Administration Misread Congressional Mood Again With FY2012 Budget Request, Say WIA Panelists

Administration Misread Congressional Mood Again With FY2012 Budget Request, Say WIA Panelists

During a discussion today at the Library of Congress organized by Women in Aerospace (WIA), panelists compared the Obama Administration’s FY2012 budget request with the priorities laid out in the 2010 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act. Most argued that the request represents a mismatch in funding priorities and raises a lot of concern.

One panelist, referring to the “unrest” caused by the FY2011 budget request last year, said that “once again the administration misread the mood of Congress” and that the FY2012 request has “absolutely zero chance of being approved by Congress.”

The event, titled “The NASA Authorization Act of 2010: How Did We Get Here? What’s Next?” took place under the Chatham House rule that prohibits identifying who said what. Instead, “participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.” The names of the panelists were circulated by WIA, however. All are congressional staff except for one person from NASA.

The Authorization Act was described as a compromise between the Administration and Congress, the culmination of a difficult process that eventually gave NASA “a clear direction.” Nevertheless, some panelists believe that the FY2012 request released last month diverges from the Act by proposing a reduction to the authorized funding for development of a new launch vehicle and crew capsule (called Human Space Capabilities in the budget request) for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit, but an increase over the authorized amount for the commercial crew transportation initiative. Participants said that Congress would continue imposing strong oversight to ensure that the priorities laid out in the Act are met. One panelist stated that the Administration should not believe that there is a pathway forward different from what was directed in the Act, adding that there is “no interest in renegotiating that framework.”

While Congress will have its say on the FY2012 budget request in the coming months, uncertainty remains about FY2011, which is being funded by a series of short-term Continuing Resolutions (CRs). One participant, while offering no good news with respect to the likelihood of a budget being approved for the balance of the year, said that cuts included in H.R. 1 were prompted by an emphasis on deficit reduction and not by targeting NASA or other agencies specifically. On a cautionary note, though, the panelist added that stakeholders should be well aware of the impacts of these “across-the-board-cuts” on specific programs, as these will probably continue. H.R. 1 was a full-year CR that passed the House last month, but was defeated in the Senate.

With budget constraints the order of the day for the foreseeable future, another panelist agreed that there would be no “major plus-ups” for NASA or any other agency in the coming years, except perhaps the Department of Defense. The way forward, this person suggested, is to implement the direction already agreed upon in the Authorization Act.

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