Stopgap spending bill includes NASA hurricane repair funds
WASHINGTON — A bill introduced late Dec. 6 to fund the federal government through April 2017 includes nearly $75 million for NASA to cover repairs caused by Hurricane Matthew in October.
The continuing resolution (CR), set to pass Congress this week to keep the federal government in operation through April 28, includes $4.1 billion in overall disaster relief, including $74.7 million for NASA for repairs at agency facilities damaged by Hurricane Matthew.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida suffered some damage when the powerful hurricane passed just off the coast Oct. 7. Damage was less than initially feared, though, as the storm did not make landfall, sparing the Vehicle Assembly Building and major launch facilities.
The hurricane did cause damage to roofs and water intrusion at some buildings. The center did not release a specific estimate of the dollar value of the damage, but center leaders said in the days after the storm it was in the millions of dollars.
The CR also includes a provision to give NASA flexibility on spending on key exploration system programs. The bill states that NASA may spend “up to the rate for operations necessary to maintain the planned launch capability schedules” for the Space Launch System, Orion and associated ground systems. Such resolutions normally restrict agencies to spend at the same rate as the previous fiscal year.
Those programs, though, received significantly more in fiscal year 2016 than what NASA requested in 2017. Spending bills in the House and Senate would have funded SLS, Orion and ground systems at the same or only slightly higher levels in 2017 as in 2016, although well above the administration’s request.
The bill also includes similar spending flexibility for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for work on the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program. The launch of the first JPSS is currently scheduled for early 2017.
An unrelated provision in the bill could ease concerns about the passage in the Senate of other space-related bills. The CR includes $45 million to provided continued heathcare benefits for retired coal miners. On Dec. 5, four senators said they would block any bills in the Senate seeking passage via unanimous consent unless the Senate took action on that issue.
The use of unanimous consent, a mechanism for the expedited passage of non-controversial bills in the Senate, is widely seen as essential to the passage of a NASA authorization bill the Senate Commerce Committee approved in September and which House and Senate negotiators had been modifying. It would also be needed for other legislation, including an Apollo 11 50th anniversary commemorative coin bill the House passed on a voice vote Dec. 5.
The full House is expected to take up the CR on Dec. 8, followed by the Senate on Dec. 9. The CR that currently funds the government expires at midnight Dec. 9.