Would members of the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, in the markup of their FY11 appropriations bill Tuesday, signal their willingness to support the White House’s new direction for human spaceflight or defend the existing Constellation program? The answer is… neither. The subcommittee elected not to take a position on the program, instead deferring to authorizers.
“Any major change to the direction of the Nation’s space program should come through an authorization passed by Congress and signed into law by the President,” Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), chairman of the subcommittee, said in his opening statement. “Unfortunately, a determination about the direction of the space program has been effectively on hold for well over a year. First, we waited for the recommendations of the Augustine Commission; next we waited for the Administration to react to those recommendations; and since early this year, we have waited for the authorizing committees to take action. In the meantime, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been invested in procurements and technology development that may or may not have a role in NASA’s human exploration future.”
“Until that program is defined through an enacted authorization, this Subcommittee has no business in appropriating even more funding for uncertain program outcomes,” he concluded. “Accordingly, this bill makes the funding for Human Space Exploration available only after the enactment of such authorization legislation.” That puts a new emphasis on, and power to, authorizers in both the House and Senate who have yet to put forward authorizing legislation—bills that in prior years have often been considered useful but not mandatory.
Mollohan, though, made clear in his statement he is no fan of Constellation. “The program of record is fiscally unsustainable and will not serve the purpose of preserving this Nation’s leadership role in space exploration,” he said. “It is time to move forward with a human space program that will fulfill the aspirations of a great nation, but that also has well-defined and realistic costs and goals.”
Few other specifics about the budget proposal have been released by the subcommittee yet. The subcommittee gives $19 billion to NASA overall in its markup, the same as the administration’s topline request for the agency. However, a comparison on an account-by-account basis in the summary table is more difficult presumably because of differences for how they account for funding; the subcommittee’s version has considerably more in Cross-Agency Support Programs at the expense of other accounts.