House and Senate NASA FY14 appropriations comparison

With the passage on Thursday of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill by the full Senate Appropriations Committee, it’s possible now to compare that bill’s funding levels for various NASA accounts with the House version of the same bill and the administration’s original fiscal year 2014 budget request (amounts below in millions of dollars):

Account White House House CJS Senate CJS
SCIENCE $5,017.8 $4,781.0 $5,154.2
- Earth Science $1,846.0 $1,659.0 $1,846.2
- Planetary Science $1,218.0 $1,315.0 $1,317.6
- Astrophysics $642.0 $622.0 $678.4
- JWST $658.0 $584.0 $658.2
- Heliophysics $654.0 $601.0 $653.8
SPACE TECHNOLOGY $742.6 $576.0 $670.1
AERONAUTICS $565.7 $566.0 $558.7
EXPLORATION SYSTEMS $3,915.5 $3,612.0 $4,209.3
- SLS/Orion $2,730.0 $2,825.0 $3,118.2
- Commercial Spaceflight $821.0 $500.0 $775.0
- Exploration R&D $364.0 $287.0 $316.1
SPACE OPERATIONS $3,882.9 $3,670.0 $3,882.9
- ISS $3,049.0 $2,860.0 $3,049.1
- Space and Flight Support $834.0 $810.0 $833.8
EDUCATION $94.2 $122.0 $116.6
CROSS AGENCY SUPPORT $2,850.3 $2,711.0 $2,793.6
CONSTRUCTION $609.4 $525.0 $586.9
INSPECTOR GENERAL $37.0 $35.3 $38.0
TOTAL $17,715.4 $16,598.3 $18,010.3

The Senate’s bill, notably, offers more money overall for NASA than what the administration requested, and $1.4 billion more than the House bill. The biggest differences between the House and Senate are in exploration ($600 million more in the Senate bill) and science ($370 million more), while space operations (principally the ISS) and space technology got smaller increases; aeronautics and education get slightly less in the Senate bill than the House.

In the text of the Senate CJS report on the bill, the committee goes into additional detail on many issues. For planetary science, funded at roughly the same level as the House version but higher than the administration’s request, the committee calls for greater use of the smaller Discovery and New Frontiers programs of planetary missions. “Given the severe fiscal constraints which NASA faces going forward, the Committee believes more robust utilization of the Discovery and New Frontiers program will result in a more robust planetary science program because of its lower cost alternative to expensive, over-budget observatory class missions,” the report states, calling on NASA to select an additional Discovery mission for further study from one submitted in the most recent round.

The report contains strong language about funding for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. “Despite numerous directives to provide an updated cost assessment for the SLS, which supports the lower funding levels proposed, NASA has never provided the Committee any verifiable documentation supporting the amount reflected in the agency’s budget request,” the report states. “Such blatant disregard for the direction provided by the Committee and for NASA’s own independent cost assess- ment for the SLS is inappropriate and calls into question NASA’s ability to appropriately manage and oversee its ongoing projects.” The committee uses that to justify requesting $1.6 billion for SLS, plus $318 million for exploration ground systems (folded into the “SLS/Orion” line item in the table above); the House bill offers $1.476 billion for SLS and $299 million for ground systems.

The Senate is more generous than the House with the commercial crew program, proposing $775 million versus the House’s $500 million, but has its own concerns with the program as well. “The Committee believes that NASA must balance its mission needs with its support for the development of emerging capabilities with true commercial applicability,” the report states, expressing concern that NASA has provided the bulk of the funding for development of these systems to date but may only use them for a few years, assuming the vehicles enter service in 2017 but with a currently-planned ISS retirement date of 2020. “Such a schedule does not justify the current spending levels,” the Senate report concludes, directing NASA to “clearly define and plan for the operational longevity of the ISS” to support its investment in commercial crew systems.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill is silent on one key issue: NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) proposal. The word “asteroid,” in fact, is not found at all in the Senate report, unlike the House bill that blocks spending on the ARM concept. The House and Senate bills are in agreement on another controversial issue, though: both block the planned restructuring of NASA’s education program proposed by the administration as part of a broader reorganization of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education programs among government agencies.

NASA authorization bill clears Science Committee, but with a few changes

The outcome was never really in doubt: the House Science Committee approved HR 2687, the NASA Authorization Act of 2013, on a straight party-line vote. All 22 Republican members voted for the legislation, and all but one Democrat voted against it (Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida did not vote.) The vote came after Democrats proposed a series of amendments to change various aspects of the bill, including several to increase authorized funding levels for various parts of the agency, as well as another bid by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) to replace the bill with a Democratic-backed version. Nearly all of those amendments were defeated.

“I want to make clear that I don’t object to the bill simply because it is a Republican bill,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the full committee. “This Committee has a long history of bipartisan support for NASA, and Republican Members have in the past been fierce advocates for a robust and ambitious space program for the nation. Yet this NASA Authorization bill breaks with that proud tradition, and I frankly am at a loss to understand why.”

“The NASA Authorization Act offers us the opportunity to set goals and establish priorities for the greatest space program in the world. That is our responsibility—to take the initiative, make decisions and govern,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the committee. He reiterated previous statements by other Republican members of the committee that the authorization bill should adhere to spending caps, an argument that Democrats have rejected.

A few amendments did get approved, mostly covering relatively minor topics rather than bigger policy issues. Smith introduced, and won passage on a voice vote, a package of amendments that includes a revised Section 215, which in the original version of the bill called for the use of “cost-type” contracts for future rounds of the commercial crew program. That provision had raised the ire of committee vice-chair Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who also worried the section gave advisory committees like the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) too much power. The revised Section 215 focuses exclusively on ASAP, asking NASA to submit a report on what ASAP advice it intends or doesn’t intend to follow, and why. Other items in that same amendment call for greater use of the ISS for science and technology development, as well as calling for a student content to name NASA’s overall space exploration program and the Space Launch System specifically.

Democrats did win one victory in the amendments: one proposed by Rep. Johnson to remove Section 711 passed on a 20-to-19 vote. That section would have fixed a six-year term for the NASA administrator, and allow the deputy administrator to serve as acting administrator for no more than 45 days. Three Republicans—Rohrabacher, James Sensenbrenner (WI), and Steve Stockman (TX)—joined 17 Democrats in approving the amendment.

Perhaps the most controversial amendment proposed by committee members never made it to a vote. Edwards withdrew her amendment to create a Center Realignment and Closure Commission with an emphasis on studying whether the Marshall Space Flight Center should be closed. After describing her amendment late in the markup, which she said was prompted by the lower funding levels in the overall bill, she said she would be withdrawing it. She denied the amendments were designed to be “deeply personal” to members of the committee, such as Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), whose district includes Marshall, and instead called on House members to take a more bipartisan approach like that in the Senate.

Brooks got the last word on the topic a little later in the markup, saying that Goddard had “swollen” in recent years. “I believe this gentlelady is proposing this amendment in response on perceived attacks on her district, but this is just not true,” he said, referring to cuts in Earth sciences funding in the authorization bill. The Edwards amendment “should have been, and in my judgement would have been, rejected.”

House NASA authorization could offer some fireworks

The House Science Committee is holding its markup of a NASA authorization bill this morning (the meeting has been delayed two hours to 11:15 am EDT.) The bill will, presumably, be approved by the full committee, although it may be on a party-line vote as was the case in last week’s subcommittee markup.

However, there may be a little excitement in today’s markup. Space News reported late yesterday that Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) will introduce an amendment that would create a commission to study whether to close NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The “Center Realignment and Closure Commission” would look at consolidating rocket development and test activities currently conducted at Marshall and the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, as well as relocating all Marshall activities to either Stennis or the Johnson Space Center. It’s unclear what prompted Edwards, the ranking member of the space subcommittee, to consider such an amendment; last week, when she introduced an alternative version of an authorization bill in the subcommittee, she courted Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), whose district includes Marshall, by highlighting the increased authorized spending levels for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in her version of the bill.

While Edwards’s amendment may be a long shot to be approved by the committee, something that may have greater odds of passage is a change to section 215 of the authorization act, which calls for the use of “cost-type” contracts for future phases of NASA’s commercial crew program. Full committee vice-chairman Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) criticized that provision in the subcommittee’s markup last week and said he understood his concerns would be addressed before the full committee takes up the bill. Asked about the status of those efforts yesterday at the Future Space 2013 conference in Washington, Rohrabacher instead summarized his objections to that provision without providing an update on any efforts within the committee to address his issues with it.

House appropriations approve spending bill as NASA, industry complain

The House Appropriations Committee, as expected, approved a Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill Wednesday, sending the legislation on to the full House on a voice vote. The committee accepted a few amendments during the full committee markup, none of which affected NASA, leaving the funding levels in the earlier version of the bill and accompanying report unchanged. “They’ve been treated very, very fair,” Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the CJS subcommittee, said of NASA in comments to Florida Today after the markup.

NASA, though, would beg to differ. “While we appreciate the support of the Committee, we are deeply concerned that the bill under consideration would set our funding level significantly below the President’s request,” the agency said in a statement released just before the markup by NASA associate administrator for communications David Weaver. “We are especially concerned the bill cuts funding for space technology – the ‘seed corn’ that allows the nation to conduct ever more capable and affordable space missions – and the innovative and cost-effective commercial crew program.”

Those commercial crew and space technology cuts are also worrying to the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), an industry group. “Less funding for the commercial crew program simply equates to prolonged dependence on foreign launch providers,” said CSF president Michael Lopez-Alegria in a statement. CSF executive director Alex Saltman added that the organization hopes to work with appropriators to increase funding for those programs in later stages of the appropriations process.

Nelson to introduce Senate version of NASA authorization bill today

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, announced Wednesday that he will be formally introducing later in the day the Senate’s version of a NASA authorization bill that will differ sharply from the House version.

Nelson, speaking at the luncheon of the Future Space 2013 conference in Washington on Wednesday (delayed slightly, he said, because he showed up to the wrong building on Capitol Hill), said he and Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the full committee, would be filing a NASA authorization bill today. The bill would authorize $18.1 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2014. “You will see a robust approach, a balanced approach,” he said of the bill, without going into much detail about its contents, “providing the resources for the SLS, for Orion, likewise for commercial crew, likewise for science and planetary science.”

The authorization bill “has a great deal of symmetry” with the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill that a Senate appropriations subcommittee approved yesterday and which the full committee is scheduled to take up tomorrow. It stands in sharp contrast, though, to House legislation, where bills currently under consideration authorize NASA at $16.865 billion and appropriate $16.598 billion for fiscal year 2014. Those funding levels, he said, “would absolutely be lethal for NASA. You couldn’t have the balanced approach.”

Senate appropriators offer $18 billion for NASA

In contrast to their House counterparts, Senate appropriators appears to be more generous with NASA, at least at the overall level. A summary of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill, marked up with little fanfare by the CJS subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday morning, reveals the committee is proposing $18 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2014.

“The $18 billion in the bill for NASA will preserve a NASA portfolio balanced among science, aeronautics, technology and human space flight investments,” the summary states. “Moreover, it will keep NASA in the forefront of innovation, inspiring private companies to build new crew transportation and spawning a new satellite servicing industry that can revive, refuel, and rejuvenate defunct communications satellites.”

The summary doesn’t break out how that spending is allocated among the various accounts, but the summary does note that NASA’s science account would get $373 million more than the House version (or $5.154 billion, slightly above the administration’s request) and $597 million more for exploration (to $4.2 billion, again above the administration’s request.)

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chairwoman of both the CJS subcommittee and and the full appropriations committee, said nothing about the NASA budget in her opening statement at the brief markup session, but Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the ranking member of the subcommittee and full committee, did mention the budget. “These funds will give NASA the ability to maintain key schedules for ongoing missions and activities, including development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle while funding ongoing activities of the International Space Station and other important research activities.” Shelby added that he worked with Mikulski to include language in the appropriations bill to provide “greater accountability and budgetary transparency to the commercial crew program, to ensure that taxpayers are getting the best value for their dollar.”

Shelby, though, revealed that he will not vote for the full appropriations bill, because the total funding in the bill is too high. “For that reason, and that reason alone, I will vote against the bill at the full committee,” he said.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up the bill in a markup session Thursday morning, one day after the House Appropriations Committee marks up their bill.

Conference report adds details to House’s proposed $16.6-billion NASA budget

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee released the committee report accompanying its version of a Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill for fiscal year 2014, in advance of the bill’s markup by the full committee on Wednesday morning. The report adds details on spending levels for key programs within the accounts specified in the bill, as well as other provision. A summary of the appropriations in the overall $16.6-billion appropriations for NASA, as compared to the administration’s bill:

Account Request House CJS draft Difference
SCIENCE $5,017.8 $4,781.0 -$236.8
- Earth Science $1,846.0 $1,659.0 -$187.0
- Planetary Science $1,218.0 $1,315.0 $97.0
- Astrophysics $642.0 $622.0 -$20.0
- JWST $658.0 $584.0 -$74.0
- Heliophysics $654.0 $601.0 -$53.0
SPACE TECHNOLOGY $742.6 $576.0 -$166.6
AERONAUTICS $565.7 $566.0 $0.3
EXPLORATION SYSTEMS $3,915.5 $3,612.0 -$303.5
- SLS/Orion $2,730.0 $2,825.0 $95.0
- Commercial Spaceflight $821.0 $500.0 -$321.0
- Exploration R&D $364.0 $287.0 -$77.0
SPACE OPERATIONS $3,882.9 $3,670.0 -$212.9
- ISS $3,049.0 $2,860.0 -$189.0
- Space and Flight Support $834.0 $810.0 -$24.0
EDUCATION $94.2 $122.0 $27.8
CROSS AGENCY SUPPORT $2,850.3 $2,711.0 -$139.3
CONSTRUCTION, ENVIRO $609.4 $525.0 -$84.4
INSPECTOR GENERAL $37.0 $35.3 -$1.7
TOTAL $17,715.4 $16,598.3 -$1,117.1

House appropriators differed from their authorizing counterparts on the House Science Committee in several areas. While authorizers sought to to cut Earth science funding to $1.2 billion, appropriators are offering more than $1.65 billion for the program: still less than administration’s request of nearly $1.85 billion but still more generous than what authorizers proposed. Appropriators weren’t nearly as generous for planetary sciences, but still offer more funding for it than the original request. The $500 million for commercial crew is also less than both what authorizers proposed ($700 million) or the administration’s request ($821 million).

The report, like the House authorization bill, blocks any spending on NASA’s proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). “The Committee believes that NASA should take the time to complete further concept studies, pursue the support of Congress through the authorization process and line up support from potential international partners before seeking new resources to carry out the mission,” the report states. “In the interim, the Committee’s recommendation does not include any of the requested increases associated with the asteroid retrieval proposal.”

The report language is critical of the administration’s proposed $1.2 billion for planetary science. “NASA has once again proposed damaging and disproportionate reductions in the Planetary Science budget without any substantive justification,” the report states. At that proposed funding level, “NASA would be unable to meet the major scientific goals of the Planetary Science decadal survey in a timely manner; lose its role as the international leader in the field; drive uniquely qualified and promising talent out of the field, perhaps permanently; and increase the risk level on existing projects due to the inefficient phasing of funds.”

The committee is also concerned that NASA’s work on the Space Launch System (SLS) is not progressing fast enough towards a version with a 130-ton payload capacity. “As a result, the program would likely reach a plateau with the achievement of the 70 metric ton capability,” the report states. “For this reason, the Committee continues to urge NASA to allocate additional funds to SLS elements like advanced booster risk reduction, J2–X engine development and/or upper stage development, all of which are required for the program to progress beyond the initial configuration.”

The report also calls for moving on to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)-based contracts for future phases of the commercial crew program and says NASA should make “strategic decisions about the number of industry partners to retain in the certification phase” (which could be interpreted as a call for a downselect to perhaps a single company.) “The overriding purpose of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) is to restore domestic access to the Inter- national Space Station (ISS) as quickly and safely as possible, and the Committee expects that NASA will manage CCP funds in a manner that is consistent with that goal,” the report states, adding that the $500 million it appropriates to the program should be sufficient to conclude the current phase of the program and “a portion” of the follow-on certification contracts phase.

NASA goes back to the drawing board for its 2013 operating plan

While House and Senate appropriators are working on fiscal year 2014 appropriations bills to fund NASA, the agency is still working with Congress for agreement on an operating plan for fiscal year 2013 (which, yes, ends in just two and a half months.) As first reported by The Planetary Society, NASA planetary sciences division director Jim Green said Monday that Congress had rejected an operating plan NASA submitted to Congress in May. The reason for the rejection wasn’t reported, but it’s widely speculated that the issue is that the plan sought to reprogram additional planetary sciences funding provided in the final FY13 appropriations bill elsewhere in the agency, returning planetary to the $1.2 billion in the administration’s original request. The revised draft of the operating plan, under development, “will more closely align planetary funding to congressional intent,” according to the Planetary Society report.

This week: appropriations and authorization markups

There are no summer doldrums in Congress this week as two committees in the House and Senate work on versions of appropriations bills that are likely to fund NASA at differing levels, while a NASA authorization bill moves on in the House.

At 10 am EDT today, the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee will markup its version of an appropriations bill that funds, among other agencies, NASA and NOAA. The committee has not released any details about that bill, but the expectation is that, for NASA, it will differ from the House version both in the overall amount and the allocation among the various programs.

At 10 am EDT Wednesday, the full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to markup its CJS appropriations bill, which breezed through a subcommittee markup last week. This should also be an opportunity for the committee to release the report accompanying the bill, which goes into more details about allocations of funds within the various accounts and additional provisions.

At 9:15 am EDT Thursday, the full House Science Committee will markup the NASA Authorization Act of 2013, which the space subcommittee passed on a party-line vote last week. The bill’s approval by the full committee appears likely (if, again, along party lines); one thing to look for is if the full committee addresses concerns raised by the committee vice chair, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), in last week’s subcommittee markup about a provision calling for the use of FAR-based “cost-type” contracts in the next round of the commercial crew program.

House subcommittee approves authorization bill, but its fate beyond the House remains unclear

Wednesday’s markup of a NASA authorization bill by the space subcommittee of the House Science Committee played out as expected. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), ranking member of the subcommittee, offered the version of an authorization bill she introduced earlier this week as an amendment in the form of a substitute to the Republican-led bill. After debate, the subcommittee voted down the Edwards bill along party lines, with all Republicans voting against the amendment and all Democrats voting for it. The subcommittee then voted in favor of the original bill, again on a strict party line vote, sending it on to the full committee for consideration.

The main thrust of Edwards’s argument was that her bill authorized the appropriate funding levels for NASA, unlike the Republican bill that hewed to lower funding levels to comply with the Budget Control Act. “I’ve yet to find anything in the Budget Control Act that stipulates what funding committees can authorize, because the Budget Control Act doesn’t limit authorization in any way,” she said. “You can be fiscally conservative and still support this amendment.”

Edwards even questioned two Republican members of the subcommittee with NASA facilities in their districts, Mo Brooks of Alabama (MSFC) and Bill Posey of Florida (KSC), asking them if they preferred the higher authorized funding levels for efforts like the Space Launch System and Exploration Ground Systems in her bill. Neither were swayed by her argument, though. “I like the additional funding that is in the minority proposal for the Marshall Space Flight Center and for NASA generally,” Brooks said. “However, it is financially irresponsible because the minority does not come up with a way to pay for it.”

Rep. Stephen Palazzo (R-MS), chairman of the subcommittee, said the authorization had to follow the lower funding profile in the Republican version if the bill had any chance of passage. “Our goal is to bring a workable bill that can pass both houses,” he said as debate on the Democratic bill version concluded. “The reality is, if we ignore the Budget Control Act, which many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle voted for, the bill is dead on arrival in both the House and the Senate. It would never make it to the House floor, and, ironically, it would not have the unanimous consent it needs to move it in the Senate.”

However, while the bill in its current form may make it to the House floor and pass there, its odds of passage in the Senate in that form seem much lower. Last month Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) was critical of the draft version of the House bill, in particular the overall authorized spending level. “I’m not going to approve of keeping it at 16.8 [billion dollars], because it would run the space program and NASA into a ditch,” he said at a Space Transportation Association luncheon. The Senate has not introduced its version of an authorization bill yet, although appropriators there will be marking up a spending bill on Tuesday.

The Edwards bill was the only amendment the subcommittee considered Wednesday, although after the vote Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), vice-chair of the full committee, called for a revision of one section of the bill regarding commercial crew. Section 215 of the bill calls for the use of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) “cost-type” contracts for future phases of the commercial crew program. “Forcing commercial crew into a cost-type contract, as Section 215 would do, would undermine all the benefits of the program, all the benefits the program is designed to bring about,” he said. He was also critical of the section’s reliance on advice from the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), saying its experience is based on “older and previous models” of doing business. “We must not open the door to allowing these advisory committees to actually becoming the policy-setting committees.”

Rohrabacher said he voted for the bill on the understanding that this concern would be addressed before the full committee marks up the bill. “Yes, of course we will work with him as we move forward to full committee,” Palazzo said, without expressing support or opposition to Rohrabacher’s concerns.