Report from Washington, D.C.

Summary of March Budget Hearings on the Hill

Written by: developer

by Jillianne Pierce, Space Foundation Government Affairs Associate

With the President’s Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) Budget Request released in February, March is generally a busy time for committees on the Hill to begin to adjudicate all portions of the federal budget. This March, space was no exception.

On March 3, the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services held a hearing entitled “Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2016 and the Future Years Defense Program.” On March 4, 2015, the U.S. House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee also held a hearing on the Department of Defense (DoD) budget. Both hearings addressed the severely negative impact of sequestration on readiness of America’s armed forces.

During the House hearing, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) said, “The U.S. is the most powerful country in the world because we committed to space early.” He also stated that other countries (including China) are increasing military budgets, and asked the witnesses to discuss why space is so important to national security. Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter agreed that China and Russia are increasing their budgets, and stated that space is the only way, in many cases, that the U.S. can carry out a mission. GPS satellites, over-the-horizon communications and intelligence-gathering in areas where the U.S. otherwise cannot access information make space a necessity. General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, touted precision navigation and time as integral space-based capabilities, and said that the U.S. should “keep up with competition” in an increasingly congested, contested and competitive environment.

Concurrently on March 4, the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing on NASA’s FY16 budget request, and the House Committee on Armed Services held a hearing regarding cyber threats and how the military is working to combat those threats. During the NASA budget hearing, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden shared that the Administration had given a rough timeline for exploration below Low Earth Orbit (LEO) aiming for missions to cis-lunar space and an asteroid around 2025 and Mars in the 2030s. The Administrator also stated that the International Space Station (ISS) is critical to maintaining U.S. leadership in space and asserted that as long as the U.S. government does not renege on its obligations, industry will perform.

The cyber hearing concluded that in a world of constant threats from state and non-state actors, the U.S. military has made great strides in recent years but still needs to do more. While keeping pace with technology is critical, attracting and retaining talented cyber warriors is also essential. Again, sequestration was discussed as a significant barrier to progress in the national security arena.

On March 12, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation — Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, held a hearing on the FY2016 Budget Request for NASA. Chairman Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) sparred with Administrator Bolden regarding the “core mission” of NASA, arguing that the ballooning budget for Earth Science shouldn’t be a part of the NASA budget, because NASA should be looking outward. There was consensus that America needs to end its reliance on Russia for crew transportation to the ISS. Administrator Bolden said that full funding for Commercial Crew will help end America’s reliance on Russia for crew transportation as soon as possible, while cuts to the proposed budget could create delays.

On March 17, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces held a hearing entitled “Assuring Assured Access to Space.” SpaceX and ULA executives discussed the milestones passed, challenges faced and future plans specific to each company as the information related to launching national security payloads. 

On March 24, the House Science Space Subcommittee held a hearing entitled, “Searching for the Origins of the Universe: An Update on the Progress of the James Webb Space Telescope.” Although the Government Accountability Office (GAO) cautioned that the 10 months of time reserves and additional budget reserves can be quickly consumed by problems during Integration and Testing phase, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is presently on budget and on time for launch in October 2018.

On March 25, the House Armed Services Committee held a late afternoon hearing on the FY16 budget for national security space, which addressed growing threats to U.S. space-based assets and again affirmed the need for additional defense spending to assure continued U.S. dominance in the space domain.

On March 18, Steve Eisenhart, Space Foundation Senior Vice President of Strategic and International Affairs, accompanied Brendan Curry and Jillianne Pierce from the Washington, D.C., office to an event at the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates. There, the crowd was treated to a brief presentation by the head of the UAE’s new space agency about plans for the country’s first Mars probe. The orbiter — a first for any Arab nation — will be launched in 2020 and arrive at Mars in 2021, the 50th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates.


This article is part of Space Watch: April 2015 (Volume: 14, Issue: 4).