Yesterday the House and Senate passed the “minibus” appropriations bill that includes the $17.8 billion for NASA in FY12 reported here earlier this week. With the President to sign the bill into law today, it marks the end of the FY12 appropriations process, far sooner than FY11, which dragged into April of this year, and, as POLITICO put it, is a “rare return to some semblance of regular order for the tattered appropriations process.”
Some members use the final passage of the bill to hail its NASA-related provisions. In a statement, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) noted it includes “critical investments” in the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which at one point in the appropriations process was threatened with cancellation when House appropriators included no funding for it in its version of the bill. “The James Webb Space Telescope will keep America in the lead for science and technology and inspire students to learn science, technology, engineering and math to become the scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs of tomorrow,” she said. However, she added that her support for JWST “is not unconditional”, citing the programs major cost overruns. The bill caps the development cost of the telescope at NASA’s current estimate of $8 billion and requires the GAO to provide regular reports on the telescope’s development status and cost.
Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) used a statement to bring attention to a more obscure provision of the bill. NASA is required to provide Congress with quarterly reports on the status of the transfer of the shuttle orbiters to the museums to which they were awarded in April. This includes a notification if any recipient “has failed to meet a financial or physical milestone to which it had committed” and that the plans is to address that problem. This has been a sore point, of course, for Houston and Dayton, who thought they were slighted when NASA awarded Enterprise to New York City’s Intrepid museum, which is now seeking to develop a larger, more expensive site for displaying then orbiter than what it originally proposed. “In the wake of recent reports on alternate plans for displaying Enterprise in New York City, taxpayers deserve to know that the cities scheduled to receive orbiters can and will fully meet their obligations,” Olson said. A NASA Office of the Inspector General report in August largely cleared the shuttle site selection process, other than a “cut-and-paste” error that did not affect the final decision made by NASA administrator Charles Bolden.