What’s Happening in Space Policy January 17-23, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy January 17-23, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of January 17-23, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them.  The Senate will be in session for part of the week. The House schedule has not been announced.

During the Week

The week begins with a Federal holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., but the big event, of course, is the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice President of the United States on Wednesday. It is not only the beginning of a new presidential administration, but in this unique case signals a change in control of the Senate from Republican to Democrat, putting Democrats in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House.

The failed insurrection on January 6 and resulting lockdown of the Capitol Complex and surrounding area for fear of more violence, President Trump’s refusal to participate in the inauguration ceremony, which normally signals to the world the peaceful transition of power in our democracy, and COVID-19 are all casting a pall over what is usually an exciting and joyful event. It may be mostly virtual this time, but it will go on and Biden and Harris will become the heads of our Executive Branch.

As a reminder to those who haven’t had a civics class in a while, we have three co-equal branches of government: Executive, Legislative (Congress), and the Judiciary. Pursuant to the Constitution, the U.S. Vice President is dual-hatted as President of the Senate, so also participates in the Legislative Branch.

At the moment, Harris is a member of the Senate from California. She reportedly will resign her seat tomorrow (Monday) and on Wednesday assume her new role in that chamber.  California Governor Gavin Newsom is appointing Alex Padilla (D) to fill the remainder of her term (till 2022). Once Padilla and the two new Democratic Senators from Georgia, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, take their oaths of office, the Senate will have 50 Democrats (including two Independents who caucus with the Democrats) and 50 Republicans. With the President of the Senate holding the tie-breaking vote, that puts Democrats narrowly in control. All committees and subcommittees will be chaired by Democrats, with Republicans becoming the Ranking Members. The exact timing has not been announced, but is expected to happen this week, perhaps on Inauguration Day itself if the three new Senators are sworn in by then.

Two Senate hearings with space policy implications will take place before that. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will hold a hearing on Tuesday on the nomination of Gen. Lloyd Austin III (Ret.) to be Secretary of Defense (SecDef). At last week’s hearing on whether to grant a waiver for Austin to serve as SecDef even though he has not been separated from military service for the required seven years, SASC chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) turned the gavel over to incoming chairman Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) joking it was “so he can practice a little bit.”

Also on Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold its nomination hearing for Avril Haines to be Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The DNI heads the Intelligence Community (IC), which includes the National Reconnaissance Office that builds and operates the nation’s spy satellites.

On Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a nomination hearing for Pete Buttigieg to be Secretary of Transportation.  The Department of Transportation includes the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation. Current chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) announced the hearing, but the committee could be under the leadership of Maria Cantwell (D-WA) by then.

On the House side, House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said on January 8 that the committee will hold a hearing this Thursday to discuss whether to grant that waiver for Austin to serve as SecDef. The House does not confirm nominees, but granting the waiver requires action by both chambers.  The hearing is not listed on the committee’s website yet, but is in National Journal’s usually reliable Daybook.  It does not specify the time, but also lists an organizational meeting for HASC that day at 1:00 pm ET.  The waiver hearing might follow after that.  We’ll post the time to our Calendar when we get it.

Off the Hill, there are a number of space policy events including the second week of AIAA’s SciTech Forum, a Lunar Surface Science Workshop on space biology, a NewSpace New Mexico webinar on Positioning U.S. Companies to Compete in the Economic Great Game of Space, and a meeting of the steering committee of the National Academies’ Decadal Survey on Planetary Science and Astrobiology.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later and add to our Calendar.

Monday, January 18

Tuesday, January 19

Tuesday-Thursday, January 19-21

Wednesday, January 20

Wednesday-Thursday, January 20-21

Thursday, January 21

Friday, January 22



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