Today’s Tidbits: January 18, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: January 18, 2018

Here are our tidbits for January 18, 2018:  shutdown update; Mike Griffin’s confirmation hearing for USD/R&E.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Shutdown Update

The House passed another Continuing Resolution (CR) this evening (230-197) to keep the government operating through February 16, 2018.  The existing CR expires tomorrow (Friday) at midnight.  This is the fourth CR since FY2018 began on October 1, 2017.

Action now moves to the Senate where passage is uncertain.  Democrats continue to insist that agreement be reached on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration legislation to ensure protections for people who were bought to this country illegally when they were children.  The CR does not resolve the DACA issue, but Republicans included another Democratic priority — extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) — to win Democratic votes.  It is not clear if that will be sufficient.  In the House, only 6 Democrats voted for the bill.

Senate leadership has indicated that it may keep the Senate in session through the weekend if the bill is not passed by tomorrow night.

Mike Griffin’s Nomination Hearing

Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. Photo Credit: NASA/Renee Bouchard

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) held a confirmation hearing for former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin to be Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD/R&E) today, along with three other nominees for positions at DOD, the Navy and the Air Force.

The USD/R&E position is not specifically related to DOD’s space programs, but because of Griffin’s extensive background in space — in government, industry and academia — many are interested in what role he might play.  In the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress made significant changes to how DOD manages space programs, eliminating some positions and reassigning responsibilities.  DOD and the Air Force are still sorting out the new organization.

The USD/R&E position that Griffin will occupy if confirmed by the Senate was created in the FY2017 NDAA due to ongoing dissatisfaction with DOD’s acquisition process.  The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (USD/ATL) slot will be split in two effective February 1, 2018, replaced by a USD/R&E and an Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (USD/A&S).  The current USD/ATL, Ellen Lord, is expected to become the USD/A&S.

In his opening remarks, Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), the top Democrat on the committee, cautioned Griffin that despite his “wealth of background on space,” the USD/R&E position is “to be the chief technology and innovation officer of the department, and not for the management of space issues.”

Indeed, Griffin’s remarks and questions asked by committee members were broadly focused on DOD’s research and engineering enterprise, not space.  Griffin said that, if confirmed, he intends “to ensure that we are fully leveraging the intellectual, economic and innovative capabilities of our people and the nation to deliver the world’s most advanced systems to support our warfighters and to do it with the speed and responsiveness that once astonished the world.”

The closest the discussion got to space was when Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) asked Griffin about his views on climate change.  She quoted from statements Griffin made when he was NASA Administrator that he was not certain it was problem that needed to be wrestled with and assuming it was a problem was to assume that “the state of Earth’s climate today is the optimal climate.” Warren said she understood Griffin later expressed regret for making those comments, but wanted to know what his views are now on whether climate change is a threat to national security.

Griffin replied that he agrees with Secretary of Defense James Mattis and others that, “irrespective of what might be the underlying cause,” climate change is a threat to national security and DOD’s role is to “cope with its effects on our operations and our systems and to be aware of the effects that might be produced on the movement of peoples and other strategic considerations….”

The next step for Griffin and the other nominees is a committee vote.  No date was announced for that action.  SASC chairman John McCain (R-AZ) was not at the hearing today.  It was chaired by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) until he had to leave for the Senate Commerce Committee markup of the Bridenstine and Myers nominations, and then by other Senators.

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