WASHINGTON — Believe it or not, the U.S. House and Senate are expected to pass an actual defense spending bill for the remainder of fiscal year 2014, which means the two chambers will have to come to terms on specific budget numbers for military activities, including space.
For certain programs, including the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) system for secure communications and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, the House and Senate are tens of millions of dollars apart. For others, such as the Space Based Infrared System for missile warning and Wideband Global Satcom communications system, the two sides are virtually in agreement.
The program for which the most appears to be at stake is the Family of Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals, which is designed to allow the president to connect with national command authorities during a nuclear war via the AEHF satellites. Should the Senate’s funding recommendation for that project prevail, the Air Force will have to dramatically curtail its planned terminal purchases, at least in the early phase of production.
Currently all Defense Department programs are funded at 2013 post-sequestration levels under a continuing resolution that expires Jan. 15. But in passing that measure Oct. 16, reopening the federal government after a 16-day shutdown, Congress effectively restarted a process that is expected ultimately to yield a full-year defense spending bill for 2014.
Congressional staffers say they expect a defense authorization bill, which sets policy and overall funding ceilings for programs, to pass before the end of the year. An appropriations bill, which specifies funding for programs, is expected to follow early in the next calendar year.
“In the months ahead, Congress will have an opportunity to remove this shadow of uncertainty as they work to craft a balanced, long-term spending bill,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Oct. 17 at a briefing.
Before becoming consumed by the budget and policy battle that led to the federal shutdown, both the House and Senate managed to draft defense appropriations bills for fiscal year 2014, which began Oct. 1. The House has passed its version of the bill; the Senate version has cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee but has yet to come up for a floor vote.
Once the Senate legislation passes, conferees from both chambers will meet to hash out the differences in their respective bills, resulting in a final 2014 budget for the Pentagon.
The chart at the right shows some of the key military space programs and where they currently stand in the 2014 budget process. These figures do not include sequestration.