GREENBELT, MD. — U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), who pushed hard against a Republican-authored NASA authorization bill currently awaiting a floor vote, said July 23 that it will probably be up to the Senate to undo provisions in that bill which call for NASA to scale back science and technology activities and focus on human spaceflight.
On July 18, Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee overrode united Democrat opposition to pass a $16.9 billion NASA authorization bill (H.R. 2687) that would scale back science programs, Earth science in particular, and direct the agency to use the Moon as a steppingstone for manned missions to Mars.
“The Senate has a totally different approach for this, and I’m grateful for that,” Edwards said here July 23 after her speech at this month’s Maryland Space Business Roundtable lunch. The monthly gathering, held just down the road from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, regularly draws a roomful of NASA contractors and agency personnel.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved $18.1 billion for NASA for 2014 as part of a broader commerce, justice, science spending bill that now heads to the floor. The Senate Commerce science and space subcommittee, meanwhile, is preparing to markup a NASA authorization bill that largely mirrors the appropriations bill.
Edwards, the ranking Democrat on the House Science space subcommittee charged with writing NASA authorization bills, tried and failed to amend the majority’s bill during a July 18 markup. She said she might try again on the floor, “assuming the bill gets there.”
“I really don’t know yet,” Edwards told SpaceNews after her speech. “There hasn’t been a schedule yet, and I imagine that when that happens, we will plan for amendments. I hope they’ll have an open amendment process.”
The website for the House Rules Committee, which sets the parameters for floor debates in that chamber, had not weighed in on H.R. 2687 as of July 23.
During the July 18 markup of the bill, the NASA Authorization Act of 2013, Edwards introduced an amendment, which she ultimately withdrew, that would have called on NASA to create a Center Realignment and Closure Commission. The commission would have been given six months to evaluate options for reducing agency overhead, specifically by either “[c]onsolidating all rocket development and test activities of the Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center in one location” or closing Marshall and dividing its responsibilities between Mississippi-based Stennis and Houston-based Johnson Space Center.
Edwards acknowledged July 23 that such a proposal would probably not fly in the Senate, where lawmakers do not share House Republicans’ view that authorization bills must conform to the across-the-board sequestration cuts triggered by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Those cuts have already knocked NASA’s 2013 budget down to about $16.9 billion.
Edwards also maintained, emphatically, that she did not wish to see NASA centers closed. However, she added, if Republicans are determined to plan federal spending based on the sequester, “we need to get real about what that takes, and about what constraints all the agencies will be under.”
Although the House and Senate have moved NASA authorization and appropriations bills through their respective committees, neither chamber has scheduled a floor vote. And with the Sept. 30 end of the current fiscal year fast approaching, the House and Senate remain more than $1 billion apart on what NASA’s budget should be for 2014.
The two chambers’ fundamental disagreement about federal spending has led to speculation that the U.S. government will once again be funded with another stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, beginning Oct. 1.
Edwards said she had no insider knowledge of an impending continuing resolution for 2014. “That’s way above my pay grade,” she said.
Meanwhile, NASA is already planning for the possibility that sequestration will continue.
One NASA official said the agency, in internal summer budget deliberations concerning 2015 and beyond, is drawing up a plan to cope with another sequester of funds in 2014. The White House’s 2014 budget request, released in April, did not take sequestration into account.
If the administration and Congress have a grand bargain in the works that will spare NASA from these across-the-board cuts, “they haven’t told us,” this official said.