First Biden Budget Request Could be Out Next Week

First Biden Budget Request Could be Out Next Week

President Biden’s budget request for FY2022, the first of his administration, reportedly will be released next week. At least part of it. Media reports today say the request for discretionary spending — the portion that goes through the congressional appropriations process — will be sent to Congress next week while the rest will be submitted later. The action would allow appropriators to get started with their annual deliberations on the budgets for NASA, DOD and other government agencies.

By law, the administration’s budget request is supposed to be submitted on the first Monday of February each year. That deadline often is missed, especially when a new administration takes office, but in this case the process was further affected by former President Trump’s insistence he did not lose the election and resulting delays in the transition handover.

An added complication after Biden was inaugurated was opposition in the Senate to Biden’s nominee, Neera Tanden, to head the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that puts the budget together. She withdrew her nomination earlier this month when it was clear she could not get the votes to be confirmed.

Today, however, Biden’s nominee for Deputy OMB Director, Shalanda Young, was confirmed by the Senate, giving the office at least one person at the top.  Young is the former staff director for the House Appropriations Committee and has strong support from many House members to be nominated for the Director role, but it is not clear if that will happen.

About the same time Young was being confirmed, Jennifer Epstein of Bloomberg News reported that the discretionary portion of Biden’s FY2022 budget request will be released next week.

The other portion of the budget covers mandatory spending such as Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the national debt. It accounts for approximately 60 percent of the budget.

The space community is eager to find out what Biden has in mind for NASA.  He has made numerous positive comments about the Mars Perseverance mission and the overall goal of returning samples of Mars to Earth. Through his press secretary he also expressed support for the Artemis program.

But the proof of the pudding as to his priorities will be known only when the budget request is public. Mars Sample Return (MSR) and Artemis are very expensive. NASA wants to launch the next MSR spacecraft in 2026, so that money will be needed quickly. His timeline for Artemis is an open question. Biden is also known to champion climate change research. The key will be whether he adds money to pay for MSR, Artemis and earth science, or takes it from elsewhere in the NASA budget.

What Congress will do with the request is another matter. The Trump Administration did request a substantial increase — 12 percent — for NASA last year to begin paying for Artemis with the goal of putting astronauts back on the Moon by 2024, but Congress did not agree. In particular, it provided $850 million, only 25 percent of the $3.4 billion requested for the Human Landing Systems (HLS) essential to getting astronauts from lunar orbit down to and back from the surface.

That was a compromise between the $628 million approved by the Democratic-led House and the $1 billion recommended by the Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committee.

That level of funding almost ensures the 2024 goal cannot be met.

Ironically, in an op-ed in Space News today, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) insisted that the 2024 goal be retained to make sure the United States wins what he is calling a new space race with China and Russia. Moran chaired the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee last year that recommended cutting HLS down to $1 billion and then agreed to the $850 million compromise, imperiling that very goal.

Overall, the subcommittee cut Trump’s FY2021 NASA request by a net of $1.25 billion after adding back funds for several science and education programs he wanted to kill or delay.

With the change in party control of the Senate, Moran is now the subcommittee’s Ranking Member.  He also called on Biden’s pick for NASA Administrator, former Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, to commit to ensuring that Artemis does not become a partisan issue just because it was a Trump initiative.

All of these issues will play out over the course of the next many months. The first step is for the Biden Administration to send its request to Congress and it looks like that may happen next week, sooner than expected. Last week Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk estimated it might take until May, which perhaps will be when the rest of the package is ready.

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