*** Outer space may be limitless, but acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan wants to make sure President Donald Trump's proposed Space Force doesn't become a sprawling bureaucracy.
In a Jan. 29 press briefing, Shanahan said the Space Force is going to be "small, [with] as small as possible footprint" as an organization within the Air Force. "How do we not grow a bureaucracy?" he said, alluding to congressional reservations about the Space Force. "How do we not generate unnecessary costs?"
Trump originally called for a new standalone branch of the military, and a draft White House policy memo, first reported by Space News, suggests that having the Space Force under the Air Force would be a first step to a sixth military branch and that a Space Department would eventually need to be created.
The Pentagon is currently working on its final Space Force proposal, which will need Congress' approval. But Shanahan said DOD is preparing to nominate a commander for the recently authorized Air Force Space Command.
*** There appears to be a growing appetite for legislation to save legislators and policymakers from themselves when it comes to government shutdowns. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have suggested schemes to revert to automatic continuing resolutions in the event of a lapse in appropriations. On Jan. 29, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he'd be "open to anything that we could agree on on a bipartisan basis that would make [shutdowns] pretty hard to occur again."
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), however, isn't enthusiastic about a mechanism to prevent shutdowns.
"While well intentioned, automatic continuing resolutions would weaken Congress' power of the purse, shift power to the president, and make it much harder to fund investments important to working families," Lowey said in a statement. "Discretionary spending should be subject to annual review by Congress, not indefinite autopilot."
*** The House Rules Committee voted along party lines to advance a measure that would bring the federal civilian pay raise in line with the raise given to the military for fiscal year 2019.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who introduced the bill, testified before the committee, along with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).
Republicans opposed the bill, which would give feds a 2.6 percent pay raise, arguing there was not yet a Congressional Budget Office score on the bill's cost, and that it wouldn't entirely solve the government recruitment and retention challenges. Connolly said in conversations with CBO, the annual cost of the bill would be about $6 billion, compared to the federal payroll under the White House's proposed pay freeze.
The House is expected to vote on the bill this week. Four Democrats offered a similar bill on Jan. 29.
*** Some asylum-seekers in the U.S. working through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can track their applications online, instead having to slog through telephone queues, faxes or snail mail.
The online application capability allows "affirmative" asylum seekers to check the status of their application. Foreign nationals in the country who have filed the agency's Form I-589 application and are working with an asylum officer-to check their application status are considered "affirmative."
USCIS said the new capability does not cover "defensive" asylum applicants in the immigration court system under deportation orders who have asked for asylum status.
USCIS officials said the capability not only makes checking application status easier and more effective for applicants, it also frees up agency employees to focus on scheduling immigration interviews and deciding pending cases.