Congress, Pentagon

House and White House at odds over code of conduct language in defense bill

The House of Representatives is debating today HR 4310, the fiscal year 2013 defense authorization act. The legislation covers a very wide of issues, many of which attracted the attention of the White House in its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP), which stated that if the bill passes as currently written, senior advisors will recommend a veto.

One space-related issue cited by the administration is language regarding a proposed “code of conduct” for outer space activities. Section 913 of the bill prohibits the DOD from spending any money “to implement or comply with an international agreement concerning outer space activities unless such agreement is ratified by the Senate or authorized by statute.” That refers to efforts announced earlier this year by Secretary of State Clinton to work with countries on an “International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities” based on an earlier proposed code by the European Union. Some in Congress had expressed concern about the administration potentially signing onto the EU code or other document without subjecting it to the advice and consent of the Senate, as is required for a formal treaty. The section would also require reports every 90 days to Congress on the status of developing such a code.

The White House “strongly objects” to that language in a discussion on page 5 of the SAP. “The Code would not impose any legal obligations on the United States, nor would it restrict the exercise of the U.S.’s rights of individual and collective self-defense,” the SAP states. “The Administration is concerned that this provision would create confusion about the legal status of the Code and lead our international partners to conclude that the U.S. will treat the Code as an international agreement, greatly complicating negotiations. Furthermore, section 913 encroaches on the Executive’s exclusive authority to conduct foreign relations and could severely hamper U.S. ability to conduct bilateral space cooperation activities with key allies.”

Some other issues may come up for discussion during the floor debate on the legislation. A bipartisan amendment introduced by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), and several other members, including HASC chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), would seek to give the President the authority to remove satellites and related components off the US Munitions List and thus free of the restrictive provisions of ITAR. The amendment would still require Congressional consultation and prevent the export of such items to China, Iran, and several other nations.

Another amendment, offered by Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), would permit better cooperation between the government and commercial users regarding spaceport infrastructure at federal ranges. The amendment is similar to standalone legislation Posey introduced last month.

2 comments to House and White House at odds over code of conduct language in defense bill

  • The DOD language is essential. The main value of an international space program today is not to intensify conflict, but to diffuse it. Unfortunately when we have people in Congress who get elected on the basis of jingoism and xenophopbia, and attack anyone who doesn’t want nuclear war as “soft on Communism”, then it is hard to make progress.

    The Posey ammendment is meaningless since the primary launch sites are already commercial and Posey provides no funding at all. It’s objective is solely to allow Posey to take credit for anything commercial space actually accomplishes while at the same time claiming he cuts taxes.”

  • nom de plume

    I’m suspicious of Posey since his “birther” stance and criticism of anything Obama. His amendment re. “covered entity” (entity engaged in commercial space activity) Page 3, lines 9-11: “(B) any commercial requirement included in the agreement has full non-Federal funding before the execution of the agreement.”
    Regarding agreements between DoD & “covered entity” Page 4, lines 12-14: “(B) shall include a provision that the covered entity will not recover the costs of its contribution through any other agreement with the United States.”
    So if a commercial entity has a contract to provide launch services for another Federal agency (non-DoD), then DoD won’t enter into an agreement to provide launch infrastructure, support & services? Would that include use of SLC 40 at CCAFS and range support? How is this going to permit better cooperation between DoD & commercial space?

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