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Amid rampant rhetoric about a possible government shutdown replete with each side blaming the other, House and Senate leaders reportedly are crafting competing short-term Continuing Resolutions (CRs) that could avoid that situation while they negotiate on a CR for the rest for FY2011. FY2011 began on October 1, but Congress has not passed any of the 12 regular appropriations bills to fund government departments and agencies. Instead it has passed a series of CRs that keep the government operating at last year's (FY2010's) level. The current CR expires on March 4.
As House and Senate members spend this week in their districts and states judging the mood of the voters, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is said to be developing a one-month CR to keep the government funded at current (FY2010) levels while Congress decides what it wants to do for the rest of FY2011. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), meanwhile, is working on one that would last only two weeks and would contain funding reductions from the FY2010 level.
How the chickens are counted is key to how much Republicans and Democrats are proposing to cut. Top Senate Democrats assert that keeping spending at FY2010 levels is a $41 billion cut. That is in comparison to what President Obama requested for FY2011. Tea Party Republicans in the House want a $100 billion cut, but that is measured against the FY2010 funding level not the FY2011 request, a much deeper reduction. The "full-year" CR passed by the House last week covering the rest of FY2011 would cut $100 billion compared to the FY2011 request or about $60 billion compared to the FY2010 level.
In a statement today, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) cited an analysis by Goldman Sachs of the House-passed CR as proving that it would cause a "double-dip recession." Press reports say that Schumer and Reid indicated that they are willing to cut more than the $41 billion represented by keeping funding at current levels, but not as much as the House. Boehner also is drafting a short-term CR, but it would be for only two weeks and would include cuts to the current spending level. A Reid aide called it a "two-week version of the same reckless measure" already passed by the House. Thus, even the short-term CRs will be quite different, so a shutdown remains a possibility.
For more on what happens if the government shuts down for lack of appropriations, see this report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). According to that report, most government employees are furloughed during a shutdown and placed in a non-pay status, although in the 1995-1996 shutdowns they were paid retroactively. Some government employees are not subject to the furlough and must continue to work in non-pay status. CRS identifies them as Members of Congress, the President, presidential appointees, certain legislative branch employees, and federal employees who are "excepted." Excepted federal employees include those "(1) performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, (2) involved in the orderly suspension of agency operations, or (3) performing other functions exempted from the furlough," according to CRS. Some of the examples listed in the report are employees who provide for the national security, provide for benefit payments, or conduct essential activities such as -- medical care of inpatients and emergency outpatient care, continuance of air traffic control, care of prisoners, law enforcement, emergency and disaster assistance, and activities to preserve the financial system, power production, and protection of research property.
Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) at 16:08 GMT (11:08 am EST) today, clearing the way for the space shuttle to lift off as scheduled at 4:50 pm EST this afternoon. Had the docking gone awry, the shuttle launch might have been postponed to provide an opportunity to troubleshoot that docking before the shuttle arrives at the ISS on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the six person STS-133 crew is suiting up. Steve Lindsey, Eric Boe, Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott will soon board Discovery for its final trip into orbit. Bowen replaced Tim Kopra at the last minute after Kopra was injured in a bicycle accident. Bowen also was a member of the last space shuttle mission (STS-132), making him the first astronaut to fly on consecutive flights. His spacewalking skills earned him the additional mission. He is rated as a "lead" spacewalker as is Kopra and the complexity of the spacewalks on this mission required that expertise.
Space Shuttle Discovery is off on its final mission.
UPDATE: NASA will wait till Friday, February 25, to retry the Glory launch. Launch time is 5:09 am EST.
ORIGINAL STORY: NASA postponed the launch of its Glory earth observation spacecraft this morning after an unexpected reading from the vehicle interface control console. The launch was scheduled for 2:09 am PST (5:09 am EST) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. They may try again tomorrow morning at the same time if the issue can be resolved.
Officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) outlined the key features of a solicitation for proposals for an independent, nonprofit research management organization to foster and manage the use of the International Space Station (ISS) as a National Laboratory yesterday.
Mark Uhran, ISS assistant associate administrator, explained that since 2005 when the ISS was designated by law as a national laboratory, 50 percent of the U.S. portion of the ISS has been made available for research by non-NASA entities, such as universities, private firms, and other government agencies. Based on another law, the 2010 NASA authorization act, the agency is now seeking to create an organization to manage this non-NASA research. He clarified that NASA will maintain control of the other 50 percent necessary for pursuing its own goals, which are focused on basic scientific research, biomedical human research, and technology development.
Marybeth Edeen, manager of NASA's ISS National Laboratory Office, explained that as part of its role, the new non-profit organization will carry out the "announcement-proposal, review-selection process" for use of the national laboratory, making recommendations to NASA about which researchers to select. Uhran said the organization should be in place by the end of this fiscal year, with activities ramping up as commercial transportation systems to the ISS come on line in the next 12-18 months. With a $15 million budget for the national laboratory, the relatively small organization - 15-25 people - will be tasked with communicating with potential user communities, managing agreements, as well as overseeing the execution of approved projects.
Uhran explained that progress on using the ISS as a national lab is very important because it will fulfill the vision of a station "built not solely for NASA usage." He said the goal is to "maximize [ISS's] value to the American public" for their investment and that its long-term productivity will be measured both by NASA and non-NASA usage. Creation of the non-profit organization will "be an important step in ensuring that that productivity is realized," he added.
The deadline for proposals is April 1, 2011 and selection will be made by the end of May.
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. The House and Senate are in recess this week.
Monday, February 21
- Final day of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting, Washington, DC, 8:30 am - 12:45 pm EST
Tuesday, February 22
Tuesday- Wednesday, February 22-23
Thursday, February 24
- Scheduled launch of the STS-133 (Discovery), 4:50 pm EST. Launch dates and times are subject to change. Check NASA's shuttle website or follow NASA on Twitter to keep up to date.
A SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the February 17, 2011 hearing before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on the federal research and development budget is now available. Dr. John Holdren, Science Adviser to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy was the witness. Our hearing summary focuses on those aspects of the hearing that concerned the space program, which was not the dominant topic.
During today's plenary lecture at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual conference in Washington, D.C., Dr. John P. Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Science Adviser to the President, said that "NASA has been a big challenge."
Holdren's speech was a status report on the Obama Administration's progress on science, technology, and innovation policy. Though the talk focused on federal initiatives in other fields, such as energy and education policy, Holdren spoke for a few minutes about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Referencing the Bush Administration's Moon-and-Mars focused Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), Holdren said the Obama Administration had inherited a program in disarray in an agency that was largely dispirited after "years of mismatch of resources and vision." Because the VSE was not properly funded, NASA's scientific activities were "gutted [to] feed [the] Constellation [Program]," referring to the program developed to implement the VSE. He described the Obama Administration's alternative plan for NASA, unveiled and hotly debated since February of last year, which cancelled the Constellation program, extended the International Space Station, and opted to rely on the commercial sector for human space transportation to low Earth orbit. This, he said, was a "comprehensive plan to balance NASA's programs."
Holdren later mentioned the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, signed last year, which he described as "a compromise." While it "reflected Congressional preference for using existing technologies [and] contracts" for building a heavy lift launch vehicle, he said he was pleased because it had "a lot of what we wanted in it."
Carrying out the mandates of the Authorization Act, of course, requires funding. Holdren said he hoped Congress would approve a FY2012 budget, speaking to the fact that because Congress so far has failed to approve a budget for FY2011, most agencies have been operating under a continuing resolution since October when FY2011 began. He said the President's FY2012 budget request, released last Monday, "funds every element of the Authorization," but he admitted that its outcome is still very much uncertain.
The House finally completed debate on and passed H.R. 1, the Continuing Resolution (CR) for the rest of FY2011, in the wee hours this morning (Saturday). For all the hundreds of amendments introduced and debated, as far as we can tell, only one directly affects NASA. We will double check the Friday-Saturday Congressional Record when it is issued to make sure nothing snuck in at the last moment, but for now, this is the best information we have.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) won approval to cut $298 million from NASA's Cross-Agency Support account and use it to fund Community Oriented Police Services (COPS), a program in the Justice Department. NASA and the Justice Department are in the same section of the CR because they are both within the jursidiction of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee. The way the rules worked for debate on this bill, if a Member wanted to add money for something, the "offset" had to be in the same part of the bill.
Rep. Weiner was apologetic about taking it from NASA. On February 15 (Congressional Record, page H 891), he said:
Now, do I like the idea we have to take it from NASA space exploration? I don't know any of the crime statistics on Mars, and I'm interested, but it's a bad choice. If any of you like space exploration, so do I. In a way, I'm playing the game too. I'm taking from one place to give to another. But I do believe it's in the interest of all of us to try to set these priorities straight. ... So I hope you support the Weiner amendment by taking from Mars and putting it in the streets of your district."
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who chairs the CJS subcommittee, opposed the amendment, but it passed 228-203. The money was not taken from Mars exploration as Rep. Weiner's comments suggested. It was taken from Cross Agency Support, which funds Center Management and Operations, Agency Management and Operations, and Institutional Investments.
The appropriations committee already had cut NASA $303 million below its FY2010 appropriated level. With the $298 million cut in the Weiner amendment, NASA would be cut $601 million from its FY2010 appropriation, giving the agency a total of $18.123 billion for FY2011. Compared with President Obama's request of $19.000 billion for NASA in FY2011, it is a $877 million reduction.
It is important to keep the fiscal years straight in this complicated budget debate. Many press reports say that the House voted to cut in total about $60 billion from federal spending, far less than the $100 billion Tea Party Republicans promised in their campaigns. That is correct. However, it is also correct to say that it is a $100 billion cut if the baseline is the President's request for FY2011, which is what the House Appropriations Committee says. (Added to the complexity in following the debate is that President Obama submitted his request for FY2012 on Monday; congressional hearings have begun on that request.)
Whatever number one wishes to use for the cut that is in the House-passed CR, it is unlikely that the Senate will agree. Such deep cuts when at least five months of the fiscal year will have expired by the time anything is signed into law significantly magnifies the impact, and many Senators have indicated they are not willing to go that far.
The House and Senate are in recess next week while Members and Senators return home to face their constituents and see how all of this is playing in the rest of America. When they return to Washington, they will have one week to reach a compromise or pass another temporary spending bill. Without some sort of appropriations bill passed by midnight on March 4, the government will shut down. The Congressional Research Service has a handy report on government shutdowns that is available via the Federation of American Scientists website.
Following a Flight Readiness Review today, NASA confirmed February 24 as the launch date for STS-133. Liftoff is scheduled for 4:50 pm EST.
The mission originally was scheduled to launch last November, but was delayed first by a gas leak and then by problems with "stringers" on its External Tank. This is the last flight of the Discovery orbiter. At least one more shuttle mission, STS-134 (Endeavour) is scheduled, and if Congress does not cut NASA's FY2011 budget too deeply, the agency plans one more flight of Atlantis (STS-135). Congress directed the agency to fly that "Launch-on-Need" mission and the agency is willing to do so as long as the money is available.
Currently STS-134, commanded by Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) who continues her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head last month, is scheduled for April 19. Kelly told a news conference on February 4 that he expects his wife to be at Kennedy Space Center for his launch. STS-135 is tentatively scheduled for launch in June. That would be the last flight of the shuttle program.
Events of Interest
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