Senate Floor Action on New NASA Authorization Act Could be Imminent
Senate and House negotiators reportedly are close to agreement on a final version of a FY2017 NASA authorization act. Senate floor action on a draft compromise bill could come as early as tomorrow.
NASA's most recent authorization law was enacted in 2010 -- the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. It provided funding recommendations only through FY2013, but the policy provisions remain in force. NASA's authorization committees in the House and Senate have been working on a new bill for several years to update policy and provide authorization direction, but without success. Last year the House passed a FY2015 NASA authorization bill, H.R. 810,(which was very similar to a bill in passed for FY2014), but the Senate did not take it up. A House bill for FY2016-2017 (H.R. 2039) never reached the floor after clearing the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on a party line vote. Significant cuts to NASA's earth science program were a major partisan sticking point.
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved a FY2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act (S. 3346) in September. It avoided the issue of NASA's earth science activities by not mentioning them. It also recommended authorization funding levels only for FY2017, which is already underway, using a combination of figures approved separately by the House and Senate appropriations committees.
A draft of a revised version of the bill reportedly reflecting compromise with the House is now circulating and rumors are that the Senate may take it up as early as tomorrow. SpacePolicyOnline.com obtained a copy of the new draft. A quick glance suggests that it is similar to what cleared the Senate committee, while incorporating elements of H.R, 810 and H.R. 2039 plus new provisions. These are a few highlights of the 114-page draft.
The new draft bill does not call for terminating the Asteroid Redirect Mission, but, incidentally, House SS&T Chairman Smith and Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), who chairs its space subcommittee, sent a letter to NASA today requesting all documents associated with a report and press release the agency issued two weeks ago concluding that the project now has the support of the scientific advisory community.
As in the Senate committee-approved bill, NASA's earth science activities are not specifically mentioned.
The draft bill contains many "sense of Congress" statements and '"findings" that are not legally binding, but express congressional views. Among them are support for several specific space science missions (James Webb Space Telescope, Wide-field Infrared Space Telescope, a mission to Europa, and Mars 2020), satellite servicing as a "vital capability," small satellite missions, and a robust aeronautics research program.
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