Bolden: NASA Not Budgeting for Sequestration

Bolden: NASA Not Budgeting for Sequestration

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told a Space Transportation Association (STA) audience today that NASA is not planning for a budget that would reflect deep cuts required by sequestration under the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011.

Responding to a questioner by saying that he is “optimistic,” Bolden said that he does not think Congress will allow the sequestration to go into effect.  “I, like the President, am very confident that the Congress…is going to find a way to solve the problem,” he asserted.

The BCA created the congressional “supercommittee” that was tasked with reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years.  If it failed, automatic reductions called a “sequester” of a similar magnitude would go into effect for all the government departments and agencies that are funded as part of the “discretionary” part of the government.   There also would be a modest cut to Medicare providers.

The supercommittee did fail, conceding just before Thanksgiving that its 12 members could not reach a compromise on how to reduce the deficit.   Republicans wants reductions solely through spending cuts; Democrats wanted a combination of spending cuts and revenue (tax) increases.

Exactly how much any particular agency would be cut in any given year is uncertain at this point since the calculations depend on a number of factors.  However, cuts on the order of 7-8 percent for non-defense discretionary agencies like NASA have been floated.   These would be cuts to projected funding levels through FY2021.

Bolden did, indeed, sound very optimistic about his agency’s achievements in 2011 and the outlook for the future.   Even though Congress reduced NASA’s $18.7 billion FY2012 budget request to $17.8 billion, he called it “pretty doggone close” considering today’s stringent budget environment.

Bolden cited launch of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) – Curiosity – as one of NASA’s major achievements in 2011.   He said that it was a precursor to sending people to Mars in the 2030s.  Curioisty is a rover than will land on Mars and roam across its surface to study whether Mars once could have been habitable.  The comment thus infers that NASA’s plan is to land people on Mars in the 2030s, although President Obama’s National Space Policy calls for putting people into orbit around Mars – not landing on the surface – in the 2030s.  Landing is much more difficult than orbiting and would require the development of systems that would increase the cost of the human spaceflight program.   In response to a question, Bolden clarified that it is his hope that both orbital and landing missions could be accomplished within the decade of the 2030s, but he stressed that specific plans have yet to be developed and they depend on technological advancements.

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