Branch. All of them could pass the House this week. The schedule for the remaining two, Defense and Homeland Security, has not been announced.

The THUD bill funds the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA, part of the Department of Transportation) and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation. CJS funds NASA and NOAA. Space-related amendments are expected to those bills and indeed there are several to keep an eye on. But in a bit of a surprise, there also is one in MilCon-VA, which as its name implies funds military construction.

Reps. Doug Lamborn (D-CO) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) have separate amendments to prohibit spending some or all of the money in the bill until a review is completed of the costs and impacts of moving the headquarters of U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) from Colorado to Alabama.

USSPACECOM was reestablished by President Trump in 2019 and is temporarily headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, CO in Lamborn’s district. It will remain there at least for another 5-6 years according to USSPACECOM Commander Gen. James Dickinson, but that may not be its final home.

Choosing its permanent location is a politically charged issue and Trump’s decision just before leaving office to place it at Redstone Arsensal in Huntsville, AL rankled not only the Colorado congressional delegation, but many members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. The entire Colorado delegation, including Lamborn and Boebert, wrote to President Biden asking that the decision be reconsidered. The DOD Inspector General began a review in February. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) initiated its own in March at Lamborn’s request.

Lamborn’s amendment would prohibit spending any money in the bill for constructing a new USSPACECOM headquarters building or obligating money for its planning or design until the DOD Inspector General and GAO reports are completed and Congress authorizes the location.

Boebert’s amendment would probibit spending any money in the bill at all to move USSPACECOM headquarters until a “complete review on costs and impact on national security” is completed. Since there are no plans to actually move it for another 5-6 years, the amendment would have no impact on this year’s spending.

Proposed amendments in the THUD and CJS bills could set up an interesting showdown over whether the Department of Transportation (DOT) or Department of Commerce (DOC) is responsible for civil Space Situational Awareness (SSA) — keeping track of space objects and warning civil and commercial satellite operators of impeding collisions. DOD currently does it for everyone, but wants to shift responsibility for interfacing with non-military satellite operators to a civil agency so it can focus on its national security tasks.

The Trump Administration designated DOC in Space Policy Directive-3. Then-Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross delegated it to the Office of Space Commerce (OSC) in NOAA, which is part of DOC. Efforts during the Trump Administration to elevate OSC out of NOAA and up to the Office of the Secretary of Commerce were rejected by House and Senate appropriators on a bipartisan basis. The Biden Administration did not request it for FY2022.

Congress has not passed authorization legislation to codify that policy, however, and some think civil SSA more appropriately belongs at DOT’s FAA, which regulates the commercial space launch and reentry business and manages air traffic control. That was the Obama Administration’s preference.

A congressionally-requested study by the independent National Academy of Public Administration last year endorsed DOC. The Senate passed the SPACE Act (incorporated in the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act) in June supporting the choice of DOC as did a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing last week. The House has not acted, however, so the policy issue remains in limbo and Congress is dealing with it through funding in appropriations bills instead.

A bipartisan amendment to the CJS bill by Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Brian Babin (R-TX), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Donald Norcross (D-NJ) supports DOC and would move OSC and its $10 million from NOAA to the Secretary’s office “to support OSC’s missions including remote sensing licensing, the Space Situational Awareness pilot program, and partnerships with commercial industry” according to a summary on the Rules Committee website.

However, in the THUD bill, a bipartisan amendment by Reps. Garrett Graves (R-LA) and Rick Larsen (D-WA) would assign it to DOT.  Larsen chairs the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee and Graves is the Ranking Member. The purpose of the amendment is to direct DOT to improve collection, processing and dissemination of SSA data “and provide SSA services to civil and commercial entities.” It increases funding for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation by $15 million for that as well as to “track potential sources of airborne debris to prevent the collision of aircraft with such debris.” The latter issue was raised by the Air Line Pilots Association at the subcommittee’s June 16 hearing on the FAA’s role in future human spaceflight.

Conceptually both amendments could pass even though they have conflicting directions. If nothing else, it underscores the need for Congress to settle the policy debate.

Four other proposed amendments are in the CJS bill that could affect how NASA spends some of its money. In each case the amendment calls for an increase in funding for something with a commensurate decrease within the same account, so is budget neutral, but the sources of the offsets are not specified.

  • A McKinley (R-WV) amendment (#18) would direct NASA to allocate $10.1 million within the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate to support the “crucial IV&V program.” (NASA’s Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) facility is in Fairmont, WV.)
  • A Lowenthal (D-CA) amendment (#29) would direct NASA to allocate $60 million in the Science Mission Directorate to “enable steady coordination and procurement of small launch vehicles for dedicated small satellite launch services for science missions.”
  • A Gosar (R-AZ) amendment (#51) would direct NASA to allocate $50 million “to highlight the importance of continued research and development of nuclear thermal propulsion technology and the role that this technology will play in future space exploration.”  That would be in addition to the $110 million already added by the committee (NASA’s request was zero).
  • A Perlmutter (D-CO) amendment (#134) would direct NASA to allocate $43.2 million in the Exploration account “to highlight the need to direct NASA to fully fund the analyses to maximize reuse and establish production flows for the Artemis III and future Orion spacecraft.”

The Rules Committee will meet tomorrow (Monday) to consider the amendments to the minibus package that includes MilCon-VA and THUD, with CJS on Tuesday, and write the rules under which the legislation will be debated on the House floor.

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