Space Council Gets Not Only More Members, But Expanded Authority in New E.O.

Space Council Gets Not Only More Members, But Expanded Authority in New E.O.

President Biden’s Executive Order on the White House National Space Council not only added five members, but expanded the Council’s authority to include making budget recommendations for the President’s space priorities.

Vice President Kamala Harris at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, November 5, 2021. Screengrab

Vice President Kamala Harris chaired the first Space Council meeting of the Biden-Harris Administration on December 1, 2021. In conjunction with that, Biden signed a new Executive Order setting the Council’s membership and responsibilities. The new Executive Order supersedes the two issued by President Trump in 2017 and 2020.

Biden added five new members, bringing the total to 20.

  • The Vice President (who chairs the Council)
  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of Defense
  • The Secretary of the Interior (new)
  • The Secretary of Agriculture (new)
  • The Secretary of Commerce
  • The Secretary of Labor (new)
  • The Secretary of Transportation
  • The Secretary of Energy
  • The Secretary of Education (new)
  • The Secretary of Homeland Security
  • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget
  • The Director of National Intelligence
  • The Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • The Assistant to the President for Economic Policy
  • The Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy
  • The Assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor (new)
  • The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • The Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The Executive Order also made a few other changes, perhaps the most important of which allows the Chair to make budget recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget as well as advising agencies on their budget submissions.

Sec. 4 (e):  The Chair or, upon the Chair’s direction, the Executive Secretary, may develop budget recommendations for submission to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget that reflect the President’s space policy and strategy, as well as provide advice concerning budget submissions by agencies related to the President’s space policies and strategies.

Scott Pace, Executive Secretary (ES) of the Space Council during the Trump Administration, told that in practice they worked closely with OMB so he does not see this as a “big process change by itself.” Nonetheless, the “explicit mention of a role for the Chair or the ES in developing budget recommendations and providing advice is a positive addition.”

Almost all policy decisions require funding to implement. OMB is the White House office that puts together the President’s annual budget request to Congress. Ultimately it is up to Congress to decide how much money any agency receives, but getting something included in the request is an important step. Now the Space Council is officially allowed a role in making those recommendations.

Overall, Pace said he is glad the Biden-Harris Administration has taken “ownership” of the Space Council. “As with our meetings, hearing from so many senior officials, all talking about space, is helpful in showing a ‘whole of government’ approach to space with domestic and international audiences.”

The Space Council was created in the 1989 NASA Authorization Act, but not all presidents have chosen to staff or fund it.  President George H.W. Bush did during his term, but Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama did not. Trump reinstated it in 2017 for the first time in 25 years.

By law, the Vice President chairs the Council. Under Mike Pence, with Pace as Executive Secretary, they issued seven Space Policy Directives, five Executive Orders, two strategies, two reports, a National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM), and an updated version of U.S. National Space Policy.

The Biden-Harris Administration is just 10 months old so cannot begin to match that record, but is off to a start with this Executive Order and the Space Policy Framework also issued on December 1.

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