WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 15 passed an omnibus spending bill for the remainder of fiscal year 2014 that would provide $696 million for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

But the allocation, which would be the largest annual budget for the program, is still considerably less than the $821 million sought by U.S. President Barack Obama and also comes with a string attached: $171 million of the funds would be held in reserve until NASA completes an independent cost-benefit analysis of the program. That would temporarily keep the program funded at about $525 million, the same level it got in 2013.

NASA would receive $17.6 billion in total under the plan, or about $100 million below the White House’s request and roughly $700 million more than the agency’s sequestered 2013 budget.

The House Appropriations Committee released the text of the proposed $1.1 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2014 (H.R. 3745) on its website late Jan. 13. Spending levels in the bill are the result of a December budget compromise that provided some relief from the sequestration of funds that hit budgets last year as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. Congress on Jan. 15 passed a three-day extension of the continuing resolution under which the federal government has been operating since October, giving the Senate until Jan. 18 to vote on the omnibus measure.

The omnibus spending bill would extend through 2016 the federal government’s launch indemnification program, which shields U.S. commercial launch providers from third-party damage claims that exceed $500 million. House Democrats had pushed for a one-year extension.

The bill’s proposed funding levels for NASA’s major spending accounts are:

  • Science: $5.2 billion, about $200 million more than the White House’s 2014 request, and $400 million more than the 2013 budget settled on back in August as part of the agency’s final operating plan for that year. Of the proposed 2014 appropriation, 658.2 million is for the James Webb Space Telescope, the agency’s biggest science project.
  • Exploration: $4.1 billion, about $100 million more than the request and roughly $400 million more than in 2013. About $1.9 billion of the proposed amount is for the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and its associated ground systems. The Orion Multi-Purpose crew vehicle, the rocket’s companion capsule, would get about $1.2 billion.
  • Space Operations: $3.8 billion, most of which is for the international space station. That is about $100 million less than the request, and roughly $100 more than in 2013.
  • Cross Agency Support: $2.8 billion to cover agency-wide operating expenses, or about $100 million less than both the request and the 2013 appropriation.
  • Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration: $515 million, some $94 million below the request and $132 million lower than in 2013 to cover upkeep and maintenance at NASA’s national network of field centers.
  • Education: $116.6 million, or about $22 million more than the White House requested as part of a 2014 budget proposal that sought to overhaul the federal government’s education and public outreach programs. The proposed appropriation is essentially flat compared with the 2013 operating plan.
  • Inspector General: $37.5 million for agency oversight, roughly even with the request, but about $2.5 million more than in 2013.

Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...