Senate Passes Bill That Puts the Heat on EELV

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate passed a defense authorization bill Dec. 1 that would subject the Pentagon’s primary satellite launching program, including plans to buy rockets in bulk starting next year, to much tougher scrutiny.

An amendment to the Defense Authorization Act for 2012 that was approved prior to the bill’s passage on the Senate floor directs the Air Force to spell out its compliance with a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that called the service’s rocket acquisition strategy into question. To the extent that the Air Force does not intend to comply with the recommendations in the report, it must specify its rationale in its 2013 budget request, to be submitted to Congress in February.

A similar amendment, which was added to the bill Nov. 18, would subject the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, under which the Air Force procures and operates its workhorse Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets, to much stricter reporting requirements. Specifically, the amendment would change EELV’s designation from a sustainment to an acquisition program.

Both EELV amendments were introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which drafted the bill. The bill is an updated version of the one the panel drafted in June and contains less funding than the original measure.

Vicki Stein, a spokeswoman for the Air Force, said the service could not immediately comment on the legislation.

House and Senate defense authorizers still must meet in conference to hash out a final version of the bill. The House version of the defense authorization bill does not contain measures similar to the McCain amendments.