Funding bill affecting SLS, Redstone projects clears US Senate committee

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Senate Committee on Appropriations approved a spending bill Thursday that, if passed, would have a direct impact on the Tennessee Valley.

The FY2018 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act would fund law enforcement, economic prosperity, scientific research, and space exploration and other national priorities.

That includes the Space Launch System. Through this bill, the SLS Program would receive $2.15 billion. This is the same as the FY2017 level, but $212 million above the budget request. This is expected to continue the SLS development schedule and provide $300 million for upper state engine work for future crewed missions.

NASA as a whole would receive $19.5 billion. That's $124 million below the FY2017 level but $437 million above the budget request.

"The fact that they provided this level of support shows great confidence from Congress," said Mike Ward, Senior VP of Government and Public Affairs at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

The bill still needs to head to the full Senate before it can clear Congress.

Senator Shelby's Role

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) is the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS).  The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce praises him for his influence in this case.

“Senator Shelby has been our champion on the Hill, fighting for our nation’s continued leadership in the human exploration of deep space,” said Chip Cherry, the Chamber’s President and CEO.  “This appropriation far exceeds what we could have hoped to get for the program and we are very appreciative.”

Shelby said in a statement:

“The Committee has worked together to strike the appropriate balance between the competing priorities of law enforcement, national security, scientific advancement, and economic development. Additionally, the measure includes necessary oversight provisions to fight waste, fraud, and abuse. This is a step forward in maintaining critical funding for core programs and addressing the needs of our nation while staying within our spending boundaries. I look forward to its consideration by the Senate.”

"In an environment where funding is going down everywhere, the fact that Senator Shelby has been successful in significantly increasing funding for the SLS program is a minor miracle," said Mike Ward, Senior VP of Government and Public Affairs at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce. "Senator Shelby's leadership on this has been critical."

The SLS

The SLS program has taken some strides of its own recently as this current fiscal year approaches its end.

Thursday, NASA announced the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), designed and built by ULA in Decatur and Boeing in Huntsville, is the first segment for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to arrive at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Also Thursday,  the SLS team announced it completed the welding on a liquid oxygen tank test article and began welding the liquid oxygen tank that will be part of the SLS rocket at Michoud in New Orleans.

The Bill

Below are some more facts Senator Shelby's office provided about the bill.

The legislation includes the following provisions supporting NASA:

  • NASA: $19.5 billion for NASA, $124 million below the FY2017 enacted level and $437 million above the budget request, to support the human and robotic exploration of space, fund science missions that enhance the understanding of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe, and support fundamental aeronautics research.
  • Space Launch System (SLS): Funds SLS at $2.15 billion, which is $212 million above the request and same as the FY2017 level. This amount is what NASA and SLS contractors need moving forward to ensure that key SLS vehicle elements are completed in time to support the launch of Exploration Mission (EM)-1 and that Exploration Upper Stage development continues at a rate to ensure readiness for use on EM-2 at no less than $300 million.
  • Orion Capsule: Funds Orion at $1.35 billion, which is $164 million above the request and the same as the FY2017 level. The funding level will maintain readiness for the SLS and Orion EM-1 test launch and a crewed EM-2 launch.
  • NASA Space Technology, Nuclear Propulsion: Provides $75 million, an increase of $40 million over the FY2017 for ongoing development work for low-enriched uranium nuclear propulsion systems. These engines will provide significantly faster trip times for missions than current non-nuclear options.
  • NASA Space Operations, Small Launch Vehicle: Provides $30 million for development of a small launch technology platform within NASA’s Space Operations Space and Flight Support Launch Services program. This system is to leverage current technologies and work being done that will assist government, industry, and academia by making small satellites launching capabilities more accessible. This is equal to the amount funded in the FY2017.
  • NASA EPSCoR: Restores the FY2017 funding level of $18 million. This program was proposed to be eliminated in the FY2018 request.
  • NASA Space Grant: Restores the FY2017 funding level of $40 million. This program was proposed to be eliminated in the FY2018 request.

The legislation includes the following provisions supporting Redstone Arsenal:

  • FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC): Provides no less than the FY2017 level of $61 million for TEDAC operations, and allows for increased funding of additional staff as new phases of operations continue to come online in FY2018.
  • FBI’s Hazardous Devices School (HDS): Maintains full operational funding for the Hazardous Devices School. Funding also fully supports the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate (WMDD) explosives-related training operations which began moving to Redstone in FY2016, and provides funding above the request for the Bureau’s ongoing development of a WMDD detector canine operation and technological innovation program in partnership with Auburn University.
  • FBI Construction at Redstone: The bill provides $103 million, $27 million above the FY2017 level, for on-going FBI construction projects at Redstone. This funding covers further build-out at TEDAC and HDS, but also prepares for the planned migration of FBI activities that will move to Redstone due to shrinking space at Quantico and a reconfiguration of necessary operations in the Capital Region.
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) National Center for Explosives Training and Research (NCETR): Fully funds ATF’s NCETR, and directs ATF to provide details in the Department’s FY2018 spending plan on moving the agency’s canine training division to Redstone. The bill also allows for the continuation of up to $2.5 million to be made available for an advanced counter explosive device research program focusing on hypervelocity impact and hypervelocity flight dynamics.
  • Missing and Exploited Children: Provides $76 million for this national DOJ grant program, which supports the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that was created by John Walsh. This is an increase of $3.5 million above FY2017, and some of this increase can be used for new technology to locate and apprehend online predators.
  • Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (JAG): Provides $405 million for this comprehensive law enforcement support grants program supported by a variety of Police Chiefs, District Attorneys, and Sheriffs.
  • VALOR Initiative: Funds this State and local police grant program in two parts, with $7.5 million in VALOR funding and $7.5 million for the recently authorized POLICE Act, for a total of $15 million. These programs benefit Alabama law enforcement officer safety training.

The legislation includes the following additional provisions impacting Alabama:

  • Vortex Southeast (Vortex-SE): Provides up to $5 million and directs NOAA to continue working with weather partners in the Southeast to conduct a Vortex-SE study focusing on the unique climate and topography of the southeast region.
  • Red Snapper State Management Pilot Programs: Provides NOAA more flexibility to allow Gulf States to lead management of reef fish, including red snapper, in designated zones over artificial reefs in federal waters, “notwithstanding any other provision of law.”
  • Red Snapper Independent Stock Assessment: Provides up to $5 million to continue independent, non-NOAA stock assessments for Gulf reef fish including red snapper. Directs NOAA to count fish on artificial reefs and offshore energy exploration infrastructure, incorporate those counts into future stock assessments and management decisions for reef fish in the Gulf.
  • Red Snapper Allowable Catch: Urges NOAA to provide an increased allocation of Gulf red snapper to private recreational anglers should the total allowable catch of red snapper increase above a certain threshold. This would help provide relief for recreational anglers that have been especially impacted by NOAA’s misguided regulations.
  • Red Snapper and the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP): Requires NOAA to present a report that will allow mobile apps and an internet option for recreational fishermen to report catch data. The current MRIP program uses a random system of calling land-lines and relying on mail responses to determine recreational fishing data. Meanwhile, states like Alabama have utilized mobile phone applications to capture recreational fishing data with more accuracy and efficiency. The FY2018 report requires NOAA to address these other options and use them to augment or replace MRIP.
  • National Water Center (NWC): Provides, at a minimum, $19.25 million for activities at the NWC, and mandates NOAA to accelerate staffing at the center to achieve full operating capability.
  • Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program: Rejects the administration’s proposed elimination of the MEP program and instead provides $130 million, which is equal to the FY2017 enacted level.
  • Countering the Heroin and Opioid Epidemic: Provides $174 million to help states, local communities, and federal law enforcement in the fight against heroin and the illegal use of opioids through comprehensive programs covering law enforcement, prevention, and treatment. This total includes $158 million in DOJ grant funding, which is provided to help state and local partners tackle the opioid epidemic.
  • Economic Development Administration (EDA): Secures funding for $254 million for EDA, including $100 million for its Public Works program, which supports brick-and-mortar projects in distressed communities across the nation. Funding for EDA also includes $21 million for the Regional Innovation Program, an increase of $3 million above the FY2017 level, to promote and strengthen regional innovation to spur job creation through private-public partnerships.
  • Trade Enforcement and Compliance: Provides $2 million above the FY2017 enacted level for the International Trade Administration (ITA) to self-initiate investigations of foreign entities suspected of violating trade laws—including foreign steel products. The bill also requires ITA to report to the Committee and the Inspector General on necessary safeguards ITA has in place to prevent its trade enforcement employees from identifying and sympathizing with foreign regulated entities through undue influence.
  • Enforcement on Foreign Shrimp Imports: Requires NOAA to lift the stay on a rule implementing monitoring and reporting requirements that tracks foreign shrimp imported to the United States to ensure a level playing field for domestic shrimp harvesters and processors.

Click here to view NASA Marshall's reaction to the President's budget proposal.