With the passage on Thursday of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill by the full Senate Appropriations Committee, it’s possible now to compare that bill’s funding levels for various NASA accounts with the House version of the same bill and the administration’s original fiscal year 2014 budget request (amounts below in millions of dollars):
|Account||White House||House CJS||Senate CJS|
|- Earth Science||$1,846.0||$1,659.0||$1,846.2|
|- Planetary Science||$1,218.0||$1,315.0||$1,317.6|
|- Commercial Spaceflight||$821.0||$500.0||$775.0|
|- Exploration R&D||$364.0||$287.0||$316.1|
|- Space and Flight Support||$834.0||$810.0||$833.8|
|CROSS AGENCY SUPPORT||$2,850.3||$2,711.0||$2,793.6|
The Senate’s bill, notably, offers more money overall for NASA than what the administration requested, and $1.4 billion more than the House bill. The biggest differences between the House and Senate are in exploration ($600 million more in the Senate bill) and science ($370 million more), while space operations (principally the ISS) and space technology got smaller increases; aeronautics and education get slightly less in the Senate bill than the House.
In the text of the Senate CJS report on the bill, the committee goes into additional detail on many issues. For planetary science, funded at roughly the same level as the House version but higher than the administration’s request, the committee calls for greater use of the smaller Discovery and New Frontiers programs of planetary missions. “Given the severe fiscal constraints which NASA faces going forward, the Committee believes more robust utilization of the Discovery and New Frontiers program will result in a more robust planetary science program because of its lower cost alternative to expensive, over-budget observatory class missions,” the report states, calling on NASA to select an additional Discovery mission for further study from one submitted in the most recent round.
The report contains strong language about funding for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. “Despite numerous directives to provide an updated cost assessment for the SLS, which supports the lower funding levels proposed, NASA has never provided the Committee any verifiable documentation supporting the amount reflected in the agency’s budget request,” the report states. “Such blatant disregard for the direction provided by the Committee and for NASA’s own independent cost assess- ment for the SLS is inappropriate and calls into question NASA’s ability to appropriately manage and oversee its ongoing projects.” The committee uses that to justify requesting $1.6 billion for SLS, plus $318 million for exploration ground systems (folded into the “SLS/Orion” line item in the table above); the House bill offers $1.476 billion for SLS and $299 million for ground systems.
The Senate is more generous than the House with the commercial crew program, proposing $775 million versus the House’s $500 million, but has its own concerns with the program as well. “The Committee believes that NASA must balance its mission needs with its support for the development of emerging capabilities with true commercial applicability,” the report states, expressing concern that NASA has provided the bulk of the funding for development of these systems to date but may only use them for a few years, assuming the vehicles enter service in 2017 but with a currently-planned ISS retirement date of 2020. “Such a schedule does not justify the current spending levels,” the Senate report concludes, directing NASA to “clearly define and plan for the operational longevity of the ISS” to support its investment in commercial crew systems.
Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill is silent on one key issue: NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) proposal. The word “asteroid,” in fact, is not found at all in the Senate report, unlike the House bill that blocks spending on the ARM concept. The House and Senate bills are in agreement on another controversial issue, though: both block the planned restructuring of NASA’s education program proposed by the administration as part of a broader reorganization of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education programs among government agencies.