The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) does not plan to alter the way it submits its annual budget questions to Congress — a method that the House Appropriations Committee believes hampers oversight — unless the Senate formally expresses concern as well.

MDA officials said in a written response to questions that they plan to await the results of the usual conference committee formed to sort out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the 2006 Defense Appropriations Act before addressing its process for budget submissions.

The House passed its version of the 2006 Defense Appropriations Act June 20 by a margin of 398 to 19. The Senate Appropriations Committee expects to begin marking up its version of the legislation in July.

In a report accompanying its version of the legislation, the House Appropriations Committee directed MDA to provide greater detail with its budget submissions. The agency’s annual budget requests – $7.8 billion in 2006 – have been divided into only 12 lines, some of which total more than $400 million, the House committee noted.

“This level of funding in an individual program element obscures funding details and creates significant oversight issues,” the committee wrote.

MDA, like other Defense Department agencies, submits detailed justification materials to Congress following the submission of its annual budget request. However, MDA often turns the justification materials in much later than the other agencies, complicating the job of busy congressional staffers, said John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World, an arms control advoca cy group here.

An amendment to the bill that would have moved funding the agency requested for four missile interceptor silos and advance payment on 10 more in 2006 into nuclear nonproliferation work was withdrawn after a senior committee Democrat pledged to pursue nonproliferation funding through another avenue.

The amendment, offered by Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.), would have taken $84 million out of the budget request for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System being deployed in Alaska and California.

That money could be used on the U.S.-Russian Cooperative Threat Reduction program to help fund security upgrades to Russian nuclear facilities that store nuclear weapons and materials, Spratt said during floor debate.

However, Spratt withdrew the amendment during floor debate on the appropriations bill when Rep. John Murtha ( Penn.), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, pledged to seek additional funding for nonproliferation work when the House and Senate meet later this year to work out differences between their versions of the legislation.

Murtha said during floor debate that he believed more money should be spent on nonproliferation initiatives, and less on missile defense systems, and said that he had conveyed these views to U.S. President George W. Bush in the past.

“We have to worry about nonproliferation and terrorism and not as much about missile defense,” Murtha said.

Murtha did not specify whether he would seek money for nonproliferation outside of missile defense when the conference begins. Cindy Abram, a spokeswoman for Murtha, said that staffers were not available at press time to provide clarity on that point.

Floor debate on the appropriations bill also featured an amendment seeking to ban the deployment of ground- and space-based anti-satellite weapons as well as research and development on those systems. The amendment, offered by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), also called on Bush to negotiate an international treaty banning such weapons.

Kucinich, a former presidential candidate who has offered similar legislation in the past, expressed concern during floor debate that recent rhetoric from senior Air Force officers indicates that the service hopes to move aggressively towards fielding anti-satellite weapons.

“Our largest possible adversaries, China and Russia, have agreed [to] a global ban on space weapons,” Kucinich said. “Yet moving forward with plans to weaponize space would most certainly create an arms race in space, and it would certainly be counterproductive to the national security of the United States to give potential adversaries reason to accelerate development of space weapons technology.”

However, Kucinich’s amendment was ruled out of order after Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, objected to it on the grounds that an appropriations bill cannot change current law.

Doug Gordon, a spokesman for Kucinich, said that the congressman was aware that the amendment could not be included with the bill, but chose to offer it on the floor as a way to draw attention to the issue. Kucinich plans to work on building more support for the legislation amongst his colleagues, Gordon said.

Theresa Hitchens, vice president of the Center for Defense Information, a think tank here, commended Kucinich for raising the issue on the floor. But sufficient debate has not taken place yet on Capitol Hill to bring the issue to the attention of enough members to pass the legislation, said Hitchens, a vocal advocate against space weapons.

Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, has promised during hearings earlier this year to begin briefings and hearings on the topic this year, which may help to raise its profile on Capitol Hill, she said.