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Senate Busy, But FY2011 Funding Still Up in the Air, DOD Auth May Be Debated

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The Senate has been busy today, though settling what will happen with FY2011 funding was not among its achievements. It did, however, defeat the DREAM Act, and pass a bill repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) law regarding gays in the military. Neither is related to space activities, but both have been much discussed in the media.

The DREAM Act would have granted legal residency to illegal immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16. The House passed the legislation, but it failed a cloture vote in the Senate today, ending its chances in the 111th Congress.

The House already passed the DADT repeal, so the Senate action sends the bill to the President. One of the President's campaign pledges was to repeal the law, which prohibits homosexuals from serving openly in the military.

Dealing with FY2011 funding for the federal government is on the Senate's agenda for "Sunday and the week ahead." The current CR expires on Tuesday.

The Senate also may debate a revised version of the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act. The House passed it yesterday. The bill, H.R. 6523, authorizes $725 billion for FY2011 for national defense. To win passage, the revised version omits the most controversial topics, including DADT (which moved through as a separate bill) and a specific authorization for a second engine for the F-35, according to the National Journal (subscription required). The House Armed Services Committee's (HASC's) website has links to a summary of the bill and the text itself. The official title of the bill is the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for FY2011, in honor of HASC chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) who lost his bid for reelection. Sections 911-917 of H.R. 6523 specifically relate to national security space programs as follows:

Sec. 911. Integrated space architectures.
Sec. 912. Limitation on use of funds for costs of terminating contracts under the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Program.
Sec. 913. Limitation on use of funds for purchasing Global Positioning System user equipment.
Sec. 914. Plan for integration of space-based nuclear detection sensors.
Sec. 915. Preservation of the solid rocket motor industrial base.
Sec. 916. Implementation plan to sustain solid rocket motor industrial base.
Sec. 917. Review and plan on sustainment of liquid rocket propulsion systems industrial base.

NASA Working on New Strategic Plan

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA is working on an updated strategic plan. The outlines are provided in a draft document distributed by NASA that identifies the agency's vision as follows: "NASA leads scientific and technological advances in aeronautics and space for a Nation on the frontier of discovery."

The document states that NASA's "values" are safety, integrity, teamwork and excellence. Six goals are listed:

  • Extend and sustain human activities across the solar system
  • Expand scientific understanding of the Earth and the universe in which we live
  • Create the innovative new space technologies for our exploration, science, and economic future
  • Advance aeronautics research for societal benefit
  • Enable program and institutional capabilities to conduct NASA's aeronautics and space activities
  • Share NASA with the public, educators, and students to provide opportunities to participate in our mission, foster innovation and contribute to a strong National economy

An accompanying memo from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden explains that the agency will formally submit the new strategic plan along with its FY2012 budget request. The text of his message is as follows:

"Every year in February, the President submits his budget request for the federal government to Congress. This year, along with the President's budget request for NASA, we will be submitting our new NASA Strategic Plan, which guides the work we will perform.

"The NASA Strategic Plan outlines our long-term goals as an agency and describes how we will accomplish those goals through the outcomes that support each goal over the next decade or more.

"Our Strategic Plan team has been hard at work and we now have a solid new mission statement, vision, and strategic goals and outcomes, all of which will form the basis for the new Strategic Plan. I shared these with you back in October, but wanted to take this opportunity to talk about them in more detail.

"Our goals are just that - our goals. And they are cross cutting, with multiple Centers, Mission Directorates and Mission Support Offices contributing to the success of each. We are all responsible for ensuring that these agency goals are met. I expect you to focus on the new mission, vision, and goals starting now and going forward. Our mission, vision, and goals are who we are as an agency and should encompass all we do.

"Below is an outline of our vision, mission, goals and outcomes. The full plan will include narratives for why we pursue each strategic goal, our strategies for achieving the goals, our performance targets, and the challenges we face achieving our goals.
"This is an exciting time for NASA and we have a solid way forward. Working together, we will continue to make NASA's future better and brighter as we contribute to the welfare of our Nation.

"Thank you for all that you do, Charlie B."

Government Funded Through Tuesday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The Senate adopted the House-passed 3-day Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating through Tuesday according to C-SPAN.

Senator Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is currently on the Senate floor explaining why he believes passing the CR was a bad deal for the country and the Senate should have passed the omnibus that came out of his committee instead.

The President still must sign the 3-day CR into law, but is expected to do so.

Soyuz TMA-20 Docks with Space Station

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Russia's Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft docked with the International Space Station (ISS) as scheduled this afternoon, delivering three new ISS crew members. The new crew members again illustrate the international nature of the program, with one from Russia, one from the United States, and one from Italy.

The three join two Russians and an American who have been aboard for several months. NASA hasn't issued a press release about the docking yet or posted a story on the ISS website, but one can read all the news at the European Space Agency's (ESA's) website. Or follow NASA tweets. The docking was at 3:12 pm EST (20:12 GMT).

Omnibus Appears Dead; Dueling CRs Take Center Stage

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Senate attempts to pass an omnibus appropriations bill failed Thursday according to The Hill newspaper and attention now will turn to passing a short term Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government till Febuary. This contrasts with the House-passed CR that would fund the federal government through the end of FY2011.

A number of Republican Senators who had indicated they would support the omnibus package changed their minds under pressure from Republican colleagues according to the newspaper. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell later introduced a CR to fund the governnmet through February 2011, but that conflicts with the House version that lasts through September 2011. House Democrats did not want a short term CR because Republicans will be in control of that chamber beginning in January and thus would have more power to shape FY2011 spending. The Senate omnibus ran into trouble because it contains more than $2 billion in earmarks.

Thus, in these last two days before the current CR expires, it remains unclear who will come out on top.

CR-mania on Capitol Hill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

This afternoon the House passed yet another Continuing Resolution (CR). The new House bill (H. J. Res. 105) would fund the government at FY2010 levels through the middle of next week in case the Senate does not complete work on a funding bill by midnight tomorrow.

Not many days ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) hoped to adjourn the Senate today with the tax package and FY2011 funding completed. The tax package did get through both the Senate and the House and was signed into law today by President Obama.

FY2011 funding, on the the other hand, remains up in the air. The current CR expires at midnight tomorrow, Saturday, December 18. Congress must pass something before that or the govenrment will shut down. The House passed a year-long CR last week, but the Senate has not passed anything. Senate Democrats had hoped to pass an omnibus package containing all the 12 regular appropriations bills, but it included more than $2 billion in earmarks, leading some Senate Republicans to change their minds about voting in favor of it in these anti-earmark times. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) then introduced a 3-month long CR, but congressional Democrats and the President do not want to start the new year with a budget fight so want the year-long CR already passed by the House. So there are three CRs in play: the year-long version passed by the House last week, the 3-month version introduced by Senator McConnell, and the 3-day version passed today by the House.

It's anyone's guess as to when this will be resolved. If members of Congress want to get home before Christmas Eve, they will find a compromise tomorrow. If not, Congress could remain in session until Santa is packing his sleigh -- and theoretically could come back between Christmas and New Year's.

The House will adjourn tonight and return, if necessary, on Tuesday. Any bill must pass both chambers and the House has not considered Senator McConnell's version yet, so the Senate must pass one tomorrow that already has cleared the House if they want the government to continue operating.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that the new House-passed CR was for 5 days, but it is for 3 days, through Tuesday.

GAO Compliments Progress on Export Controls, Identifies Continuing Challenges

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The Government Accountability Office's (GAO's) latest report on the U.S. export control system congratulates agencies for changes already made in reducing the time needed to process licenses and coordinating across multiple agencies, but cautions that challenges remain.

The report makes no new recommendations, but assesses how agencies responded to previous GAO advice. Among the remaining challenges it identifies are developing metrics for determining the effectiveness of the arms export control system, reaching interagency agreement on which items need to be controlled, and obtaining congressional approval for implementing reforms.

One particularly interesting statistic GAO cites is that in September 2010, the State Department had an average processing time of 15 calendar days for export control licenses, down from 43 days in 2006. Also, the number of pending cases is down to 10,000 from 3,500 even though the number of applications has grown by 20 percent annually.

Congressional Endgame Still Unclear

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

In a headline this morning, the National Journal (subscription required) cries "Omnibus Rhetoric Hints at Government Shutdown."

While Democrats in the House apparently have resigned themselves to passage of President Obama's tax deal with Senate Republicans, the endgame for the FY2011 appropriations process remains murky. The House passed a year-long Continuing Resolution (CR) last week to replace the current CR, which expires Saturday at midnight, but Senate Democrats want to pass an omnibus appropriations bill that contains all 12 of the regular appropriations bills instead. The Senate omnibus bill totals $1.108 billion compared with $1.089 in the House CR. The dollar difference is not nearly as controversial as the fact that the Senate bill contains $2.2 billion in earmarks while the House bill has none.

Earmarks have become a symbol of wasteful government spending and all that is wrong in Washington. Republicans in the House and Senate have vowed to force an end to the practice, where members of Congress designate funding for special projects in their home states or districts. But some want that ban to start next year, not this year There's the rub. Republican Senators are among those who have millions of dollars in earmarks in the Senate omnibus bill. Politico reports that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) got $112 million in earmarks, for example. According to Politico, the Senator with the biggest earmark total is Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, with $560 million. Top Democrats also fared well according to Politico. For example, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, has $421 million in earmarks and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has $252 million.

What does all that mean? Setting aside who got how much for their home states, the key point is whether objections by some in the Senate and many in the House will derail the omnibus bill, or delay its passage beyond the expiration of the current CR. The National Journal reports that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is considering whether to force the entire 1,900 page bill to be read aloud during Senate consideration of the legislation. That would take an estimated 50 hours, which could be completed by Saturday, followed by debate on the bill. Final passage might not occur until Tuesday, after which it would have to go to the House for consideration. With the current CR expiring on Saturday at midnight, if another temporary CR is not passed, the government would shut down, sparking the National Journal headline.

Like the final minute of a football game, anything can happen at the end of a Congress. It is only Thursday and there is plenty of time for compromises to be struck. Closing down the government does not appear to be in the best interest of either political party and as the tax bill demonstrates, Washington politicans can decide to find solutions even though individual pieces may be very difficult to swallow.

Three New ISS Crew Members Blast Off

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Russia's Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft lifted off as scheduled at 2:09 pm EST from Kazakhstan carrying three new crew members for the International Space Station (ISS).

Russian Dmitry Kondratyev, American Catherine "Cady" Coleman and Italian Paolo Nespoli are expected to dock with the ISS on Friday at 3:12 pm EST. They will join the three ISS crew members already aboard: American Scott Kelly and Russians Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka. To keep up with ISS comings and goings, check NASA's ISS website.

Senator Inouye Introduces Omnibus Appropriations Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

As expected, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) today introduced a FY2011 omnibus appropriations bill that he hopes will replace the year-long Continuing Resolution (CR) passed by the House last week. It contains the Senate versions of all 12 regular appropriations bills. The National Journal (subscription required) cites Sen. Inouye as saying that he believes he has the votes needed to get it passed by the Senate. It then would have to be passed by the House, however, as the clock ticks down to expiration of the current CR. That law expires on Saturday, December 18. If no new legislation is passed by then, the government would have to shut down.

The Senate omnibus bill contains $1.108 trillion in federal spending for FY2011, compared to $1.089 trillion in the House bill. The Senate bill contains congressionally directed spending items -- earmarks -- while the House bill does not.

The total amount for NASA is the same in both bills, $18.9 billion, and the Senate version generally follows the House bill. A committee summary of the Commerce-Justice-Science portion of the bill that includes NASA says that it provides $825 million for an additional space shuttle flight, however that language does not seem to be in the bill itself. Also, the committee summary says that $1.2 billion is provided for the "Orion multipurpose crew vehicle" while the bill language does not specify Orion. Both the House and Senate bills specify that the new Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle must have an initial lift capability of 130 tons.

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