Yesterday two members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Robert Bennett (R-UT), introduced and got included into an FY10 supplemental appropriations bill an amendment that prevents NASA from terminating any Constellation contracts. The two argued that this was a significant step in protecting Constellation: Bennett’s press release claimed the amendment “gains traction” for efforts to save Constellation, while Shelby’s statement said the provision “clarifies and reinforces the intent of current law”.
While some reports argued that the provision provides a “big boost” to Constellation’s prospects, a closer examination shows little change to a provision included in the FY10 appropriations bill that currently funds NASA. The new provision states, courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel:
Provided further, That notwithstanding any other provision of law or regulation, funds made available for Constellation in Fiscal Year 2010 for “National Aeronautics and Space Administration Exploration” and from previous appropriations for “National Aeronautics and Space Administration Exploration” shall be available to fund continued performance of Constellation contracts, and performance of such Constellation contracts may not be terminated for convenience by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Fiscal Year 2010.
Compare that to what’s in the existing FY10 appropriations bill:
[N]one of the funds provided herein and from prior years that remain available for obligation during fiscal year 2010 shall be available for the termination or elimination of any program, project or activity of the architecture for the Constellation program nor shall such funds be available to create or initiate a new program, project or activity, unless such program termination, elimination, creation, or initiation is provided in subsequent appropriations Acts.
Since NASA has argued that it is not in violation of the existing law since it has not terminated any contracts, it’s not clear how the new language would change matters. (The new language does note that existing funds shall be used “to fund continued performance of Constellation contracts”, apparently addressing reports that contractors are reserving funds for contract termination costs, but the agency has said they have only reminded them of such liabilities, not directed them to reserve funding for that.) Bennett, quoted in Florida Today, appeared to acknowledge that. “It is a restatement of existing law,” he said. “I’m sorry the administration needs this reminder.”