Legislative Wrap-Up for the 110th Congress

From a legislative perspective, the last nine weeks have been a whirlwind. Since my last legislative status report in August, NASA funding by way of a Continuing Resolution (through March 2009), including extension of NASA’s exemption under INKSNA, has been signed by the President, and the Authorization Act has been cleared by the Congress and transmitted to the President for signature.

On September 30, the President signed the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009, (H.R. 2638), otherwise known as the Continuing Resolution (CR). This legislation funds NASA at FY 2008 levels through March 6, 2009, or until a full-year appropriations bill is passed. Also for NASA, the bill includes $30 million in disaster funding (for damage caused by Hurricane Ike) and an important anomaly related to the Agency’s account and budget structure, which allows NASA to execute appropriations under the Continuing Resolution in the proposed FY 2009 account structure. To further explain, the FY2008 appropriations bill required a new accounting structure for NASA (moving from four to seven appropriations accounts). NASA needed the special authority to proceed with this new structure in FY2009 because a CR requires the same funding and structure as in FY2008. To reverse back to the four-account structure would be very costly so the appropriations gave us special “anomaly” authority in the CR.

Of particular note, the Act includes an extension of our waiver of the Iran North Korea Syria Non-Proliferation Act (INKSNA) provision. This extension allows NASA to continue purchasing Soyuz flights beyond 2011, through July 1, 2016. This will enable NASA to continue to send American astronauts, as well as our international partner crew members, to and from the International Space Station during the “gap” between the time the Shuttle is retired and Orion/Ares I comes on-line. The Agency does not intend to purchase Progress cargo services after 2011, and will look to the U.S. commercial sector to provide our needs. Mike and I worked closely with the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees (both of which approved extensions to our exception), House and Senate leadership, and our House and Senate Appropriations and Authorization Committees to secure this extension.

On the authorization front, on September 27, the House cleared, by voice vote, the one-year, $20.2 billion NASA Authorization Act of 2008 (H.R. 6063). The Senate passed the measure by unanimous consent on September 25. Most critical for NASA, this bill reaffirms Congress’ strong bipartisan support for the “Vision for Space Exploration,” including human exploration of the Moon and eventually Mars. The bill signals Congressional intent to the next Administration by supporting accelerated development of the Orion and Ares programs, as well as directing that there be no activity between now and April 30, 2009 that would preclude the continued flight of the Space Shuttle after FY 2010. The measure also directs NASA to fly one additional Space Shuttle flight to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station, but only if it can be done before the end of calendar year 2010 and would not result in significant increased costs or unacceptable safety risks. There are other provisions of the bill but these can wait until the President actually signs it into law.

NASA Legislative Update

On June 25, 2008, the House Appropriations Committee marked up the FY 2009 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Appropriations Bill, which provides annual funding for NASA. As reported, the bill includes a total of $17.769B, an increase of $155.0M above the President’s request. Within this total, the Committee has included full funding for Exploration Systems ($3.5B) and Space Operations ($5.8B). The bill increases Science by $76.5M ($4.5B), Aeronautics by $68.5M ($515.0M), and Education by $71.6M ($187.2M). The bill also reduces Cross-Agency Support (CAS) by $55.1M ($3.2B), and includes within CAS a reduction of $58.2M in Agency Management and Operations and a total of $30.0M for congressionally-directed projects (earmarks).

On June 19, 2008, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its version of the FY 2009 CJS bill. As reported, the Senate bill includes a total of $17.912B for NASA, an increase of $200.0M above the President’s request. Within the Senate total, the Committee included full funding for Space Operations ($5.8B). The bill increases Science by $81.4M ($4.5B), Aeronautics by $53.5M ($500.0M), Exploration Systems by $30.0M ($3.5B), Education by $14.4M ($130.0M), and CAS by $20.0M ($3.3B). Within the Senate mark for CAS is a reduction of $40.3M in Agency Management and Operations and a total of $80.0M for congressionally-directed projects (earmarks).

In July, the Congress cleared for the President’s signature a FY 2009 Defense Supplemental Appropriations bill, which included supplemental appropriations for NASA totaling $62.5M. NASA has submitted a plan to the Appropriation Committees to allocate this funding equally between Science and Exploration Systems.

Neither the House nor the Senate FY 2009 CJS bill will likely go to the floor for consideration. In fact, to date, the FY 2009 Military Construction/VA bill is the only appropriations bill that has been considered by the full House. It is expected that the FY 2009 Defense Appropriations and the Military Construction/VA bills will be the only appropriations bills to see floor action, and that they will likely be wrapped into a FY 2009 Continuing Resolution (CR) to be taken up by the House and Senate in September. At this time, it is anticipated that this CR will last six months, until March 2009.

On the authorization front, the House of Representatives passed the NASA Authorization Act of 2008 (H.R. 6063) by a vote of 409-15 on June 19. This measure reaffirms the existing U.S. Space Exploration Policy, including completion of the ISS, retirement of the Shuttle, and human exploration of the Moon and Mars. This bill also authorizes a total of $19.2B for NASA for FY 2009, an increase of $1.8B above the President’s request, with increases of $500M for Science, $407M for Aeronautics, $386M for Exploration, $13M for Education, $300M for Space Operations, and $1B to reduce the human space flight gap. The bill also directs the addition of another Shuttle mission to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the ISS, before retirement of the Shuttle.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved its version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2008 on June 24. Although it differs somewhat from the House measure, it, too, continues congressional support for the U.S. Space Exploration Policy, authorizes the same funding levels as the House bill, and requires the addition of one more Shuttle mission to include the AMS. House and Senate Committee staff are now negotiating a compromise bill with the goal of bringing that compromise to the Senate floor in September.

In the meantime, there has been some progress on moving legislation to extend the exception to the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) to allow NASA to negotiate a contract with Russia for continued Soyuz services beyond 2011 (the current expiration of that exception). On July 24, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved H.R. 6574, the United States-Russian Federation Nuclear Cooperation Agreement Act of 2008. This bill includes an extension of the current exception to INKSNA from December 31, 2011, to July 1, 2016. House floor action is uncertain.

In the Senate, on June 9, Senators Biden and Lugar, chairman and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, respectively, introduced S. 3103, the legislation that NASA had submitted to Congress, for consideration by their Committee. The Committee is expected to consider the legislation when it meets in September. Final passage in the Senate and House remains uncertain, but NASA is working to find a way to get this crucial extension enacted.

I would like to thank the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs for preparing this week’s blog.