Military / National Security News
Senate Republicans succeeded today in blocking Chuck Hagel's nomination to become Secretary of Defense (SecDef) from proceeding to a vote by the full Senate. Sixty votes were needed to clear a procedural hurdle and the vote was 58-40.
Four Republicans (Collins, Cochran, Murkowski and Johanns) voted with all 53 Democrats and two Independents to end debate and move forward with the vote. That was 59 votes, one shy of what was needed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote from yes to no when it was clear he could not win because that step allows him to bring the nomination up again at a later time. One Republican (Hatch) abstained and one (Vitter) was absent.
The nomination cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on Tuesday on a party-line vote following rancorous debate. Many Senate Republicans oppose Hagel, even though he was a Republican Senator himself, for a variety of reasons including his positions on Israel and Iran. They are creating one roadblock after another. A group of about two dozen Republicans were demanding additional financial disclosures. More recently some have been demanding more information from President Obama about what he was doing the day of the attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Hagel supporters point out that Hagel had nothing to do with the Benghazi situation. Nevertheless, the White House counsel sent a letter to three key Republican Senators (McCain, Graham and Ayotte) today explaining that the President did not speak with Libyan leaders that day. The letter did not mollify them, apparently, since they blocked Hagel's nomination in any case.
The Senate calendar says that the Senate is scheduled to be in session tomorrow, then will recess for the President's Day holiday for all of next week. The White House had wanted Hagel to be confirmed prior to NATO meetings next week, but Reid reportedly had said that another vote will wait until the Senate returns from recess.
Leon Panetta remains as SecDef, though he gave his retirement speech last week and left for home in California earlier today. He has made clear his desire to return to his walnut farm and relinquish his position.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its latest High Risk List today, adding mitigating gaps in weather satellite data to its biennial identification of areas of government operations that are most vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse or mismanagement or in need of broad-based transformation.
Weather satellite data gaps is one of two new areas this year. The other is limiting the federal government's fiscal exposure by better managing climate change risks.
Weather satellites and climate change are two of the 30 High Risk areas listed in the new report. The other 28 have been on the list for varying periods of time, including NASA Acquisition Management, which first appeared in 1990.
Mitigating gaps in weather satellite data was added this year because GAO is concerned that potential gaps could occur "as early as 2014 and lasting as long as 53 months." The potential gap in NOAA's weather satellite program in the 2016-2017 timeframe between existing satellites and the launch of the first Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) spacecraft has been studied and discussed at length, but the new GAO report also highlights its June 2012 finding that DOD might experience a gap of its own beginning in 2014. GAO worries that the two Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites awaiting launch may not perform as planned since they were built long ago (in the 1990s). "If the satellites do not perform as expected, a data gap in the early morning orbit could occur as early as 2014," GAO asserts.
As for climate change, GAO stresses that the federal government owns a lot of infrastructure, insures property from flood damage, and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters and needs a "government-wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks" associated with climate change.
The Space Data Association (SDA) reassured satellite operators and users yesterday that the close pass of asteroid 2012 DA14 tomorrow poses no threat to satellites.
The 150 foot (45 meter) diameter asteroid will pass by Earth at 17,150 miles (27,600 kilometers) altitude, between Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) where GPS and certain other navigation satellite constellations reside, and Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) where most communications satellites as well as other types of satellites are located.
SDA analyzed the orbits of all the satellites in MEO and GEO that are listed in the public space catalog and concluded the asteroid "will come no closer than 1,000 km to any space object, and will not threaten any operational objects nor will it create debris in any orbit." SDA added that satellite operators worry only about "uncoordinated flybys of less than 10 km."
NASA has been reassuring everyone that the asteroid poses no threat to Earth itself, either. The asteroid's closest approach to Earth will occur at 2:25 pm Eastern Standard Time (EST) tomorrow, February 15. Since it will be daylight in the United States, it cannot be viewed from here, although NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will provide commentary with real-time animation on NASA TV from 2:00-2:30 pm EST.
NASA has slightly refined its estimates of the altitude and time at closest approach. Earlier it reported the time as 2:24 pm instead of 2:25 pm EST, and the altitude as 17,200 miles instead of 17,150 miles.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) will continue to chair the Science and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in the current Congress. Newly-elected Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) will be the top Republican ("Ranking Member") on the subcommittee, replacing John Boozman (R-AK) who was Ranking Member last Congress. What type of working relationship Nelson and Cruz will have is uncertain following a heated exchange between the two yesterday during markup of Chuck Hagel's nomination to be Secretary of Defense.
The Senate Commerce Committee held its organizational meeting today, announcing the Chairs and Ranking Members for each of its seven subcommittees. It is an authorization committee that sets policy. Although it may recommend funding levels for agencies like NASA, only the appropriations committee actually has funds to spend. The members of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA were announced yesterday.
Cruz's appointment as Ranking Member of the Science and Space Subcommittee will keep Texas in a strong position to affect Senate policy on NASA, though a freshman Senator cannot hope to have the same level of influence as his predecessor, Kay Bailey Hutchison. Hutchison retired at the end of the 112th Congress. She was the Ranking Member of the full Senate Commerce Committee as well as the Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee, putting her in a uniquely powerful position on NASA issues. Nelson and Hutchison worked closely together, jointly writing the 2010 NASA Authorization Act and keeping a watchful eye on how the White House and NASA funded the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft mandated by that Act.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Initial indications are that Nelson and Cruz may not forge such a close relationship. Both also are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and openly clashed at yesterday's markup of Hagel's nomination. Cruz strongly cricitized Hagel for not providing details of his finances for the past five years and implied Hagel may have been paid by extremist groups. "We do not know, for example, if he received compensation for giving paid speeches at extreme or radical groups," he said as part of extensive remarks opposing the nomination.
Nelson was among a number of Democratic Senators angered by Cruz's statements. Nelson said: "Mr. Chairman, Senator Cruz has stated his opinion, which he is entitled to. But I want to put on the record that this Senator feels that Senator Cruz has gone over the line. He basically has impugned the patriotism of the nominee ... [saying] in essence, [he was] being cozy with Iran." Nelson went on to rebuke Cruz for also suggesting that Hagel was not "truthful with this committee. ... There's a certain degree of comity and civilty that this committee has always been known for. And clearly, .... to question, in essence, whether somebody is a fellow traveler with another country, I think is taking it too far."
About two dozen Senate Republicans had asked for Hagel to provide additional financial information, but former SASC Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ) disagreed with his colleagues, concluding that Hagel already had met the committee's "rigorous requirements." McCain continues to be a member of SASC and a highly respected voice on national security issues. He had to step down as Ranking Member because of Senate Republican term limit rules. McCain also opposes Hagel's nomination and SASC approved the nomination on a party-line vote yesterday. A vote by the full Senate could occur tomorrow.
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will retain chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee in addition to her new duties as chair of the full appropriations committee. Similarly, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), will pull double duty as the Ranking Member (top Republican) on the full committee and the CJS subcommittee.
Holding the top position on the full committee as well as on a subcommittee is not uncommon on this committee.
CJS is one of the two appropriations subcommittees with jurisdiction over a significant portion of federal funding for space activities. The Defense Subcommittee is the other.
Among the agencies funded through CJS are NASA and NOAA. Mikulski has chaired that subcommittee for several years and Shelby was Ranking Member in the 111th Congress. During the 112th Congress, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) was the Ranking Member. She retired at the end of that Congress.
The Defense Subcommittee, which funds space programs in the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, will be chaired Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and the Ranking Member is Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). Durbin replaces Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who died in December. Cochran retains his position as Ranking Member. Inouye and Cochran were Chair and Ranking Member of the full committee in the last Congress.
The full subcommittee assignment list is on the committee's website. The assignments for CJS and Defense are as follows.
Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Subcommittee
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) cleared the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense today by a party-line vote of 14-11.
The next step is for the nomination to be taken up by the full Senate. A vote is planned for Thursday. Ordinarily, a simple majority is all that is needed and since there are 53 Democrats and two Independents who usually vote with the Democrats, passage would not be a problem. However, SASC Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) is demanding that the nomination get 60 votes to pass or he will mount a filibuster against it. Time will tell what tactics the Senate Republicans will use to delay or defeat the nomination.
Hagel is a Republican and a former Senator. Most of his Republican colleagues oppose him for a variety of reasons including his positions on Israel and Iran. Only two Republican Senators have said they will vote for him (Cochran and Johanns) athough others, like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), an influential voice on defense matters, oppose the idea of a filibuster on a Cabinet-level nomination.
President Obama's nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense (SecDef) will come to a vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) tomorrow, February 12. SASC will take up the nomination at 2:30 pm ET.
His nomination is quite controversial and SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) postponed a vote planned for last week after Republicans insisted that Hagel provide more information. The White House, however, is anxious to get a new SecDef in place before scheduled NATO meetings in Brussels next week.
Senate Democrats hope to get the nomination cleared by SASC tomorrow and through the Senate on Thursday. The committee vote is expected to be party-line and since there are 14 Democrats and 12 Republicans, it should pass.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had to step down from his position as top Republican (Ranking Member) on the committee because of Senate Republican term limit rules, but he continues to be a member of the committee and his voice still carries significant weight. In response to insistence by some of his Republican colleagues that Hagel provide more information about his finances, McCain said in a statement today that Hagel has "fulfilled the rigorous requirements that the Committee demands of every Presidential nominee to be Secretary of Defense." Some Republicans have threatened to walk out of the vote. McCain made clear that he would not participate in any walkout that "would be disrespectful to Chairman Levin and at odds with the best traditions of the Senate Armed Services Committee."
McCain's statement today reiterated his strong reservations against Hagel's nomination, but he also opposes those in his party who have threatened to filibuster the nomination on the Senate floor. That group includes McCain's successor as SASC Ranking Member, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who said on Fox News this weekend that he wants to require Hagel to get at least 60 votes and if that means a filibuster, he will mount one. McCain and others insist there has never been, and should not be, a filibuster on a Cabinet nomination, that it should be an up-or-down vote instead.
Hagel, a Republican, is opposed by many of those in his own party for a variety of reasons, including his positions on Israel and Iran. So far, all Senate Democrats apparently are prepared to vote for him if for no other reason than he is the President's choice. If the vote is decided by a simple majority, he will be confirmed since there are 53 Democrats. There also are 2 independents who usually vote with the Democrats. Only two Republicans (Cochran and Johanns) have indicated so far that they will vote for him, so if Republicans are successful in forcing a 60-vote margin, it will be close.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that one reason for wanting the Hagel nomination resolved quickly was because of a desire to have him in office before the NATO meetings next week, which is correct, but the article also said it was because Leon Panetta's last day in office was last Friday. Mr. Panetta gave his retirement speech on Friday, but has not yet left office.
At a press conference today, the President of the Association of American Universities, Hunter Rawlings, called the sequester "stupid" and "shortsighted." The press conference brought the aerospace and defense industry together with groups representing health funding and research universities to raise more warning flags about the across-the-board federal spending cuts known as the sequester, which will go into effect 18 days from now unless Congress acts to postpone or replace it.
As we reported yesterday, this could be called "sequestration week" in Washington with just about everyone's attention focused on what will happen if those dire federal spending cuts go into effect on March 1 as dictated under existing law. Congress will be in recess next week, and will return with only four days left before that deadline, making this week prime time for affected groups to make their case.
Congress postponed the sequester from January 2 to March 1 as part of the year-end fiscal cliff debate. It can be postponed indefinitely if all parties agree. It was included in the 2011 Budget Control Act as a "poison pill" whose impact would be so catastrophic that politicians would be forced to find another way to reduce the deficit rather than let it happen. That strategy has failed so far.
The White House issued a fact sheet on Friday that clarifies the percentages by which discretionary budgets will have to be reduced as part of the effort to rein in the deficit. The federal budget is divided into discretionary and mandatory spending. Mandatory spending means money for entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid etc) and paying interest on the national debt, for example. Discretionary spending is everything else, broken down into two categories -- defense and non-defense. "Defense" is actually more broadly defined as "security" spending and includes not only the Department of Defense, but nuclear weapons activities of the Department of Energy, the Intelligence Community, homeland security and similar programs. Non-defense includes NASA, NOAA, and most other government agencies with which the public is familiar.
Earlier guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was that defense accounts would be cut 9.4 percent and non-defense accounts by 8.2 percent. OMB's most recent calculations are that defense cuts will be about 8 percent and non-defense about 5 percent. However, for the current fiscal year, FY2013, it will be an effective cut of 13 percent for defense and 9 percent for non-defense since the fiscal year already is underway and cuts must be absorbed in 7 months instead of 12. A total of $85 billion would be cut from FY2013 discretionary spending. The cuts are "across-the-board" meaning that each budget account is cut by the same percentage. Agencies do not have the opportunity to prioritize which programs are more important than others.
The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) has been leading a relentless campaign to inform the public and policymakers about the dire consequences of such cuts on aerospace and defense companies. While AIA talks about cuts to both defense and non-defense spending, the focus of concern by that group and others, and many House Republicans, to date has been the potential cuts to defense. Considerably less attention has been paid to NASA, NOAA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the multitude of other non-defense discretionary agencies.
This morning, however, AIA teamed with groups that are working together through NDD United (Non-Defense Discretionary United) at a press conference to underscore the effects not only of sequestration, but of the likelihood of a year-long Continuing Resolution (CR), on all discretionary spending.
The government is currently funded under a CR that will expire on March 27. It holds agencies to their FY2012 funding levels and today's betting is that instead of dealing with the FY2013 budget request President Obama submitted to Congress a year ago, Congress will simply extend the CR for the rest of FY2013. That will render moot the President's FY2013 request to reprioritize some programs and initiate new ones, as well as holding spending to the FY2012 levels. (Meanwhile, some in Congress are criticizing the President for being late with his FY2014 budget request, which should have been submitted on February 4. Since Congress has yet to act on the FY2013 budget request, it is a curious complaint. The White House is having understandable difficulty determining what to request not knowing the fate of the FY2013 request or the sequester and has not told Congress when the FY2014 request will be sent forward. Defense News reports today that the Department of Defense has a tentative date of March 25 for sending its request to Congress.)
AIA President and CEO Marion Blakey stressed that federal budget cuts already have resulted in layoffs at many of AIA's defense and aerospace companies. The 10-year defense budget was cut $487 billion by the 2011 Budget Control Act, she reminded everyone, causing "immediate and serious drags on the economy" that are part of the reason for the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) falling into negative territory for the first time in four years. If sequestration goes into effect on top of those cuts, the impact on the nation's economy will be serious. "There is remarkable unanimity that sequestration is terrible policy. It will result in a hollow force for our military and force our economy back into recession," she argued.
Hunter Rawlings, President of the Association of American Universities (AAU), was much more blunt saying the sequester "is stupid, it is shortsighted, and should not happen." AAU represents 60 leading U.S. research universities. Peter McPherson, President of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) -- a group of 200 public research universities -- said sequestration is a "reckless and blunt tool" that would mean $10 billion less in government support for research and development (R&D) in FY2013 alone, and $90 billion through FY2021. Noting that other countries, like China, are increasing not decreasing R&D spending, he called sequestration "penny wise and pound foolish" and a threat to American innovation.
The group as a whole agreed that the deficit needs to be reduced, but did not offer a solution. Instead, their message is that discretionary spending should not have to foot the bill by itself. Cuts to all federal spending, discretionary and mandatory, as well as revenue increases, must be considered, they agreed. AIA Chairman and Northrop Grumman CEO and President Wes Bush said that the aerospace and defense industry has "long called for a balanced approach. ... We know you can't just pull one lever. You have to reach and pull all the levers available to our nation to deal with this. Unfortunately, what we've seen today is primarily ... a pulling of the lever on discretionary budgets [but] ... everything has to be on the table to make sure we make good decisions about the future of our country."
AIA and NDD United each sent letters to Congress today signed by their member organizations. The letters and other information are posted on the Second To None website.
Meanwhile, Air Force Space Command (AFSC) Commander Gen. William Shelton spelled out the effects the sequester would have on Air Force space programs. As reported in today's SatNews, a memo from AFSC to the Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget listed the following actions that would be forced by the sequester:
Four congressional hearings are planned this week to look at various aspects of the impact of the sequester and/or a full-year CR. See our "Space Policy Events of Interest: February 11-15, 2013" article for details.
The following space policy-related events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate both are in session this week.
During the Week
The sequester, due to go in to effect just 19 days from today (Sunday), will dominate Washington politics this week. The sequester already is law. Unless Congress changes the law before midnight February 28, it will go into effect, cutting $85 billion in federal spending in FY2013 alone. The amount is split roughly equally between defense and non-defense spending. Defense budget accounts would be reduced by 9.4 percent, while non-defense accounts (such as NASA and NOAA) by 8.2 percent. The cuts would have to be absorbed by September 30, the end of FY2013.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans on both sides of Capitol Hill, President Obama and his Cabinet secretaries, and trade groups ranging from the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) to the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities are raising the warning flags about the dire consequences of such large cuts occurring in such a short period of time, but Democrats and Republicans seem no closer to finding a solution.
AIA and several other organizations will hold a joint press conference on Monday morning at the National Press Club. On Tuesday, President Obama is expected to address the issue in his State of the Union address. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing broadly on the impacts of sequestration and the House Education and Workforce Committee will hold one on employers' responsibilities under the WARN Act to notify employees of potential layoffs. The Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee will hold hearings specifically on the impact of the sequester -- and of a full year Continuing Resolution (CR) for FY2013, a likely possibility -- on DOD on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
The House and Senate both will be in recess next week. When they return, only four days remain to take action to postpone the sequester again or abolish it in favor of some other plan to rein in the deficit.
Those and other space policy-related events are listed below.
Monday, February 11
Tuesday, February 12
Tuesday-Wednesday, February 12-13
Wednesday, February 13
Thursday, February 14
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published a set of slides it used to brief Members of Congress on how the Air Force is implementing its New Entrant Certification Guide for launch service providers.
The GAO review was required by the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act. Congress has been strongly encouraging the Air Force to enable new launch service providers ("new entrants") like SpaceX to compete for launches of national security payloads. Currently the United Launch Alliance (ULA) with its Atlas 5 and Delta IV rockets -- called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs) -- is the only company certified to conduct those launches for the Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
The Air Force issued a New Entrant Certification Guide and the GAO was tasked by Congress to review it to determine how the Air Force plans to implement it and what the new entrants think of it.
GAO noted that the Air Force, NASA, and NRO are each determining for themselves when certification has been achieved, meaning that duplication of efforts is a possibility. GAO also found that the Air Force has added prerequisites for certifying new entrants that are not in the guide "such as an approved implementation plan and a cooperative research and development agreement."
The new entrants are "generally satisfied" with the Air Force's implementation of the Guide so far, but "identified several challenges to certification, as well as perceived advantages afforded" to ULA. One challenge, for example, is having a sufficient number of launch opportunities to be certified. Another is that the new entrants must be able to launch 20,000 pounds to low Earth orbit from Air Force launch facilities rather than facilities they already use.
The GAO slides also provide a useful, concise summary of the evolution of the EELV program since it began in 1995. GAO says that the most recent independent cost estimate of that program through 2030 is "close to $70 billion."