House Appropriators Approve Spending Bill For NASA

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WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill May 20 that provides $18.5 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2016, despite criticism from some members about reductions in the agency’s science and commercial crew programs.

The committee favorably reported out the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) bill on a voice vote after more than two and a half hours of debate. The $51.4 billion bill funds NASA and the National Science Foundation as well as the Departments of Commerce and Justice.

The bill provides $18.529 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2016, the same overall amount requested by the Obama administration for the agency. However, the bill shifts funding from Earth science, space technology, and commercial crew to planetary science and the Space Launch System.

Appropriators made no changes to the NASA sections of the bill during the markup. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) introduced an amendment to add $264 million to NASA’s Earth science program and $53 million to its heliophysics program. The Earth science increase would have restored funding to the level in the administration’s request.

“The current bill gives generous funding and support to planetary science, but seems to overlook the most important planet to study, our own,” Honda said.

Honda, however, withdrew the amendment before the committee could vote on it. The amendment did not attempt to offset the increases elsewhere in the bill, and committee leadership had warned that adopting amendments without offsets could cause the entire bill to be considered out of order when it went to the full House.

Honda and Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), ranking member of the appropriations subcommittee that developed the bill, offered to work with committee leadership to find other ways to increase science funding within NASA. “There needs to be some massaging of the accounts in NASA,” Fattah said.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), chairman of the CJS subcommittee, said he was willing to work with Honda and other members whose amendments to increase funding for the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration either were withdrawn or voted down by the committee.

“You know how passionate and devoted I am to science, space exploration, and weather forecasting,” Culberson said. “I’ll work with you as we move through the process to try and find every extra dollar that we can for science, for space, and for NOAA.”

Earlier in the markup, Fattah mentioned NASA’s commercial crew program, which received a cut of approximately 20 percent from the administration’s request of $1.24 billion. “One of the challenges of the cap is that we’re not able to do all that we wanted to do, or need to do,” he said of spending cap placed on the overall bill. “We’ve still not fully funded our commercial crew effort, and it will delay our ability as a nation to be able to transport our astronauts to and from the International Space Station.”

Fattah’s comments echoed criticism levied on the bill May 19 in separate statements from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan. Both criticized cuts in Earth science, commercial crew, and space technology in the bill.

“The Subcommittee bill cuts will delay the program and force continued reliance on and payment for Russian capabilities for transporting U.S. astronauts,” Donovan said in his letter to Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the full committee.

While Fattah was disappointed in cuts in commercial crew and Earth science, he was generally supportive of the overall funding level for NASA in the bill. “It’s the agency best treated, I think, given all of the circumstances,” he said.

The appropriations bill goes to the full House, which is expected to vote on the bill in June.