White House Opposes Space Corps

White House Opposes Space Corps

The Trump Administration informed the House that it does not agree on the need for the Space Corps proposed in the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The White House Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) called the proposal premature because DOD is still in the process of studying potential organizational changes.  The White House used stronger language to object to two other space provisions in the bill.  The House began debate on the bill (H.R. 2810) this afternoon. [UPDATE: The House passed the bill with the Space Corps provision intact on July 14, 2017.]

Section 1601 of the bill proposes creating a Space Corps within the Air Force analogous to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy, and a U.S. Space Command within U.S. Strategic Command.  Proposed by House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Strategic Forces subcommittee chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) and ranking member Jim Cooper (D-TN), it was strongly backed by HASC chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) during full committee markup of the bill.  It was opposed by others, however.  Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), a former chairman of the subcommittee, offered an amendment to delete the provision, but it was rejected by voice vote.  Turner proposed his amendment again for consideration by the full House.   Such amendments must be approved by the House Rules Committee. As of press time, it is not on that committee’s list of amendments that have been made in order for floor debate.

The White House SAP was gently worded, saying it appreciates HASC’s concerns and “we understand the increasing threats posed to our continued use of space capabilities.”  DOD is already considering “a wide range of organizational options, including a Space Corps,” and the White House wants to wait until that assessment is completed before making decisions.

The SAP uses stronger language to object to two other provisions.  Section 1615 restricts the use of funding for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs) to developing new rocket propulsion systems to replace “non-allied space launch engines” (a reference to Russia’s RD-180 engines used for Atlas V) and modifications to launch vehicles to accommodate them.  The money may not be used for entirely new space launch systems (propulsion plus the rest of the rocket and associated infrastructure).  The Trump Administration “strongly objects” to that section because it “limits domestic competition, which will increase taxpayer costs by several billions of dollars through FY2027 and stifle innovation.”   DOD already has a strategy for developing new launch systems that has “saved $300 million” and the provision in the bill would make that strategy “impossible to execute.”

The Trump Administration also strongly objects to Section 1612 that limits DOD’s ability to procure satellite services from certain foreign entities.  The bill prohibits buying satellite services if the satellite or its launch vehicle is designed or manufactured in a “covered foreign country,” which for the purposes of this section includes Russia.  The SAP points out that three-quarters of DOD’s satellite communications services are from “foreign-incorporated companies that make widespread use of international launch vehicles.”

In total, the White House SAP listed 27 provisions in the bill it finds particularly troubling, but the tone of the statement is more friendly that many of those issued by the Obama Administration. This SAP repeatedly says the White House looks forward to working with Congress to resolve the issues, whereas SAPs from the last Administration often said if a bill was not changed, the President’s advisors would recommend that he veto it.   That likely is because Republicans now control the House, Senate, and White House and this is the Trump Administration’s first year in office.

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