House appropriators take a pass on NASA budget amendment
WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee released a spending bill May 16 that adds more than $1 billion to NASA’s original request but offers little in the way of additional funding for exploration priorities included in the agency’s recent budget amendment.
The commerce, justice and science (CJS) appropriation bill, released a day before a markup session by the CJS appropriations subcommittee, provides NASA with $22.32 billion for fiscal year 2020. That is nearly $1.3 billion above NASA’s original request and $820 million more than what NASA received for fiscal year 2019.
The bill, though, largely ignores a budget amendment submitted by the White House May 13. That sought $1.6 billion in additional NASA funding for 2020, primarily to start work on lunar landers and accelerate development of the Space Launch System and Orion.
Instead, NASA’s exploration account would receive $5.13 billion, an increase of a little more than $100 million from its original 2020 request. Larger increases for Orion ($159 million), SLS ($375 million) and ground systems ($193 million) are offset by a cut of $618 million to exploration research and development, which funds development of the lunar Gateway and lunar landers.
By contrast, NASA’s science programs would get an increase of more than $850 million to $7.16 billion. The bill does not include funding levels for the various science divisions, but much of that increase is likely to go to Earth sciences programs, which the budget proposal sought to cut by $151 million, or nearly eight percent.
Other parts of the NASA budget increased by the House bill include space technology, which receives an increase of $277 million to $1.29 billion. NASA’s education programs formally known as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Engagement, receives $123 million, whereas the budget request sought, once again, to zero out the program.
A statement from House appropriators made little mention of NASA funding. “We include robust funding to address climate change and support scientific research,” said Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), chairman of the CJS appropriations subcommittee. Besides NASA, the bill increases funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Science Foundation.
Other House members, though, have expressed reservations about the NASA budget amendment. In a joint statement May 15, Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), chairs of the full House Science Committee and its space subcommittee respectively, said a lack of details kept them from endorsing the proposed increase.
“I am going to reserve judgment on the overall moon landing plan until Congress is provided with more concrete information on the proposed lunar initiative,” Johnson said in that statement. That more concrete information she sought included the total cost of the new initiative to land humans on the moon in 2024 and technical details of the plan.
They also criticized the move by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to offset the additional NASA funding requested by taking it from the Pell Grant program. “We also need to ensure that NASA’s exploration program isn’t funded at the expense of Pell Grants because getting Americans back to the moon and on to Mars is going to take more scientists and engineers, not fewer,” said Horn.
Industry organizations, by contrast, have been more supportive of the budget amendment. Organizations like the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation said they supported the proposed increase in spending to achieve a human lunar landing in 2024, while calling on the White House and Congress to work together to develop an overall budget and plan.
The Aerospace Industries Association also supported the proposal, but criticized offsetting NASA spending with Pell Grant reductions and said more money will be needed in the future. “Providing $1.6 billion in additional NASA funding in fiscal year 2020 is an important step forward,” said Eric Fanning, president and chief executive of the organization, in a May 16 statement, “but it will take substantial and sustained increases in funding over the next five years.”