The House Commerce, Justice, & Science Appropriations, or simply CJS, Subcommittee FY 2014 budget, which includes funding for NASA, was approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on July 17. Accompanying the budget is a report that details the budget and other Congressional mandates. I have always found the budget report to be the most interesting part of the budget process because it shows not only the actual spending, but the concerns and priorities of Congressional appropriators. The FY 2014 Report is no different. Here are my notes from the report.
House CJS FY 2014 Appropriations Report
(Note: Within the portion covering the Exploration budget, p. 64–65, is language expressing frustration with NASA’s apparent resistance to follow past appropriations language directing the development of a 130 mt capable SLS. The House report strongly directs NASA to continue to built towards a 130 mt capable SLS and directs the Agency to report on its progress.) The Committee remains committed to the development of the full 130 metric ton SLS capability, which is necessary for NASA to achieve its most challenging beyond Earth orbit (BEO) exploration goals. In order to achieve this capability, NASA has laid out a development plan to evolve from a 70 metric ton capability to 130 metric tons, and the Committee has supported this plan on the condition that NASA would not allow its near-term efforts to crowd out investments in upper stage development and the advanced booster system needed to complete the full evolution. Unfortunately, NASA continues to defer or descope activities needed to advance substantially beyond the initial SLS configuration with the interim cryogenic propulsion stage. As a result, the program would likely reach a plateau with the achievement of the 70 metric ton capability.
For this reason, the Committee continues to urge NASA to allocate additional funds to SLS elements like advanced booster risk reduction, J2–X engine development, and/or upper stage development, all of which are required for the program to progress beyond the initial configuration. In addition, the Committee directs that, to the maximum extent possible, NASA should ensure that all vehicle development funding leverages existing investments; promotes efficiency through commonality of design and simultaneous development; and minimizes the need for redesigns or other costly changes affecting future SLS vehicle configurations.
To give the Committee more insight into the level of effort being dedicated to each component of the SLS, NASA shall continue submitting quarterly reports on SLS spending by major program element, as first required in the statement accompanying Public Law 112–55. NASA is also directed to report to the Committee on potential uses of the 130 metric ton SLS configuration for purposes beyond NASA’s own human exploration program, including human spaceflight commercial partnerships and the support of robotic scientific missions. This report shall be provided no later than 120 days after the enactment of this Act.
(Note: Within the portion covering the Exploration budget, p. 65, is language noting that the funding levels will allow Orion to meet all milestone, based on NASA’s own numers.) The recommendation for MPCV is consistent with the Independent Cost Assessment for fiscal year 2014 and, according to NASA, will keep the program on track for all upcoming MPCV project milestones.
(Note: Within the portion covering the Exploration budget, p. 65, is language regarding changes to be made in the CCP program.) The overriding purpose of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) is to restore domestic access to the International Space Station (ISS) as quickly and safely as possible, and the Committee expects that NASA will manage CCP funds in a manner that is consistent with that goal. This will require pursuing all development and certification work beyond the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) base period through Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)–based contracts; making strategic decisions about the number of industry partners to retain in the certification phase; and finding ways to incentivize greater private investment by industry partners in order to reduce the government’s financial obligations for the program.
(Note: Within the portion covering the Space Operations budget, p. 65, is language regarding the extension of ISS operations beyond 2020.) The Administration continues to discuss, but has not yet reached a decision on, extending its commitment to the ISS beyond 2020. This decision has major programmatic and budgetary implications for the rest of the agency and should therefore be made as expeditiously as possible in order to reduce uncertainty and enable better long-term planning.
In order for extension to be a tenable policy, the ISS’s annual operating costs of nearly $3,000,000,000 must be reduced[emphasis added], but the Committee currently lacks the necessary insight into ISS operational expenses to identify major cost drivers and evaluate opportunities to achieve savings. NASA shall report to the Committee on its efforts to realize cost savings in ISS operations (including cargo and crew supply) over the budget runout period. The report, to be submitted no later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act, should describe possible cost reducing actions, the programmatic and budgetary impact of such actions, and any barriers to implementation.
Space Act Agreements
(Note: Within the portion covering the Cross Agency Support budget, p. 67, is language regarding the use of Space Act Agreements, or SAAs.) NASA conducts a substantial amount of business each year through the use of SAAs. Very little of that business, however, has received significant external oversight because SAAs are not subject to the same transparency requirements that govern traditional Federal contracts or grants. More information is needed by the Committee to assess whether NASA is consistently utilizing SAAs in an appropriate manner, including correctly justifying the selection of an SAA rather than a FAR-based contract, following clear conflict of interest policies and accurately valuing the agency’s contributions to unfunded SAAs to ensure a fair exchange of services.
The Committee understands that some of these issues will be covered in an upcoming audit by the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG). In order to put in place a more enduring oversight structure, however, the Committee directs NASA to establish a publicly available database of active SAAs to serve as an information source analogous to usaspending.gov, which covers grants and contracts. The database should include a description of the signatories, duration, purpose, and terms (funded, reimbursable, non-reimbursable) of each agreement and the dollar value associated with all funded agreements. This database should be online no later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act. NASA shall also report to the Committee on the feasibility of including in the database the estimated value of NASA’s contributions associated with unfunded agreements. This report shall be provided no later than 90 days after the enactment of this Act.