WASHINGTON, D.C. (Senate Appropriations Committee PR) – U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) today received the approval of his Republican colleagues to serve as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations for the remainder of the 115th Congress. Shelby previously served as vice chairman for the 113th Congress.
Today the Senate Republican Conference ratified the selection of Senator Richard Shelby to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee following the resignation of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. After a vote by members of the Appropriations Committee, the Conference approved Shelby’s election as chairman. The full Senate is expected to formally affirm the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman and new roster in an organizing resolution this evening.
Donald Trump’s practice of nominating people to run agencies they oppose (Rick Perry), have no discernible expertise in (Perry again), or have no understanding of what they actually do (ditto) finally seems to have hit a brick wall.
The Senate Banking Committee rejected the White House’s nomination of former New Jersey Congressman Scott Garrett to chair the Export-Import Bank, which helps U.S. companies finance sales of products to foreign buyers. The bank has been used by aviation, space and satellite companies such as Boeing and SpaceX.
The House Appropriations Committee is marking up a FY 2017 spending bill today that would boost NASA’s spending by $215 million to $19.5 billion dollars. The amount is roughly $500 million more than the $19 billion requested by the Obama Administration.
Appropriators have zeroed out money for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), instead instructing the space agency to focus on lumar missions applicable to sending astronauts to Mars.
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) yesterday that limits United Launch Alliance (ULA) to purchasing nine Russian-made RD-180 engines for use in the first stage of the company’s Atlas V booster to launch national security payloads.
The move sets up a showdown with the House Armed Services Committee, which earlier put the number of engines ULA could purchase at 18. ULA and the U.S. Air Force support the higher number, saying the engines are needed to meet military launch needs.
The House Armed Services Committee approved a measure on Wednesday that would allow United Launch Alliance to purchase up to 18 Russian-made RD-180 engines to power the first stage of its Atlas V rocket.
The Export Import Bank remains hobbled as Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) refuses to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of J. Mark McWatters nomination to fill an open seat on the bank’s board.
Until the position is filled, the bank cannot provide financing for U.S. export deals worth more than $10 million. This has left Boeing, SpaceX, satellite manufacturers and other companies that have used the bank in the lurch.
The bank’s authorization lapsed last summer, causing it to temporarily shut down. Congress reauthorized it late last year, but McWatter’s nomination has remained in limbo since the president made it in January.
An angry Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) delivered a blistering speech on Wednesday blasting two of his colleagues and United Launch Alliance (ULA) over a provision in the omnibus spending bill that would lift restrictions on the use of Russian-built RD-180 engines to launch defense payloads.
“This is outrageous. And it is shameful,” McCain said in prepared remarks. “And it is the height of hypocrisy, especially for my colleagues who claim to care about the plight of Ukraine and the need to punish Russia for its aggression. How can our government tell European governments that they need to hold the line on maintaining sanctions on Russia, which is far harder for them to do than us, when we are gutting our own policy in this way? How can we tell our French allies, in particular, that they should not sell Vladimir Putin amphibious assault ships, as we have, and then turn around and try to buy rocket engines from Putin’s cronies? Again, this is the height of hypocrisy.”
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program must drive Richard Shelby absolutely crazy. It just has to. There’s no other way to explain the utterly nonsensical reasoning being used to justify the Senate Appropriation Committee’s decision to slash NASA’s budget request for the program by more than 27 percent.
The Obama Administration came to Congress requesting $1.244 billion for FY 2016 to keep Boeing and SpaceX on track to begin commercial human spaceflights to the International Space Station by 2017. Anything less, NASA insisted, would result in further delays and more reliance upon Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.
The House came through with $1 billion in its funding measure. When the proposal came up before Shelby’s Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee in the Senate, appropriators cut the amount even further to $900 million. That amount ended up in the measure approved by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.
UPDATE: Space News reports that partisan squabbling has postponed a showdown over the commercial crew requirements:
The Senate was poised to begin voting June 19 on a so-called minibus spending package that combined the House-passed 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill (H.R. 4660) with the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Agriculture spending bills. But a fight over how amendments would be handled prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to indefinitely postpone floor action on the $126 billion spending package.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is battling to remove strict federal accounting standards that could significantly raise the cost of NASA’s commercial crew program:
Nelson, the chairman of the Senate Commerce science and space subcommittee, said NASA’s commercial crew program to fly astronauts to and from the international space station aboard commercially designed spacecraft needs “the right mix of oversight and innovation” to start ferrying crews by NASA’s target date of late 2017.
The senior senator from Florida was alluding to a directive Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, personally fought to include in a report appended to a spending bill now awaiting debate on the Senate floor, and which would if signed into law require NASA to either comply with section 15.403-4 of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, or risk a legal mandate to do so….
NASA insists that waiving certain parts of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, which the agency may legally do in certain situations, is vital to getting a commercially designed system safely up and running.
After years of flat and declining budgets, it looks like NASA will get a funding boost this year from an unexpected source — Congress.
The FY 2015 budget measures coming out of the Senate and House actually boost the President’s proposed $17.46 billion spending plan by about $400 million. The Senate would spend an even $17.9 billion, while the House spending plan is just slight under that level at $17.896 billion.
Silicon Valley, CA (SFF PR) — The Space Frontier Foundation calls upon Americans to stop efforts by US Senator Richard Shelby (R, AL) to critically damage the emerging commercial spaceflight industry. The Senate FY 15 budget proposals calls for excessive and costly bureaucratic oversight that would not only increase costs for private launch companies exponentially, but delay the Commercial Crew Program by months, if not years.
“There is a reason the NASA COTS program worked so quickly and efficiently, and that reason was not due to paperwork and hard-nosed oversight,”said Foundation President James Pura. “Taxpayers could save billions of dollars by letting NASA fly lean, commercial U.S. rockets, and if that means loosening up traditional oversight practices, so be it. Lean, milestone-based payment systems are the way of the future, and let’s enable that process, instead of hindering it.”
There’s been some additional action in the fight over the future of NASA’s Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew programs. Florida Today and The Houston Chronicle ran stories reporting the Commercial Spaceflight Federation industry association’s view that Senator Shelby’s provision to impose cost-plus contract-type “certified cost and pricing data” on these programs could disrupt contracting and would increase overall costs.
“The language would effectively change an efficient and lean commercial program into a traditional government procurement with all of the associated overhead and cost,” said Alex Saltman, executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
“In addition, if this language were to become law before NASA awards the latest commercial crew contracts, NASA would likely have to restart the procurement with these new rules, pushing back the program up to a year and sending hundreds of millions of more taxpayer dollars to Russia for Soyuz rides,” Saltman added. “If the language were to go into effect after the awards, NASA could be tied up in contract renegotiations and challenges for months if not years.”
Michael Lopez-Alegria, president of the CSF and four-time NASA astronaut, added “It’s just bad policy. The whole idea behind the commercial crew program is to not do a lot of the stuff that we have traditionally done. It would be nice to be a little forward leaning, and to save taxpayer money.”
The papers also asked Senator Shelby about our contention that this Senate NASA Appropriation provision is intended (among other things) to protect the massively wasteful Space Launch System project. His reply: “That’s not true. We’re looking for transparency.”
With all due respect to the senior Senator from Alabama, we disagree.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a FY 2015 budget for NASA that totals $17.9 billion. The amount $439 million above the Obama Administration’s request and $254 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. The spending plan is also in line with the $17.896 billion approved by the House.
Details on the Senate spending measure are still a bit sparse, but the Commercial Crew Program would receive $805 million, which is less than the $848 million requested by the Obama Administration but more than the House’s allocation of $785 million.
Senators reportedly left in language inserted by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) that could drive up the cost of the Commercial Crew Program. See the Space Access Society alert for more details.
The Space Launch System would received $1.7 billion. The House has approved $1.6 billion for the heavy-lift rocket, while the Administration wants to spend $1.38 billion.
The International Space Station would received $3 billion, which is in line with what the House approved and the Administration proposed. Senators approved $5.2 billion for NASA’s Science program, a boost of more than $200 million over the Administration’s request.