The House yesterday passed a new law to reform the commercial space licensing rules.
Essentially, the bill shifts a majority of commercial space regulation to the Department of Commerce, and matches somewhat closely the recommendations being put forth by the Trump administration.
The bill appears to be almost identical to the version I analyzed in great detail in an op-ed for The Federalist last year. It has the same positives and negatives. While it definitely aims at simplifying the licensing process for space (abolishing such agencies as NOAA’s Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs that recently tried to claim it had the right to license all photograph of Earth from space.), it does not appear to completely make Commerce that “one-stop shop” for all licensing, allowing the FAA and FCC to retain their space licensing responsibilities. Moreover, it appears, as I noted in my op-ed, to avoid the more essential legal problems, such as the Outer Space Treaty, that hamper private space today and will hamper private space even more in the future.
Regardless, it does appear that the turf war over licensing between Commerce and the FAA is over. Though the law still must get through the Senate, it does appear that Commerce has mostly won. It will get the majority of this bureaucratic bauble. What that bureaucracy will do with it, however, is the real question.
Turf war! The FCC commissioner today questioned the omission of an FCC representative on Trump’s reborn National Space Council.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said April 17 that the Federal Communications Commission “needs to coordinate more closely with other federal authorities” as it navigates through new space activities. “Right now the National Space Council is considering policy changes to help promote the growth of the commercial space industry,” she said. “Their efforts encompass everything from streamlining licenses to reforming export controls, protecting airwaves, to facilitating space activities … the FCC should have a seat at the table. It’s a glaring omission that this agency does not, because through our oversight of the airwaves and licensing of satellite services, we have an important role ensuring the viability of space for future generations.”
Rosenworcel noted that the National Space Council as revived by the Trump administration last year has a distinguished list of leaders, including the head of NASA, the secretaries of defense, transportation and homeland security, and others, calling it “an impressive list.” But “cutting the FCC out of this discussion is an unseemly mistake, and one that deserves a fix,” she said.
To translate: The FCC wants to keep its regulatory power over space operations, and by excluding them from the council Trump is threatening that power. This is unacceptable!
If the Trump administration is truly serious about streamlining the space regulatory bureaucracy, we should hear more complaints like this in the coming months, from the FAA, NASA, the State Department, and other agencies. Normally such government streamlining efforts only make things worse, because all the threatened government agencies chime in with complaints like this. The result is that nothing gets streamlined. Instead, the effort merely adds another layer of bureaucracy, as illustrated by my previous post.