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.