Space Foundation’s second season of “Space Matters” convenes well-known policy influencers for monthly high-level space policy conversations on emerging topics and trends within the global space economy. This month's episode will cover topics from launch to U.S. budget delays that will affect space programs. Our panel will also honor World Space Week and discuss issues around the theme of "Space and Sustainability."
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Introduction | Congressional gridlock delayed a 2023 spending plan for U.S. government space programs, which have made up about 12 percent of the global space economy in recent years. The delay stalled budget increases for NASA and the Pentagon topping $6 billion, but a stopgap measure keeps agencies operating at 2022 spending levels.
Six months after embarking on its process to write the 2023 budget, Congress in September raced for a stopgap measure to keep government agencies open after Oct. 1 — the start of a new budget year — while lawmakers play for more time. The delay stops the countdown on more than $6 billion for new space programs.
It's the 25th time in the past 25 years that Congress has failed to pass a full federal spending plan before the fiscal year deadline of Sept. 30.1
Instead, lawmakers passed a continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 16 at 2022 levels. The move pushes budget talks past the November election and could signal more delays if the election shifts partisan control in the House or Senate.
Experts and lawmakers say the budget delay hampers federal space efforts by delaying new endeavors until Congress acts.
“As the Department of Defense implements contingency plans to manage inflation and space programs across the board face supply chain issues, a continuing resolution is insufficient to advance American superiority in space,” U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, the ranking Republican of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, said in an email.2 “As a result, until Dec. 16, new starts of research and development programs will be severely limited, and other programs of record will be challenged to execute this year’s programs with last year’s money.”
The Biden Administration requested $773 billion for the Pentagon including a plan to boost the Space Force budget by $5 billion to $24.5 billion. NASA spending would see a $1.1 billion increase under the Biden plan, hitting nearly $26 billion.3 The total impact grows when other space programs are added. In 2021, the U.S. federal space budget topped $59 billion, accounting for more than 12% of the global space economy.4
Some big plans are on hold while a budget accord is hammered out. For NASA, the 2023 budget proposal offers money for new programs including robotic exploration of the Moon.5 For the Space Force, the proposed budget includes an additional $900 million to purchase new satellites and ground equipment, along with an extra $50 million for new research programs.6
"It will inevitably cause delays," said retired Air Force Big. Gen. Marty France7, who led the Air Force Academy's astronautical engineering program for 12 years before retiring from the military and working as a civilian space consultant.
"In some cases, it's as simple as people not having the travel money to attend important meetings and reviews that can't be held online," France said. "Programs that are over budget or behind schedule may also fall more behind because requests for additional funding are even less likely to be approved."
The Government Accountability Office released a study ahead of delays to the 2022 budget that found the Pentagon has become so accustomed to tardy appropriations that financial planners push more money spending into the quarter that ends Sept. 30, when the budget expires, giving leaders a cash cushion when new appropriations fail to materialize8
Pentagon leaders told investigators it is “not an effective or efficient way to operate,” but said congressional delays are now “routine in nature.”
In Congress, lawmakers say they ran out of time for negotiations to reach a new budget accord. Neither political party has votes to push through a budget without bipartisan support. Democrats hold a tiebreaker in a Senate that’s split 50-50 and hold a slim margin the House ahead of November mid-term elections.
One issue to be resolved will be negotiating differences between the president’s proposed space and defense budget and those from Congress. In July, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Fiscal Year 2023 Appropriations Bill provides $792.1 billion for the Department of Defense and related activities.9 It includes includes $2.2 billion to accelerate the development and fielding of resilient space capabilities by investing in a distributed space architecture and increased capability to track emerging threats such as hypersonic vehicles.10
The continuing resolution leaves space agencies with budget uncertainties that block them from preparing for the future, said Andy Merritt, who worked on two Senate staffs before becoming the chief strategy officer the O’Neil Group, a Colorado space startup investor.11
“The biggest impact the continuing resolution has on agencies is planning,” Merritt said. “Anything they already have in place is good to go. What hurts them is they cannot do anything new.”
1Government Accountability Office. “DOD Has Adopted Practices to Manage Within the Constraints of Continuing Resolution.” Sept. 13, 2021. https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-21-541. Accessed Sept. 23, 2021.
2Email with author, Sept. 29, 2022.
3Office of Management and Budget. “Budget of the U.S. Government Fiscal Year 2023.” March 28, 2022. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/budget_fy2023.pdf. Access Sept. 23, 2022.
4Hobbs, Zoe. ”2021 Global Space Economy Grows at Fastest Rate in 7 Years.” August, 2022. https://www.thespacereport.org/resources/2021-global-space-economy-grows-at-fastest-rate-in-7-years/ Accessed Sept. 30, 2022.
5Office of Management and Budget. “National Aeronautics and Space Administration.” March 28, 2022. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/nsa_fy2023.pdf. Accessed Sept. 30, 2022.
6Office of Management and Budget. “Department of Defense. March 28, 2022. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/mil_fy2023.pdf. Accessed Sept. 30, 2022.
7Interview with author, Sept. 28, 2022.
8Government Accountability Office. “Defense Budget” Sept. 13, 2021. https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-21-541.pdf. Accessed Sept. 23, 2022.
9Committee on Appropriations. Summary Subcommittee on Defense Fiscal Year 2023 Appropriations Bill. July 28, 2022. chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Defense%20FY%2023%20Summary.pdf. Accessed Sept. 29, 2022.
10Committee on Appropriations. Summary Subcommittee on Defense Fiscal Year 2023 Appropriations Bill.
11Interview with author, Sept. 29, 2022
World Space Week - October 4 - 10
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