The partial government shutdown affecting about a quarter of U.S. government agencies is over two weeks old, and industry advocates are beginning to sound the alarm on its potential effects for aerospace programs.
The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) issued a statement Tuesday calling for Congress and Trump to reach “an immediate resolution and reopen the affected agencies.”
The association noted that research projects at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are currently suspended “setting back development of game-changing technologies.” No further information on which programs are being affected was provided, and requests for comment by NASA and NOAA were not returned by Defense Daily’s deadline Tuesday.
In addition to project setbacks, “key industry-government stakeholder meetings have been canceled or impaired because government counterparts aren’t able to attend or participate,” AIA’s statement said. The closure of the Commerce and State Departments has delayed deliveries to foreign customers as export licenses are not being processed at this time, the association added.
“Every day the shutdown lasts, the impacts grow and become more difficult and more expensive to fix,” said AIA President and CEO Eric Fanning.
Human space exploration programs being developed by defense contractors appear not to be affected yet, but could face issues should the shutdown continue.
Lockheed Martin [LMT] is the prime contractor for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle built for NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), meant to develop the administration’s efforts for human spaceflight capability. An uncrewed first launch of the Orion spacecraft integrated with NASA’s Space Launch System expendable launch vehicle is currently slated for mid-2020, while the first crewed launch is expected in 2022, according to the company.
A Lockheed Martin spokesperson told Defense Daily in an email Tuesday that the Orion EM-1 spacecraft’s schedule is not currently affected by the shutdown. “As a contractor, we’re continuing to work on processing the Orion service module and crew module at the Operation and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center,” the spokesperson said.
Jerry Drelling, Boeing [BA] director of external communications, said in a Tuesday email that the partial government shutdown has not had “a material impact” on Boeing programs to date. Boeing is a contractor for the Space Launch System, and is also developing the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner spacecraft in collaboration with NASA’s commercial crew program.
“However, if the shutdown continues for an even more extended period of time, the effects may begin to weigh on our operational efficiency and pose other challenges for our business,” Drelling noted. “We urge the Administration and Congress to reach a solution to this funding impasse quickly to fully reopen the government and preserve U.S. economic growth.”
According to data provided by Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) office, about 96 percent of NASA’s personnel are affected by the partial shutdown.
A letter dated Dec. 18, 2018 from NASA CFO Jeff DeWit to Office of Management and Budget Program Associate Director James Herz outlines the administration’s revised shutdown plan, which was last updated in September 2015.
In the letter, Herz notes that space launch hardware processing activities and the tracking, operation and support of the International Space Station and other operating satellites necessary for safety and “protection of life and property” are exempt from furlough activities.
“If a satellite mission is in the operations phase, we will maintain operations that are essential to ensure the safety of that satellite and the data received from it,” the letter said. However, unfunded work will generally be suspended for satellite missions that have not yet been launched.
New contracts, grants, task orders or other such actions will not be issued, except if they are critical to meeting the requirements for excepted activities, the letter said. Contractors may continue to perform under required contracts as long as the work does not require shutdown NASA facilities or other such government support that would be affected.
“Contractors continuing to work under these circumstances will be instructed to preserve resources and limit contractual expenditures. When contract work on these projects reaches a point at which civil servant participation becomes necessary … contractors will be instructed to suspend performance,” the letter said.