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House Appropriators Approve FY2018 CJS Bill--Good News for NASA, Mixed for NOAA Satellites

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Jul-2017
Updated: 13-Jul-2017 11:05 PM

The House Appropriations Committee approved the FY2018 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill this evening.  The final version makes no changes to the subcommittee-approved recommendations for NASA or NOAA. NASA would get a significant increase above President Trump's request and above current spending.  NOAA's near-term satellite programs, JPSS and GOES-R, are fully funded, but future programs did not fare well.

The committee's lengthy markup dealt with a wide variety of issues, reflecting the bill's broad jurisdiction -- NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and all of the Departments of Justice and Commerce (NOAA is part of Commerce).  Especially tense debates took place on Department of Justice issues such as the investigation into whether Russia interfered in the U.S. election.  Although the NASA and NOAA portions were not controversial, in the end, the bill was approved on a largely partisan basis 31-21 (the committee has 30 Republicans and 22 Democrats).

The only NASA-related amendment was offered by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH). She sought to add money for NASA's aeronautics program, but withdrew the amendment after making the point that more funding is needed.  House Appropriations CJS subcommittee chairman John Culberson (R-TX) agreed about the need for more money.  As he said during subcommittee markup, he is optimistic that once Congress agrees on a Budget Resolution, his subcommittee will have more money to spend and NASA's aeronautics program is "at the top of the list."  He made similar comments in reaction to amendments seeking more money for NSF and for the Legal Services Corporation.

The bill approves $19.872 billion for NASA in FY2018, $217 million more than its current (FY2017) spending and $780 million more than the Trump Administration's request.  Among the highlights, the bill approves:

  • $5,858.5 million for Science
    • $1,704.0 million for earth science ($50 million less than the request). Includes $175.8 million to keep Landsat-9 on track for 2020 launch.
    • $2,120.9 million for planetary science ($191.4 million more than the request). Includes $475 million for "Europa Clipper and Lander".
    • $822 million for astrophysics ($5.3 million more than the request).  Requires NASA to ensure WFIRST is Starshade compatible.
    • $533.7 million for James Webb Space Telescope (same as request).
    • $677.9 million for heliophysics (same as request).
  • $660.0 million for Aeronautics
  • $686.5 million for Space Technology
  • $4,550.0 million for Exploration
    • $1,350.0 million for Orion
    • $2,150.0 million for SLS
    • $600.0 million for exploration ground systems
    • $450.0 million for exploration R&D
  • $4,676.6 million for Space Operations (ISS, commercial crew and cargo, space and flight support)
  • $90.0 million for Education ($18 million for EPSCoR, $40 million for Space Grant, $32 million for MUREP)
  • $2,826.2 million for Safety, Security and Mission Support
  • $486.1 million for Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration
  • $37.9 million for Inspector General

For more information and a table comparing FY2017 funding, the Trump request, and the committee's actions, see SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on NASA's budget request.

The total amount approved for acquisition of NOAA's satellite systems in $1,469.6 million.  NOAA's two major weather satellites programs -- JPSS and GOES-R -- are fully funded. 

The JPSS program pays for only the first two of these new polar orbiting weather satellites, however.  The second pair, JPSS-3 and -4, are funded in a separate Polar Follow On (PFO) program.  The Trump Administration proposed a deep cut to PFO saying it will re-plan the program ($180 million instead of the $586 million NOAA said last year it would need for FY2018). The committee went even further, approving only $50 million, but added it would reconsider if NOAA provides a better explanation of how it is restructuring the program.  NOAA's plans for new space weather satellites also fell far short of what the agency planned last year, although the committee provided more ($8.5 million) than the Trump Administration requested ($500,000).

The House Appropriations Committee is approving appropriations bills even though the House has not adopted a Budget Resolution establishing how much money there is to spend.  Strictly speaking that step is supposed to happen prior to action by the Appropriations Committee. Whether any such Resolution provides more money for the CJS bill, as Culberson hopes, is far from assured.

The path forward for any of these appropriations bills is unclear.  Congress has failed to pass Budget Resolutions in previous years, but nevertheless kept the government operating. So it is possible, but adds another layer of complication.


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