In a relatively short and very amicable markup Wednesday morning, the House Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee approved a fiscal year 2015 spending bill. The bill, released by the committee yesterday, provides about $17.9 billion for NASA in FY15, and the subcommittee made no changes to that section or other parts of the full bill during the markup.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) mentioned a few parts of the NASA bill in his opening statement, including exploration programs, aeronautics, and science. He also called attention to NASA security issues, noting the bill funds implementation of recommendations in a report on security issues at the agency released in summary form earlier this year. “It’s troubling,” he said of what he considers major security lapses at the agency. “I’m surprised the press has failed” to cover the issue in greater detail. “Maybe it’s because NASA is trying to cover it up.”
The markup and accompanying statements also shed some light on other aspects of the bill not explicitly mentioned in the version released yesterday. While he didn’t mention it in his own opening statement, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), ranking member of the CJS subcommittee, noted in a statement about the bill that the legislation provides “an increase” in funding for commercial crew. The statement doesn’t mention how much of an increase, though, presumably above the $696 million the program received in FY14. NASA requested $848 million for the program, along with $343 million for exploration R&D, for a total of about $1.19 billion, but the exploration account in the draft bill leaves only $1.11 billion for those two programs after taking out funding explicitly specified for SLS and Orion.
Two CJS subcommittee members with a strong interest in planetary science, Reps. John Culberson (R-TX) and Adam Schiff (D-CA), thanked Wolf for the funding levels included in the bill for planetary science. “I want to thank you for the extraordinary efforts that you’ve made to save planetary science and push back some devastating cuts,” Schiff said.
“When we first discover life on another world, it will be because of your work on making sure that we go to Europa,” Culberson said. The bill explicitly sets aside $100 million in planetary sciences funding for continued Europa mission pre-formulation work.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) also thanked Wolf for restoring funding for NASA’s SOFIA airborne observatory in the bill, a detail not mentioned in the bill text. NASA had slashed funding for SOFIA in its proposed FY15 budget and said it would mothball the aircraft if it could not find a new partner to take over NASA’s share of its operations.
Wolf was getting thanks all around from members of the subcommittee, in part because this bill lacked the partisan rancor of last year—the subcommittee passed the billon a unanimous voice vote—but also because Wolf is retiring after this Congress, so this is his final CJS appropriations bill. “Chairman Wolf has just been an absolute marvel in the Congress,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), chairman of the full committee. “As you know, he feels strongly about some things—in fact, many things—and sometimes he lets you know how strongly he feels.” NASA knows that, perhaps all too well.