The House Science Committee is scheduled to mark up several bills in a session this morning, including HR 3625. That bill, formally introduced on Monday by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), would direct NASA not to reserve funds for ongoing programs, in particular the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, to cover termination liability costs should those programs be cancelled. “It is the intent of Congress that funds authorized to be appropriated for covered programs be applied in meeting established technical goals and schedule milestones,” the legislation states. It would also prevent NASA from terminating for convenience any prime contract for “covered programs” in the bill unless authorized by a future law. (The only program beyond SLS and Orion covered by the bill is the International Space Station.)
The issue of termination liability costs has been an issue for some time for Brooks, whose district includes NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “Withholding scarce funds for termination liability slows development and hence increases the total cost of a project,” he said in a press release Wednesday about the bill. He cited NASA reports that more than $500 million is being withheld among those three programs to cover termination liability costs, funds he says “would otherwise be used to timely complete these scientific efforts.”
This is not the first time that the House has attempted to address this issue in recent months. The NASA authorization bill the committee approved in July, HR 2687, included a section almost identical to the current bill forbidding NASA to withhold funds for termination liability for SLS, Orion, and ISS. The fact that the committee is willing to take up this provision as a standalone bill suggests diminishing prospects for passage of an overall NASA authorization bill any time soon.