In the event that Congress fails to pass a budget, the Department of Defense is formulating contingency measures

If Congress fails to enact a budget before temporary financing expires in February, the Space Development Agency’s plans to deploy 20 satellites and buy another 126 could be jeopardized, according to the agency’s director Derek Tournear. On December 3, Congress approved a stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, that funds the federal government until February 18. Federal agencies can keep operating under a CR, but their financing is frozen at the same level as the prior year.

The CR passed on December 3 is the second since the beginning of the current fiscal year on October 1. As a result of the tense political struggles on Capitol Hill, the Department of Defense is concerned that Congress may continue to prolong temporary funds rather than passing a full-year appropriations bill for the duration of the fiscal year 2022.

SDA will be particularly hurt by a longer CR because its anticipated financing for 2022 is significantly larger than it was in the year 2021. In 2022, the Department of Defense requested $936.7 million for SDA, a $600 million increase over 2021. The agency is stepping up satellite procurement for its low-Earth orbit Transport Layer Tranche 1 constellation, that will supply military communications capabilities. SDA is also collaborating with Missile Defense Agency on sensor satellites that will identify and track ballistic as well as hypersonic missiles.

“We always think that you have to prepare on some level of CR every year because of the way we build up our finances and the way we prepare,” Tournear remarked at a SpaceNews awards ceremony. “We’ll be fine” if Congress passes a full budget by February. “We’ll be able to stick to all of our objectives and schedules,” he said. “It will have a significant impact” if the CR extends beyond that.

“Our budget is going up dramatically, so if we’re stuck at the ’21 levels through ’22, that will cause big slippages in Tranche 1 and might affect Tranche 0 if we don’t secure some type of anomalous financing that would allow us to have funded over our ’21 level,” Tournear added.

The Transport Layer Tranche 0’s first 20 satellites are set to launch in September. As CRs have become the norm rather than the exception over the last decade, the Department of Defense has increasingly presented legislative anomaly suggestions, or requests for the authority beyond the regular CR provisions, in order to move contracts and programs forward.

If a CR is extended, Tournear said an anomalous proposal would become an option to enable SDA to continue with Tranche 0 launches as well as Tranche 1 procurements. “We’re engaging with Congress and the comptroller of the DoD (Department of Defense) to look at different possibilities to allow us to accomplish that,” he added. “Everyone realizes this would have such a huge impact on providing these capabilities.”

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