The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a pair of fiscal year 2014 appropriations bills on Thursday, including one that funds the FAA. The Senate bill includes $17.011 million for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. That’s significantly more than what the House’s version of the same appropriations bill provided for the office: $14.16 million, a level below 2012 and 2013 and low enough to raise concerns by some in the industry. (Funding for AST is within FAA’s Operations budget, which also gets more overall in the Senate version, although the difference isn’t as large in percentage terms: $9.71 billion versus $9.52 billion in the House.)
Neither House nor Senate appropriators have gotten to their Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bills, which fund NASA (and NOAA), but are expected to do so some time in July. The gaps between the House and Senate bills for FAA suggest that we may see similar gaps between the House and Senate CJS bills, including for NASA. Bill Nelson, for example, has suggested that the $16.8 billion in fiscal year 2014 in a draft NASA authorization bill is far too low, and indicated that not only would the Senate version of the authorization bill give NASA more, but that Senate appropriators would also follow suit.
The potential for that gap can be seen in the budget allocations given to the two CJS appropriations subcommittees, in effect the pots of money they have to spend. The House CJS allocation, released in May, is $47.2 billion, while the Senate CJS allocation, released last week, is nearly $52.3 billion. So it shouldn’t be a surprise if Senate appropriators offer significantly more to NASA than their House counterparts when they get to their CJS bills, but what that eventually means for the space agency given the bigger issues about spending, and the prospects for another round of sequestration, remains to be seen.