As debate on the Senate floor started—slowly—Wednesday on several appropriations bills, including the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) bill that funds NASA, one senator defended language in the report accompanying the bill about commercial crew cost data while another senator hinted he would seek to change that language before the bill becomes law.
At issue is a provision in the report regarding the commercial crew program that requires “certified cost and pricing data” from companies that receive commercial cargo and crew contracts. That language was inserted by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on the argument that it provides needed “transparency” to ensure taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely.
“Those efforts must continue in a transparent way, I believe, to ensure that the government is not saddled with mounting bills and no recourse,” Shelby said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning, referring to NASA’s commercial crew program. He said the requirement for certified cost data, usually applied to cost-plus contracts, was not an attempt to change NASA’s plans to use fixed-price contracts for the program’s next phase.
“The goal of the language is not to upend a fixed-price contract. Rather, the goal is to make certain that the price NASA has agreed to pay for vehicle development matches actual development expenditures,” he said. “NASA and its contractors have a history of cost overruns and schedule delays, whether the contract has a fixed price or not. With no other US-based options to get to the space station, I believe we cannot find ourselves at the 11th hour with an overburdened program that requires a bailout to succeed.”
That provision has been criticized by many commercial space advocates and others, from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to the conservative editorial page of the Washington Times. In his own comments on the Senate floor later Tuesday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) suggested he would seek to change the report language at some point before the bill becomes law.
“But we’re going to need to continue to work, and I would like to, with Sen. Shelby and Sen. [Barbara] Mikulski, as the bill goes to the conference committee, to make sure we have the right mix of oversight and innovation in how NASA contracts for this competition with the competitors,” he said. He didn’t elaborate on those comments, but the language strongly suggests he was referring to the “certified cost and pricing data language” in the report.
Nelson made those comments while also praising Sens. Mikulski and Shelby for funding commercial crew at close to the administration’s request: $805 million versus the $848 million requested. “This bill gets it close,” he said. “I can’t overstate the importance of commercial crew in the long-term viability of the space station.”