Bridenstine Argues for FAA/AST Funding Increase, Gets Endorsement for NASA Administrator
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee today making the case for a funding increase for FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST). He won praise from subcommittee members and one, who also happens to chair the subcommittee that funds NASA, endorsed Bridenstine to serve as the next NASA Administrator. Bridenstine is said to be one of the top candidates, although the White House has not nominated anyone for that position yet.
Bridenstine is a leading member of Congress on space policy issues across the civil, commercial and national security sectors. He introduced the American Space Renaissance Act last year and plans to reintroduce it this year. He describes it as a bill that is not expected to pass en toto, but instead serve as a repository of provisions that can be inserted into various pieces of legislation as appropriate. Ten of the provisions of last year's bill were incorporated in the FY2017 national Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
He particularly advocates for an expansion of FAA/AST's budget and regulatory authorities, including making it responsible for regulating in-space activities in addition to launch and reentry, and for managing space situational awareness for non-defense entities.
FAA is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and funded in the Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) appropriations bill. During debate on the FY2017 appropriations bill, he and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) convinced the House Appropriations Committee to provide FAA/AST with the full amount of its funding request ($19.8 million) after the T-HUD subcommittee approved only half of the requested increase.
President Trump has not submitted his FY2018 budget request yet, but the various House Appropriations subcommittees are in the midst of "Members' Day" hearings where their fellow Members of Congress testify on issues of interest to them.
Today, Bridenstine testified to the T-HUD subcommittee in favor of increasing FAA/AST's funding to $23 million in FY2018. The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) is a member. Culberson also chairs the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, which funds NASA and NOAA.
Bridenstine made the case that space launch is part of the nation's infrastructure considering that satellite systems are essential to how the country does navigating and communicating, produces food and energy, and provides security and disaster relief. "What used to be the domain of government -- space -- is now the domain of private operators and commercial operators," he explained. FAA/AST oversees commercial launches and needs the resources to execute its duties, he continued, especially considering the burgeoning business expected in the near future.
He pointed out that although the Appropriations Committee approved the $19.8 million for FY2017, since Congress did not complete consideration of the FY2017 appropriations billl, FAA/AST remains funded at its FY2016 level ($17.8 million) under the Continuing Resolution (CR), further constraining its activities.
No commitments were made by the T-HUD subcommittee members, but Diaz-Balart praised Bridenstine for his effective work with the subcommittee: "We appreciate your involvement, we appreciate your hard work."
Culberson also lauded Bridenstine for his work on behalf of the commercial space sector, but went further and endorsed Bridenstine to head NASA: "Jim would do a superb job with that position and I want to strongly express my endorsement and support ... and hope to see you become the new NASA Administrator and look forward to helping you in that role."
Culberson holds a powerful position with regard to NASA funding, but the process of selecting and confirming agency heads is the purview of the White House and Senate. First the White House must submit a nominee, then the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee -- which oversees NASA in the Senate -- will consider the nomination before heading to a vote by the full Senate.
Although Bridenstine's name has been often mentioned (along with others) since soon after the election, the President has not nominated anyone yet. That is not surprising. Filling the position of NASA Administrator is not usually at the top of the list for action in a new administration. Cabinet-level and top DOD positions typically are dealt with first. The Senate has not yet finished action on all of the Cabinet appointments and only one nomination for the three service secretaries is pending (Heather Wilson to be Secretary of the Air Force.) The nominees for Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy both withdrew their names because of difficulties in disentangling from their business interests.
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