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More Brinksmanship and Another Possible Government Shutdown

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Anyone who thought Capitol Hill would be chastened by public dismay over the brinksmanship that characterized the debt limit debate may have to think again.

One may cast blame on whichever party one chooses, but the two sides are again at odds, this time using a possible government shutdown on October 1 as hostage.

Republicans, who castigated Democrats during the election last year for being unable to pass the appropriations bills that fund the government in a timely manner, have not been able to achieve that goal either. Fiscal Year 2012 begins on October 1 and none of the 12 appropriations bills has cleared Congress (six have passed the House; one has passed the Senate).

Washington finds itself once more in need of a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating until action can be completed on those bills. Both the House and Senate plan to be in recess next week as some members observe Rosh Hashanah, which means a CR must be passed this week.

The House Appropriations Committee proposed a CR last week that would fund the government through November 18, with a 1.5 percent cut in spending during that period.

That part is not controversial. But the two parties and two chambers are at odds over funds for disaster relief for recovering from tornados, floods, Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, the east coast earthquake, wildfires in Texas and other natural disasters that have afflicted the United States this year.

The Senate passed legislation last week providing $6.9 billion for disaster relief (H. J. Res 66, as amended). Historically, disaster relief funds are treated as emergency spending for which budget offsets are not immediately required.

House Republicans instead want to include the disaster relief funds in the CR, are proposing only half that amount ($3.5 billion), and are demanding a $1.5 billion spending cut to clean-energy loans in return. According to The Washington Post blog, that is a program created by the Bush Administration for "loans to auto companies for developing electric cars and other fuel efficiency innovations."

House and Senate Democrats are opposed to the Republican proposal both generally because disaster funds should not require offsets and specifically because cutting the loans would put tens of thousands of jobs at risk, they say.

The House is expected to pass its bill, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has vowed to amend the bill with the legislation that already passed the Senate providing $6.9 billion in disaster relief and no offset. If that passes the Senate, the two sides would have to reach a compromise before the CR could be enacted.

Republican leaders are saying there will be no government shutdown, but Reid said today that "I'm not so sure" and "We're not going to cave on this," according to The Hill. Reid indicated that the Senate could change its schedule to be in session next week if necessary.

GAO: New Government Contract for Commercial Satcom Could Lower DOD Costs

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report today that reviews the current state of the fixed communications satellite marketplace and how the government acquires commercial communications satellite services. The landscape has changed significantly over the decade since Congress passed the ORBIT Act in 2000. GAO focuses on how today's environment affects how much the government, and the Department of Defense (DOD) in particular, pay for such services.

DOD has a sizeable communications satellite fleet of its own, but its communications appetite is voracious. A significant amount of unclassified DOD traffic is routed over commercial communications satellites, especially in support of Central Command operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In its report, GAO cites DOD statistics that its use of commercial communications satellite bandwidth grew by more than 180 percent in the Middle East and Africa between 2003 and 2009.

Until recently, three satellite service providers held a three-year contract with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to resell commercial communications capacity to DOD through a contract dubbed DSTS-G. GAO said the contract was "a total set-aside for competition restricted to small business concerns." Other government agencies acquired these services through a separate contract administered by the General Services Administration (GSA).

DISA and GSA now have joined forces to create the Federal Commercial Satellite Communications Services Acquisition (FCSA) program. FCSA allows satellite operators as well as satellite service providers to supply capacity directly to DOD. GAO reported that federal contracting officials expect the increased competition to lower costs. Vendors may continually be added to the list of qualified contractors.

The GAO report did make any recommendations. It does provide an interesting review of the commercial communications satellites sector and how it has changed since the ORBIT Act, which forced the privatization of Intelsat and Inmarsat and led to the demise of COMSAT.

NASA Releases Draft Commercial Cargo RFP, Modifies CCDev2 Awards

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA today released a draft request for proposals (RFP) for commercial crew transportation to the International Space Station (ISS).

A number of companies are working with NASA today through the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program to develop launch vehicles and spacecraft to take astronauts to and from ISS. NASA has been working on its acquisition strategy for procuring services on those systems. The draft RFP released today "outlines a contract that will be awarded to multiple companies that provide a complete end-to-end design, including spacecraft, launch vehicles, launch services, ground and mission operations and recovery," according to the space agency.

Called the Integrated Design Contract (IDC), it has a value of up to $1.61 billion for the period July 2012 to April 2014.

Simultaneously, NASA announced the addition of "optional milestones" for Boeing and Sierra Nevada's Space Act Agreements under the CCDev2 awards announced earlier this year.

Events of Interest: Week of September 19-23, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. All times are EDT unless otherwise specified. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings or other actions are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up to date information.

During the Week

FY2011 ends in two weeks, which means that Congress should pass the 12 appropriations bills to fund the government for FY2012 before then. Not likely, especially considering that the House and Senate will be in recess the last week of September as some members observe Rosh Hashanah. To date, six of the 12 appropriations bills have passed the House and one has passed the Senate.

Thus, Congress needs to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) this week to fund the government after October 1. The House Appropriations Committee introduced a CR that would last until November 18 and calls for a 1.5 percent cut in spending during that time. This is "must pass" legislation for Congress this week unless they change their schedule to be in session next week.

Monday-Wednesday, September 19-21

Tuesday, September 20

  • Senate Appropriations Committee markup of the Transportation-HUD bill (including the FAA's space office), 124 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 10:30 am EDT (listed in National Journal's Daybook, but not yet on the committee's website)
  • NASA media teleconference on Development of Composite Cryogenic Propellant Tanks, 1:00 pm EDT, virtual (listen at

Wednesday, September 21

Thursday, September 22

  • HSS&T hearing on human spaceflight, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building, 10:00 am EDT

Friday, September 23

  • HSS&T hearing on NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building, 10:00 AM EDT

NRO Declassifies Two Legacy Reconnaissance Satellite Programs

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

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which builds and operates the nation's spy satellites, celebrated its 50th anniversary yesterday with an event at the Smithsonian Institution's Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. As part of the celebration, the super secret agency, whose name was not even known outside classified circles until 1992, opened the door into its world a bit wider. Two reconnaissance satellite programs from the 1960s were declassified -- Gambit (KH-7 and KH-8) and Hexagon (KH-9).

Keith Cowing of NASAWatch posted video he shot while visiting the Udvar Hazy Center on YouTube showing the KH-9 satellite that NRO displayed.

NRO has a website with considerable information about both programs.

The nation's first reconnaissance satellite program, Corona, was declassified years ago. A book about it, Eye in the Sky: The Story of the Corona Spy Satellites, was written by Dwayne Day, John Logsdon, and Brian Latell in 1999 and is available from (and undoubtedly other vendors).

Senate Approps Says DOD Should Allow Competition in Space Launch, No to ASSIST

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

The Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) wasn't the only military space program of concern to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The appropriators also singled out the need for more competition in the space launch arena for comment, and zeroed a $416 million request for the ASSIST program. The latter is intended to reduce the Department of Defense's (DOD's) costs of leasing commercial communications satellite capacity.

The committee approved its version of the FY2012 defense appropriations bill (H.R. 2219) on Thursday and released the accompanying report (S.Rept. 112-77) yesterday.

The committee said it supports DOD's plan to buy eight core Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs) per year for the next five years in order to "stabilize production capacity and control costs," but stressed that DOD's goal really should be to significantly reduce the cost of launch. Competition is the solution, it said. "The Committee intends to examine future budget requests to balance the need to stabilize the EELV industrial base with the need to promote competition. Therefore, [DOD] is urged to retain flexibility with its block-buy acquisition strategy as opportunities for competition by new launch entrants become available."

SpaceX has made no secret of its desire to offer space launch services to DOD with its existing Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle it plans to develop. On its website, the company asserts that "If allowed to compete, SpaceX can help [DOD] save at least one billion dollars annually in space launch services."

The committee zeroed DOD's $416 million request for the Assured SATCOM Services in Single Theater (ASSIST) program (called SATCOM Services Enhancements in the DOD budget request documents). As explained in the committee's report, under ASSIST, DOD would lease a single commercial communications satellite operating in both the Ka- and Ku-bands instead of leasing capacity on multiple commercial communications satellites as it does now. The Senate appropriators reported that DOD estimated the cost of leasing a new satellite would be paid back in two and a half years "if satellite communications were to continue to be purchased in the same method and volume as they are today." The committee is skeptical about those assumptions, however. Saying that it had "learned of a number of innovative proposals from commercial providers," it zeroed the request, which is part of the Defense-Wide Procurement account. Instead, it recommended that DOD conduct an Analysis of Alternatives of how best to meet its satellite communications needs.

Senate Appropriators Want DOD To Start Over on Weather Satellite Program

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

Saying they did not want "to repeat the costly mistakes of the NPOESS program," Senate appropriators told the Department of Defense (DOD) to terminate the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) and start over.

DWSS is DOD's part of the restructured National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). It was created when the White House decided to end NPOESS -- a joint program among DOD, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and NASA -- and return to past practice of having separate weather satellites for the civil and military sectors. NOAA and NASA are now trying to win support for their civil system, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), while DOD is trying to restructure its part of NPOESS into DWSS. NPOESS was being acquired through DOD and DOD holds the contract with Northop Grumman.

The Senate Appropriations Committee made their unhappiness with this arrangement clear in its report (S. Rept. 112-77) on its version of the FY2012 defense appropriations bill (H.R. 2219). The report was released yesterday.

Saying the DWSS program "remains challenged by a difficult and confusing set of management issues," the committee zeroed the $445 million request and replaced it with $250 million for "continued common sensor development, as well as requirements definition and source selection activities for a full and open competition for a follow-on program."

It also provided $150 million to cover termination liability costs for ending the Northrop Grumman contract.

In its version of the FY2012 defense appropriations bill, the House halved the DWSS request. The House Appropriations Committee's report on the bill (H. Rept. 112-110) says only that the cut was due to "excess to need -- poor justification."

Projected UARS Reentry Moves Up A Day

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

NASA has updated its projection of when the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) will reenter.

The UARS website reports that reentry is now expected on September 23 -- this coming Friday -- plus or minus a day. The previous projection was September 24.

It is still far too early to estimate where pieces of the satellite might land. The Earth is 70 percent covered with water, so there is a good chance the pieces will not hit land at all, but there is a possibility. NASA's risk assessment concluded that there is a 1 in 3,200 chance of a human casualty.

NOAA, NASA, GAO To Testify on JPSS at HSS&T Hearing

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

The House Science, Space and Technology (HSS&T) Committee has released the names of the witnesses who will testify about the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) next Friday.

The September 23 hearing will feature Kathy Sullivan, Deputy Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Christopher Scolese, Associate Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and David Powner, Director, Information Technology Management Issues, Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The topic is "From NPOESS to JPSS: An Update on the Nation's Restructured Polar Weather Satellite Program." NPOESS was a joint Department of Defense(DOD)-NOAA-NASA program to build a single U.S. weather satellite system to service both the civil and military sectors. After many years of cost overruns and schedule delays, the Obama White House restructured the program last year, restoring the historical arrangement of separate civil and military systems.

NOAA has been struggling to build support for its new system, JPSS. (NASA is NOAA's acquisition agent for the program.) The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have each recommended almost, but not quite, as much as NOAA requested for FY2012 ($1.07 billion) after a significant shortfall in FY2011.

DOD also is struggling to build support for its new system, the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS). The Senate Appropriations Committee just recommended terminating DWSS and starting all over again with a new competition to build the system. The House Appropriations Committee cut DOD's request ($445 million) in half.

Many in Congress are skeptical of the agencies' abilities to manage these programs after years of problems with NPOESS.

Maria Zuber to Join Witnesses At HSS&T Human Spaceflight Hearing

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

MIT's Maria Zuber has been added to the list of witnesses for the House Science, Space and Technology (HSS&T) Committee hearing on human spaceflight next week. The geophysicist is the principal investigator of the GRAIL robotic mission to the Moon launched earlier this month.

The other witnesses are well known advocates of human spaceflight: Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan, and former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin. They are expected to argue that human exploration of the Moon should be a national priority.

The hearing is on Thursday, September 22, in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building at 10:00 am EDT.

Events of Interest


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