Late Monday evening, House and Senate appropriations formally released their joint omnibus bill to fund the federal government for fiscal year 2014. For NASA, the bill provides the agency with $17.646 billion, a decrease of less than $70 million from the administration’s original proposal and a billion dollars more than what House appropriators approved last summer. The table below compares the original request, the House and Senate bills from last summer, and the final omnibus numbers:
|Account||White House||House CJS||Senate CJS||Omnibus|
|- Earth Science||$1,846.0||$1,659.0||$1,846.2||$1,826.0|
|- Planetary Science||$1,218.0||$1,315.0||$1,317.6||$1,345.0|
|- Commercial Spaceflight||$821.0||$500.0||$775.0||$696.0|
|- Exploration R&D||$364.0||$287.0||$316.1||$302.0|
|- Space and Flight Support||$834.0||$810.0||$833.8||n/a|
|CROSS AGENCY SUPPORT||$2,850.3||$2,711.0||$2,793.6||$2,793.0|
Some comments regarding some of the hot topics during the budget debate:
Planetary Science: Planetary science gets an increase of $127 million over the administration’s request. However, the bill retains a provision in the House bill that sets aside $80 million for “pre-formulation and/or formulation activities” for a Europa mission that was not in the administration’s request. (The final FY13 bill had a similar earmark.) That means planetary sciences gets only a very modest increase over the administration’s request. The report accompanying the bill, though, does press NASA to increase the rate of Discovery-class missions, including releasing an announcement of opportunity (AO) for the next such mission no later than May 1, selecting one or more missions by September 2015.
Commercial Crew: The omnibus bill provides $696 million for commercial crew in FY14, a number closer to the Senate’s proposed $775 million than the House’s $500 million, but will short of the administration’s request $821 million. NASA officials had previous said they need full funding to keep the program on track to begin crewed flights to the International Space Station in 2017.
The bill sets aside about a quarter of that $696 million, $171 million, until NASA “has certified that the commercial crew program has undergone an independent benefit-cost analysis that takes into consideration the total Federal investment in the commercial crew program and the expected operational life of the International Space Station.” The report accompanying the bill notes that the uncertainty about the lifetime of the ISS “has a substantial impact on planning and financial requirements” for the commercial crew program that the report seeks to address. (The report does not mention plans announced last week by the White House and NASA seeking to extend operations of the ISS to at least 2024; in any case, it will take perhaps years before the partners decide whether to support such an extension.)
SLS and Orion: Those programs come out as winners in the omnibus bill, with the Space Launch System receiving $1.6 billion, Orion nearly $1.2 billion, and Exploration Ground Systems (primarily facilities supporting the SLS) $318 million. “Adequate funding for SLS, a top NASA priority, is necessary to support program goals, preserve progress already made toward achieving the upcoming test flight and maintain a schedule that supports accomplishing an initial operating capability in 2017,” the report accompanying the bill states. “Due to continuing concerns regarding the diversion of funding intended for vehicle development to activities with only tangential relevance to SLS, NASA shall not use SLS funds for engineering or other activities that are not directly related to SLS vehicle development.”
Space Operations: Neither the bill nor the report include breakouts for ISS and other spending within this account, but the report states that it “maintains strong support for the ISS” while mentioning “operational and financial concerns” discussed in previous House and Senate bills. The bill sets aside $100 million for a satellite servicing program, and the report includes a provision directing NASA to propose policies or legislation that address intellectual property concerns regarding ISS research.
Asteroid Redirection Mission (ARM): The House appropriations bill included a provision blocking spending on projects associated with the ARM, while the Senate was silent on the issue. The final report accompanying the bill does not include a specific ban, but instead more of a cautionary note about the proposed mission. “While the ARM is still an emerging concept, NASA has not provided Congress with satisfactory justification materials such as detailed cost estimates or impacts to ongoing missions. The completion of significant preliminary activities is needed to appropriately lay the groundwork for the ARM prior to NASA and Congress making a long-term commitment to this mission concept.”
Commercial launch liability indemnification: The omnibus budget bill also includes something of a bonus for the space community. As is often the case with such bills, legislators use an existing pending, but unrelated, bill as a vehicle for the appropriations, including the appropriations language as an amendment. In this case, the House is using HR 3547, a bill that extends the commercial launch liability indemnification regime. The House passed the original HR 3547 in December, extending the regime by one year, while the Senate amended the bill later last month, changing the one-year extension to a three-year one. That extension, in its three-year form, is preserved in the amended bill that is now primarily a vehicle for passing the omnibus spending bill.