JWST, Commercial Crew Spared Cuts in NASA FY2013 Operating Plan

JWST, Commercial Crew Spared Cuts in NASA FY2013 Operating Plan

With only six weeks left in FY2013, Congress and the Obama Administration finally reached agreement on NASA’s FY2013 operating plan that details how the agency will spend the money appropriated by Congress.   Although the agency was subject to across-the-board cuts of about 7 percent that were to be applied proportionately to all its activities, at least two projects were spared those cuts — the commercial crew program and the James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA has not released the operating plan to the public, but provided account and sub-account totals to SpacePolicyOnline.com at our request.  We have updated our fact sheets on NASA’s FY2013 budget request and FY2014 budget request accordingly.

The messy FY2013 appropriations process was difficult to follow and NASA’s appropriations ultimately were determined by two Continuing Resolutions (CRs).  The first, which covered October 1, 2012 – March 27, 2013, kept NASA and most other government agencies at their FY2012 spending levels, but included a 0.612 percent across-the-board increase.  The second CR covered the rest of the fiscal year (through September 30).  The House agreed to a Senate-passed version that is posted on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s website along with an explanatory statement that includes a table detailing NASA funding.  At first glance, those figures looked quite good for the agency — a total of $17.862 billion — but later sections of the bill applied a 1.877 percent rescission, a 5 percent sequester, and instructed the Office of Management and Budget to make further across-the-board cuts if necessary to ensure total spending in the bill did not exceed agreed-upon budget caps.

According to the numbers provided to SpacePolicyOnline.com today (August 29, 2013), after doing all the math, NASA ended up with $16.865 billion for FY2013, compared to its request of $17.711 billion.  The rescissions and sequester were supposed to be applied “proportionately” to every “program, project and activity,” but NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden made clear early on that he intended to exempt some activities, such as commercial crew.  Any such action would require agreement from OMB and Congress.

Indeed, the numbers provided by NASA show that the commercial crew program will be funded at $525 million for FY2013, the same level as approved by Congress before the rescissions and sequester are applied.   Similarly, the James Webb Space Telescope is funded at $627.6 million, a tad less than the $628 million approved by Congress before the across-the-board reductions.  A table comparing the FY2013 request, subsequent congressional action (including the second CR), and the final numbers provided by NASA based on the operating plan are in our fact sheet on the FY2013 budget request.

Hopefully NASA — or the congressional appropriations committees — will release the complete FY2013 operating plan so the taxpayers can know in more detail how their money is being spent.  For now, the numbers provided to SpacePolicyOnline.com today are at least a start.

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