House Appropriators Focus NASA Cuts on Science, STEM

House Appropriators Focus NASA Cuts on Science, STEM

The House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee that funds NASA released its proposals for FY2025 this morning, a day prior to when it will formally mark up the bill. Only top-line numbers are available now, but the news is not good for NASA’s science and STEM programs. NASA’s science portfolio is already coping with significant cuts in FY2024 compared to what it expected and once again bears the brunt for FY2025.

The subcommittee recommends $25.178 billion for NASA in FY2025, one percent more than FY2024, a figure that’s in line with the spending caps imposed by last year’s Fiscal Responsibility Act. But the Biden Administration requested $25.384 billion, a two percent increase that would have simply gotten NASA’s total budget back to the level it had in FY2023.

After years of relatively robust budgets, with Congress often providing more than requested by then-President Trump and later President Biden, the tide abruptly turned last year when Republicans took control of the House and insisted on deep cuts to non-defense spending in return for suspending the debt limit.

Non-defense spending includes NASA, NOAA, and the National Science Foundation all of which are funded in the CJS bill. NSF gets a two percent increase over FY2024, but is still almost $1 billion less than the request. NOAA is cut $676 million below FY2024 or $904 million below the request.

The CJS bill funds all of the Department of Commerce (of which NOAA is part) and the Department of Justice in addition to NASA, NSF and associated offices and agencies such as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Space Council (both of which are cut). The total amount in the bill is $78.288 billion. The committee reports that amount is “effectively $1.275 billion (2%) below” FY2024.

For NASA, the science program would get $7,334.2 million, the same as FY2024 and $231.5 million less than the request. With no adjustment for inflation, the purchasing power of those dollars is a reduction from FY2024. Last year the science budget was cut almost $1 billion compared to the request, forcing NASA to reconsider whether to move forward with several programs including Mars Sample Return. MSR is very popular with many members of Congress and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson was grilled by some members of this subcommittee earlier this year about why it isn’t proceeding.

NASA’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) office would suffer an even larger percentage cut, from $143 million in FY2024 (the same as the FY2025 request) to $89 million.

NASA’s Office of Inspector General also would be held to its current non-inflation-adjusted level of $47.6 million compared to the $50.5 million request.

The one category that gets an increase is Space Operations, which funds the International Space Station, including commercial crew and cargo and efforts to build a deorbit vehicle, plans for commercial space stations, as well as the Deep Space Network and other NASA communications systems. That would get $4,473.5 million instead of the $4,389.7 million requested. That’s an increase of $83.8 million above the request and $253.5 million more than FY2024.

The bill summary and bill text released today do not get into the specifics of the subcommittee’s intent as to what programs or activities NASA should cut or increase. That typically is in the committee’s report to accompany the bill after full committee markup. Time will tell if they direct NASA to fund certain programs like MSR despite the funding constraints. There’s no indication the majority of subcommittee members oppose NASA’s activities, but they are responding to their party’s demands to cut government spending and NASA has to absorb its share of the cuts.

House Appropriations CJS subcommittee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) chairs a hearing on NASA’s FY2025 budget request, April 17, 2024. Screengrab.

Subcommittee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said the bill “strategically balances federal funding to support American values and priorities by investing in programs that strengthen our economy and policies that protect our constitutional rights, while cutting wasteful spending and pushing back on blatant attempts to weaponize our justice system for political gain” and “also ensures that America remains the global leader in science and space explorations as adversaries like China ramp up global aggression.”

One of the key take-aways listed by the committee is that the bill bolsters national security by “Supporting the critical Artemis program to advance American leadership in Space and counter China’s malign ambitions.”

Tomorrow’s markup is at the subcommittee level. Usually subcommittee markups are rather pro forma affairs with any controversial issues held over for full committee debate later on.  Last year, the CJS bill never made it to full committee, however, because some of the provisions were too controversial, especially those focused on social policy issues like abortion, LGBTQ issues, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Instead, months after subcommittee markup, the bill went directly to the Rules Committee, but it never was debated on the floor.

This year is looking much the same in the House, with Republicans tacking on policy provisions that are anathema to Democrats. With this being an election year, the prospect of any appropriations bills being completed before the end of the year are pretty dim, but at least these numbers provide an idea of what NASA may have to live with in FY2025, bearing in mind this is just the first step in a lengthy process.

Aerospace Industries Association President Eric Fanning is out with a statement already today expressing disappointment with how NASA fared, especially STEM initiatives.


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