GPS IIIF Could be Delayed If Full DOD Funding Not Approved

GPS IIIF Could be Delayed If Full DOD Funding Not Approved
The U.S. Air Force declared the second Lockheed Martin-built, next-generation GPS III satellite “Available for Launch.” The satellite is expected to launch in 2019. Photo: Lockheed Martin.

Though the Senate approved next year’s funding for the Department of Defense (DOD) just before its Labor Day break there are still hurdles to overcome before the fiscal year runs out on September 30. For the most part further delay should not greatly impact GPS efforts — as long as stopgap funding is secured to keep DOD’s doors open — but extending the deadline will likely put the GPS IIIF program on hold.

The threat is threefold: Congress has little time to pass a final bill, the White House may veto the measure and the GPS IIIF program is a “new start” which, under budgetary rules, can’t get off the ground until a fully fleshed-out funding bill is signed into law. In other words a continuing resolution or CR — the usual funding bridge used when congress does not meet its appropriations schedule — won’t do for getting the GPS IIIF program going.

So far, the House has completed all 12 of its appropriations bills and the Senate has finished nine. The Defense Department measure was part of a mini-omnibus or minibus bill comprising appropriations for a number of departments including Labor and Health and Human Services. To wrap things up the Senate first needs to work out its differences with the House and then the final bill needs to be signed into law — and the time window to do that is closing.

“The House and Senate will only be in session together 11 days between now and the start of the fiscal year,” said Stan Collender, a leading federal budget expert who blogs and tweets as TheBudgetGuy.  “…There’s really not enough time to get everything compromised with the House especially because the House is likely to be far more of a stickler on a variety of key issues. So let me put it this way — the need for a continuing resolution is almost guaranteed.”

“We have September basically to get all this done,” said Mike Tierney, a senior consultant and budget expert with the defense, space/intelligence, homeland security consulting firm Jacques & Associates. “…Anything that doesn’t get done in the month of September will necessitate a CR for sure.”

The issue holding up final action on appropriations, said Tierney, has to do with putting money in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget to build a border wall as demanded by the White House.

“In all likelihood they probably will not be able to overcome the sticking points relative to DHS in advance of the midterm election,” said Tierney. What’s likely to happen, he said, is legislation combining some version of a CR — at a minimum for DHS — with a full funding, full-year funding bill for things like defense and other agencies. “So the president signs one bill and a lot of agencies get a full year, some get the CR through a defined period.”

Tierney said that there is enough time to work out the DOD funding as a lot of the prep work has already been done.

“We know for sure that there’d been some informal discussions and pre-conferencing going on before the Senate officially cleared its bill. So a lot of the underbrush has been cleared,” Tierney told Inside GNSS. The clear intent of the all the appropriators, he said, is to get the defense funding bill done by the end of the fiscal year. The fact that the minibus passed without the sort of “poison pill” provisions seen in years past “demonstrates a commitment by the entire (Senate) chamber, and by Congress on the whole, to get those bills cleared.”

Putting a CR and the appropriations legislation all in one bill, however, is a bit risky. President Trump said earlier this year he would refuse to sign any more funding bills until there were sufficient monies allocated to build the wall along the border with Mexico.

That approach does allow the president to exert influence over the process and potentially refuse to sign that legislation or something on those lines, said Tierney. “That would be what would prevent defense from getting passed into law. It’s not going to be Congress. It’s going to be Congress passing a bill and then the president probably refusing to sign it over the border wall objections.”

“He wants at least five billion dollars for his wall, although he’ll probably demand more as it gets closer to September 30,” said Collender. “And the question is whether or not he can be bought off or lied to by the Republican leadership — that is whether he’ll take no for an answer under the guise that (they’ll) do it in a lame duck session.”

“He’s not going to go along with that,” said Collender, who has put the likelihood of a shutdown at 60 percent.

“I think the odds of a defense appropriations bill getting passed on time this year are higher than they have been in the past 10 years, but that’s still not saying it’s likely,” said Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at think tank CSIS. “A big wild card in all of this is whether or not President Trump will eventually follow through on his threats to shut down the government over border wall funding and other non-defense spending that he opposes.”

Trump pledged this week not to hold up the appropriations bills but no commentator appeared confident that the famously mercurial president would not change his mind — especially as the pressure rises from the various investigations and the need to turn out his supporters as the mid-term election intensifies.

“There’s certainly the possibility that President Trump blows all that (legislation) up and says he won’t sign the full year bill for the other agencies until he gets his border wall funding for DHS,” Tierney said. “But I’m not sure that the Democrats are likely to go for that (wall funding) — which would likely result in a shutdown if he holds the line on that.”

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