House Approps Report Calls for Better NASA Cost Control, Details Proposed Cuts

House Approps Report Calls for Better NASA Cost Control, Details Proposed Cuts

The House Appropriations Committee today released the draft report to accompany the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill. The full committee will mark up the bill tomorrow.

Top-level information on how much funding the CJS subcommittee approved was made public last week. This draft report provides additional details and the subcommittee’s reasoning for its decisions. Changes could be made at the markup tomorrow.

In the draft report released today, the committee criticizes NASA for its inability to control costs. The committee praises the agency for adopting the new Joint Cost and Schedule Confidence Level (JCL) approach, but complains that it is “undermined by NASA’s willingness to make exceptions and allow projects to move forward at lower confidence levels.” It “urges” NASA to stop doing that and “strictly hold all projects to the 70 percent standard.” At the 70 percent cost confidence level, there is a 70 percent chance that the project will be completed for no more than the associated cost estimate.

At a separate hearing before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on the new Space Launch System this morning, NASA Administrator Bolden cited his Naval Academy classmate and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, as saying that the state of the U.S. economy is the largest single threat to the nation. Bolden added that NASA must take its share of budget cuts, but must do so “smartly.”

If the House Appropriations Committee adopts the recommendations of its CJS subcommittee as expressed in this report, Bolden will have his work cut out for him. The recommendation is to cut NASA’s budget by $1.91 billion compared to the President’s request for FY2012 ($16.81 billion instead of the $18.72 billion requested), or $1.64 billion compared to its current funding level of $18.45 billion. Proposed cuts to the President’s request include the following:

  • $100 million from Earth science
  • $374 million from the James Webb Space Telescope, which would zero the account
  • $40 million from planetary science
  • $649 million from space technology
  • $300 million from the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate — this is a net reduction after a committee recommended increase for the Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and a reduction from commercial crew
  • $283 million from the Space Operations Mission Directorate, of which $60 million is provided in the Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration account instead for activities that are part of the 21st Century Launch Complex effort. The committee would cut $117 million from the space shuttle program. It says the remaining funds, $548 million, should be enough to cover NASA’s liability for the pension plan for shuttle workers.
  • $142 million from Cross Agency Support
  • $26 million from Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration — a net reduction after the committee’s movement of $60 million to this account from Space Operations
  • $1 million from the Office of Inspector General (IG), although it directs ESMD to use $1 million of its funds for a study on the future of the human exploration program to be conducted by the IG office

The committee would provide NASA with additional flexibility on how to manage the cuts by not specifying the amounts of funding for each of NASA’s projects and activities. Instead, it specifies amounts at the theme level, allowing NASA to decide how to spend the funds within that theme.

For a table comparing the President’s request with what the committee is recommending, read our fact sheet on NASA’s FY2012 budget request.

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