FAA Commercial Space Office Fares Much Better in Senate, House Cut Would be "Crippling"
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees completed action on the FY2014 funding bill that includes the FAA this week. The two took opposite approaches to funding the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). Mike Gold of Bigelow Aerospace calls a substantial cut approved by the House committee "crippling." Conversely, the Senate committee recommended more than the request.
On Thursday, the full House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY2014 Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) bill, making no change to the almost 12 percent cut to AST recommended by its T-HUD subcommittee: $14.16 million instead of the $16.01 million requested. That is roughly 8 percent less than its current funding level.
At the same time, across Capitol Hill the Senate Appropriations Committee was approving its version of the bill, providing an increase above the request: $17.011 million.
Mike Gold, Director of D.C. Operations & Business Growth for Bigelow Aerospace, hailed the Senate action in an email to SpacePolicyOnline.com: "I applaud the Senate's foresight in providing [AST] with sufficient resources to cope with their growing responsibilities. It's not an exaggeration to say this is a life and death matter and the House numbers would have had a crippling effect on the AST." Gold is optimistic that the House will come around: "Although the original House funding level was well below the Senate's figure, I'm confident that they will see the wisdom of the Senate number...." He stresses the need for adequate funding of AST to ensure proper oversight of safety issues associated with commercial crew.
Whether the House or Senate number, or a figure somewhere in between, prevails at the end of the day remains an open question. The House-passed budget resolution holds non-defense discretionary spending to levels below what is required by the sequester, while the Senate's version assumes the sequester will be replaced with a different method of deficit reduction. The budget resolutions set the total amount of money appropriators can disburse in the 12 appropriations bills that fund government operations, so the Senate appropriators have more to spend than their House colleagues.
Although the appropriations committees on each side are busy marking up some of the FY2014 funding bills, there is little optimism that bills will pass both chambers any time soon. Once they do, the two sides still must negotiate a compromise in order for the bills to clear Congress and win the President's signature.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) said last week that he anticipates no deals will be made on budget matters -- or other economic issues -- until Congress is forced to make a decision on raising the debt limit, probably at the very end of 2013.
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