Space Force Gets Boost in Final FY2024 Appropriations, Though Less Than Requested

Space Force Gets Boost in Final FY2024 Appropriations, Though Less Than Requested

Congress and the White House have finally agreed on funding for the last set of FY2024 appropriations bills, which includes DOD. The U.S. Space Force did not get all of the almost $4 billion increase requested for FY2024, but fared pretty well all things considered. Congress is now racing against the clock to pass the “minibus” of six bills before midnight tomorrow when the Continuing Resolution expires.

Congress split the 12 appropriations bills into two sets of six this year to avoid a massive “omnibus” bill that bundles all of them together. Instead there are two “minibus” bills.

The first set included NASA, NOAA and FAA and passed on March 8. This second set combines the other six: Defense, Financial Services-General Government (including the FCC), Homeland Security, Labor-Health and Human Services, Legislative Branch (which funds Congress itself), and State-Foreign Operations.

The House, Senate and White House announced on Tuesday they had finally reached agreement, but the 1,102 page text was only released in the wee hours this morning, about 2:30 am ET.

House Republicans have a rule that any legislation must be available for 72 hours before a vote to give Members time to review it, but apparently are waiving that requirement this time to avoid a partial government shutdown tomorrow at midnight when the Continuing Resolution expires. The House schedule for tomorrow includes consideration of the bill, the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2024.

The Senate also has rules that could require days to get the bill passed, but can act quickly if all Senators agree. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. The House and Senate are scheduled to begin a two-week recess tomorrow which often incentivizes agreement, but not always. If there is a shutdown for the affected departments and agencies, hopefully it will be brief.

The Space Force just celebrated its fourth birthday and its budget has grown rapidly. Created in December 2019, its first full budget was for FY2021, $15.4 billion basically transferred from the Air Force budget where it previously resided. In FY2022, the request was $17.4 billion and Congress appropriated $18 billion. For FY2023, the request was $24.5 billion and Congress appropriated $26.3 billion. For FY2024, the request was $30 billion.

But when Republicans took control of the House last year, they demanded deep cuts to discretionary spending in return for suspending the debt limit.  Then House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden negotiated the Fiscal Responsibility Act that required cuts to FY2024 and FY2025 spending for non-defense agencies like NASA, and smaller increases than planned for defense.

The final FY2024 appropriations bill follows those guidelines so although Congress may be putting the brakes on funding increases for Space Force, the $1.3 billion cut to the request in the final bill still yields an increase of $2.6 billion over FY2023. (By contrast, NASA was cut 2 percent below its FY2023 level.)

The biggest cuts compared to the request are to procurement and Research, Development, Test & Evaluation (RDT&E). The explanatory statement details the additions and reductions, with “unjustified growth” or “inadequate justification” often cited for programs that were cut. Funding was added in some areas, too, especially space technology.

Report language directs DOD and NRO to use the launch enterprise Space Force phase 2 or phase 3 contract for all National Security Space Launches unless they certify their rationale for doing otherwise, directs the Air Force to provide Congress with more details on how they will spend funding for tactically responsive space, and encourages the Air Force to increase investments in developing capabilities and operating in cislunar space (the area between the Earth and the Moon).

It also “notes the promise” of In-Space Assembly and Manufacturing (ISAM) and says NASA and the Space Force are “exploring a mission to resurrect the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope using such capabilities.” Spitzer is an infrared telescope launched in 2003 and decommissioned in 2020. The liquid helium coolant that allowed Spitzer to study the universe in the infrared portion of the spectrum ran out in 2009, but scientists were able to continue using part of it for another decade. NASA did not respond by press time to a query as to what they hope to get out of Spitzer through this effort. [UPDATE: NASA later replied — “the agency is not involved in this activity. The U.S. Space Force is exploring this effort. Please reach out to the Department of Defense for more information.” We have contacted the Space Force and will update this again if we get a response.]

Illustration of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Credit: NASA

The spending caps set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act also apply to FY2025. President Biden submitted his FY2025 budget request to Congress last week with $29.4 billion targeted for the Space Force. While that was a cut compared to his FY2024 request, it will be a modest increase over FY2024 appropriations if it makes it through the process.


This article has been updated.

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