Congress: December 2017 Archives

Keith's note: With government shut down issues and an evaporating calendar, it is unlikely that Rep. Bridenstine nomination to be NASA Administrator will come up in 2017. Right now the expected support for Rep. Bridenstine remains exactly where it has been for him (and many other Trump nominees) for many months: split along party lines. With Sen. Rubio still in the "no" column if the vote were taken today (and Sen. McCain and Sen. Cochran were well enough to be in town to vote) it is expected that Bridenstine would be confirmed 51 to 49. With a vote that is now most likely to happen in January (or later) in 2018, and the seating of Sen.-Elect Jones (D-AL), the expected vote would be 50/50 with Vice President Pence casting a tie breaking vote.

There is also an issue of the time needed for a floor debate. In the Senate 30 hours is formally set aside for confirmation of nominees. But usually the 30 hours is waived by unanimous consent or significantly shortened by agreement between Democrats and Republicans to a much more manageable period. Alas, Sen. Nelson has refused to accept any deals. As such there was simply no way to really schedule this confirmation in the remaining time that the Senate was going to be in session. More details on this issue can be found here.

Bridenstine's nomination from the White House will have to be resubmitted for the second session of this Congress. All sources report that the Administration is still quite firmly behind Bridenstine and that this "re-nomination" is simply a matter of routine paperwork that will happen after the holidays. Whether there will need to be another confirmation hearing is unclear at this point.

The knife edge aspect of the expected vote is due to the hyper-partisan state of affairs here in Washington. Many confirmations are stalled. Contrary to some reports Bridenstine's nomination was not delayed by Senate Republicans due to a lack of votes. Bridenstine had a narrow, but very consistent block of votes that would have led to his confirmation had the vote occurred. Under more traditional circumstances Bridenstine would have had a number of Democratic votes to confirm. If he is confirmed that bipartisan support should become evident.

Keith's 11 Dec update: I did not hear back from NASA so I sent a second request. Stephanie Schierholz at NASA HQ PAO just sent this reply to my second request: "NASA is keeping Congress apprised as to the progress of the ISS Transition Report and plans to provide this report to the Committee as soon as possible. Please reach out to the Committee about obtaining a copy of the report once it is submitted."

In other words the report is late, has not been delivered, NASA does not know when it will be delivered. NASA is not going to tell anyone when it has been delivered and people will have to go ask Congress where the report is - whenever NASA gets around to delivering it.

Keith's 8 Dec update: Several sources report that the congressionally-mandated "ISS Transition Plan" (or whatever NASA decides to call it) may be part of the Administration's FY2019 budget proposal package that is sent to Congress in the January/February 2018 time frame. This does not mean, however, that NASA will publicly release the report at that time - if they ever release it at all.

Keith's note: This White House event could serve to put some wind into Rep. Bridenstine's sails as he awaits a vote to confirm him as NASA administrator. If the White House is going to continue to throw its strong support toward NASA one can argue that this would only serve to suggest that Bridenstine will have the strong backing of the Administration in the implementation of its new space policies. In the past 11 months there have been a number of high-visibility NASA-related events with overt White House participation - more than what happened in the previous Administration's two terms. So, at this point, no one can accuse this White House of not being willing to expend political capital on NASA.

Senate Democrats and Independents (46+2=48) are expected to solidly oppose Bridenstine's confirmation due to direction from party leadership - even if they wanted to vote for Bridenstine (and there are a number of Democratic Senators who would otherwise vote for Bridenstine). The expected vote tally for Bridenstine's assumes that Sen. Rubio and Sen. McCain are "no" votes. So that makes 48+2=50. That leaves a probable 50/50 vote for confirmation with Vice President Pence on hand in case a tie breaker vote is required. If the vote happens before the holiday recess then Pence could tip the balance in a tie vote. But if the vote does not happen in December and a Democrat is elected in Alabama and is seated before a confirmation vote in January - and Rubio and McCain are still "no" votes - then there could be a 49/51 vote and Bridenstine would not be confirmed.

Then again everything could change. Stay tuned.

NASA: Preliminary Observations on the Management of Space Telescopes, Cristina Chaplain GAO

"GAO's ongoing work indicates that these projects are each making progress in line with their phase of the acquisition cycle but also face some challenges. For example, the current launch date for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project reflects a 57-60-month delay from the project's original schedule. GAO's preliminary observations indicate this project still has significant integration and testing to complete, with very little schedule reserve remaining to account for delays. Therefore, additional delays beyond the delay of up to 8 months recently announced are likely, and funding available under the $8 billion Congressional cost cap for formulation and development may be inadequate."

Chairman Babin's Opening Statement: NASA's Next Four Large Telescopes

"It has been mentioned to me that with Hubble you could take a single picture into a meeting to show what was discovered but with W-FIRST you'll have to wallpaper their entire office. The capability has increased 100 times from Hubble. W-FIRST is a critical new flagship mission and we need to make sure it stays on course. The assets provided to NASA from the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO, seem like a good fit for the mission but the program needs reasonable timelines and a realistic budget."

- Hearing charter

- Statements by Ranking Member Johnson and Ranking Member Bera

- Prepared statements: Thomas Zurbuchen, Thomas Young, Matt Mountain, Chris McKee


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