Melroy: NASA “Unlikely” To Get Full FY2024 Budget Request

Melroy: NASA “Unlikely” To Get Full FY2024 Budget Request

NASA is acknowledging that the debt limit deal signed into law a few days ago means the agency probably will not get the 7.1 percent increase requested for FY2024. Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said it is “unlikely” and difficult choices lie ahead.

President Biden signed the Fiscal Responsibility Act into law on Saturday. It suspends the debt limit until January 1, 2025 — after next year’s congressional and presidential elections — and caps total FY2024 government spending at FY2023 levels with only a one percent increase allowed for FY2025. Defense and veterans medical care funding are exempted from cuts.

NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. Credit: NASA

The impact on individual agencies like NASA will not be known until the congressional appropriations committees act and some Senators are pressing for supplemental appropriations, but the outlook for FY2024 and FY2025 is not favorable for bump ups like what NASA is requesting.

For FY2023, NASA received $25.4 billion. The request for FY2024 is $27.2 billion. Though that 7.1 percent increase may seem large, in fact it basically keeps pace with inflation.

Melroy told a joint meeting of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine yesterday that getting that much is unlikely.

“We do have to face the reality of the debt ceiling agreement and what might happen to our 2024 budget request. We recognize that it’s unlikely we will get the full request. And we know that it’s going to create challenges for us in the future. So I think we’re going to have to be making some hard decisions this year.” — Pam Melroy

The agency already had to make some hard decisions for the FY2024 request.

For example, although the $8.3 billion requested for the Science Mission Directorate in FY2024 is the highest ever several projects were cut in planetary science, heliophysics, astrophysics and biological and physical sciences because others were deemed to be more important.

Nicola “Nicky” Fox, Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate. Credit: NASA

Speaking to the SSB today, SMD head Nicky Fox was asked about the decision to suspend work on the Geospace Dynamics Constellation, a heliophysics program that was a key recommendation by the last heliophysics Decadal Survey conducted by the Academies. Fox is a heliophysicst and ran NASA’s Heliophysics Divison before getting the top science job four months ago. She’s said in the past it was the most difficult decision she’s had to make.

“I think it really just demonstrates there are priorities, there are agency priorities, there are national priorities. And, you know, in order to be able to have continued U.S. predominance in Earth science and to advance Mars Sample Return, those were higher priority. It’s a constrained budget. And so even though, you know, we would love to do everything, there’s a lot of really positive stuff in the budget. And it’s easy to focus on what’s not in the budget, but there’s some really good stuff in there, too.” — Nicky Fox

Decadal Surveys are produced by the Academies every 10 years — a decade — for each of NASA’s science disciplines. A new heliophysics Decadal is underway right now and Fox has said she’ll wait until that comes out before deciding what to do with the Geospace Dynamics Constellation.

Jim Free, Associate Administrator, NASA Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Jim Free, head of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, spoke to the joint session yesterday. His office is charged with executing the Artemis human spaceflight program to get astronauts back on the Moon and then go to Mars. He conceded frustration with constantly changing budget expectations, too.

“We have to align our programs optimized around the funding profile we’re given and with the adjusted mission dates. I say that as a goal. That’s a very practical thing we have to do and frankly sometimes it’s frustrating when we have to continually change our program year-to-year when you have a 20-year program and you change it two to three times a year. It’s the system we live in. But I won’t stop saying that it’s frustrating when we’re trying to stay on a path to getting humans back to the Moon and go on to Mars.” — Jim Free

The bottom line is that even with a 7.1 percent requested increase, NASA’s coffers are strained by the number of projects underway, overruns on some of them, and inflation. Any reduction due to the Fiscal Responsibility Act could mean big changes ahead for the agency, but how big will not be known for months. NASA is very popular with both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees so it may fare better than others.

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