At a Women in Aerospace panel event last week, several Congressional staffers had a clear message for NASA: they have little interest in renegotiating, or simply ignoring, provisions of the NASA Authorization Act the Congress passed last year.
“This isn’t a negotiation,” said one participant of the panel, held under the Chatham House Rule of non-attribution.* “There is no interest in renegotiating that framework.” Another panelist said that there was interest in no more than “minor relative changes along the margins” to the authorization act that could be implemented in future appropriations bills, without going into further detail.
One particular area of concern several panelists cited was NASA’s support—or lack thereof—for the Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), which combined get about $2.8 billion in the administration’s FY12 budget request, compared to just over $4 billion in the authorization act. One panelist suggested Congress might have to look elsewhere within NASA, or even outside the agency, such as the Departments of Commerce and Justice, which share the same broader budget allocation as NASA, to fully fund those programs.
Likewise, one panelist expressed disappointment that NASA hadn’t delivered an acceptable report on the development of the SLS and MPCV that the act required 90 days after enactment. The agency did deliver a report in January, but many key members effectively rejected it. “NASA, with no consultation with the authorizing committees, decided to produce what they called a preliminary report, and sent that up and said, ‘We’ll get back to you when we decide on the rest of it,’” the panelist complained. “That’s an approach that’s simply not going to work in this environment.”
Participants also wondered why, while NASA was proposing funding SLS/MPCV below authorized levels, it was also proposing funding commercial crew development above authorized levels: $850 million in the FY12 request versus $500 million in the authorization bill. One panelist said that while there was general suport for commercial crew development, there remained some skepticism that there was a need for multiple providers.
That led one participant to state that there’s an “absolutely zero chance” the administration’s FY12 budget proposal would be supported by Congress, echoing comments by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee earlier this month: “The president’s budget is not going to be enacted.”
* There was some confusion at the event about whether the event was under the Chatham House Rule or completely off the record. However, others, such as SpacePolicyOnine.com and Space News, have reported on the event under the less restrictive Chatham House Rule, so this report will as well.