Dear Space Media Professionals:
I've been following the House Appropriations Commerce Justice Science bill's actions on COTS basically all week. I've even posted a couple times to various blogs in response to correct/incorrect guesses, based on my understanding of what is happening.
In the interests of trying to clarify the questions/concerns, if not calm everyone down, here are some facts and then some hypotheses:
. First of all, we're only talking about the COTS program managed by SOMD. None of this has anything to do with funding levels for Commercial Resupply Services for ISS, which is the actual service purchase managed by the ISS Program Office within ESMD.
. Second, as has been suggested by a few people, it is true that the COTS program's budget request for FY2010 is much smaller than that for FY2009: only $39.1 million. That full level is funded within the House's FY2010 bill. This was expected, because the original COTS program, which is currently only funded to cover capabilities A-C (i.e. cargo), is expected to complete in FY2011. Less money is needed in FY2010 and FY2011 because both SpaceX and Orbital will have received the bulk of their funding by then, with only the final milestones to complete.
. Third, the FY2009 "enacted level" is actually a combination of the funds provided by the Omnibus Appropriations Conference report for FY2009 ($153 million) *and* the funding proposed for Commercial Crew and Cargo Development in the President's Recovery Act ($150m).
Now, here comes the speculative part.
What the Committee's "Terminations and Reductions" list certainly APPEARS to say is that the bill reduces not the funding request for FY2010 for COTS, but the total amount of funding available in FY2009.
In Congressional parlance, this is called a Rescission, basically a rescinding of an appropriation.
But is the Committee actually cutting FY2009 Budget Authority, i.e. reducing the enacted level of appropriation, from $303m to whatever that minus $113.9 million is?
You see, it turns out that $153 million minus $39.1 million is exactly $113.9 million.
In other words, the cost of the COTS program is going down in FY2010 from the FY2009 level by $113.9 million.
Now, you might ask: are you saying they are pretending to save money that was going to be "saved" anyways... because the program *is* coming to its natural conclusion in FY2010 and FY2011? Might they be posturing to look like they're fiscally conservative at a time of economic crisis and concern about government spending and debt?
I would never say this.
But I believe this is what's going on. They are saying that the FY2010 bill is a reduction from the previous funding level, which of course it is. And they are counting this as a saving. Even though - perhaps especially because - it doesn't cause anyone any actual pain.
Just to check, I went to the Committee website just now and read the actual bill text. It includes a section of rescissions of previous appropriated balances. Guess what? NASA doesn't have any.
So, in case I contributed to anyone's worries, my apologies. My cynicism about policy got in the way of my cynicism about public relations.
P.S. Feel free to post the above as you see fit.