Next week, the Senate is expected to take up the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill that the Senate Appropriations Committee approved earlier this month. The CJS bill may be combined with two other appropriations bills in a “minibus” on the Senate floor.
What has attracted the most attention about the bill is not its funding levels but language in the report accompanying the bill that would require “certified cost and pricing data” from commercial crew and cargo providers. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said the language provided needed “transparency” for those contracts. “I believe we must ensure that the taxpayers are getting the best value for their dollar, and I believe the language here will help make that happen,” he said in a markup of the CJS bill earlier this month.
Commercial space advocates see something different. “We believe this is actually about control,” claims the Space Access Society in a policy alert earlier this week. “Specifically, about bringing control over all NASA space transportation development back to the Alabama-based NASA old guard faction that’s running SLS, about bringing control over all NASA space transportation funding back under Senator Shelby’s thumb, and also about maintaining his control over Defense space transportation funding.”
The argument the Space Access Society and other space advocates make is that requiring certified cost and pricing data,” a provision usually reserved for cost-plus contracts, is inappropriate for the fixed-price contracts that are being used or contemplated for commercial cargo and crew. The organization earlier claimed that shifting to “cost-plus contract-type accounting controls on a commercial-style operation increases costs from 50% to 200%.”
Another pro-commercial space organization, the Space Frontier Foundation, also has expressed its concern about the report language. “These rules are designed to protect the old, traditional system that has kept us from doing anything exciting with humans in space for decades – and will slam shut the door to space for decades more if allowed to become law,” said Foundation co-founder Rick Tumlinson in a press release earlier this week, referring to the report language. “If we ever want to return to the Moon, go to Mars, mine asteroids, or even be able to afford to get to and from our own space station, this language must be removed from the congressional bills right away.”
While the CJS bill will be debated next week, either alone or as part of a minibus, any resolution to what these advocates consider to be unfavorable language may take longer to resolve. The report language, which is not part of the bill itself, will likely not be debated on the Senate floor, although there may be changes behind-the-scenes. And, the CJS bill and report that do pass will have to be reconciled with the version the House passed late last month. The report tied to the House bill does not include the certified cost language, but does direct NASA to downselect to a single commercial crew company in the competition’s next round.