NASA's FY2017 Budget Request — $19 Billion or $18.3 Billion?

NASA's FY2017 Budget Request — $19 Billion or $18.3 Billion?

President Obama submitted his FY2017 budget request, the last of his administration, to Congress today.  NASA characterizes its request as $19 billion, although the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) document outlining the total request for the government shows NASA as requesting $18.3 billion.  The difference reflects the Administration’s strategy to separate the request for NASA into “mandatory” and “discretionary” funding in order to conform to agreed-upon budget caps.  The $18.3 billion fits within those caps, while the $19 billion does not, but is what NASA says is the minimum amount it needs to continue with the plans funded in FY2016.

[Editor’s Note: we published another article later in the day explaining more about the distinction between the $18.3 billion and $19 billion.]

This strategy is reminiscent of the FY2015 budget request where the Obama Administration requested funding for a “base” budget augmented by funds in an “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative” (OGSI).  Congress ignored the OGSI in its deliberations.

OMB’s budget documents, released at 11:00 am ET today, add to the confusion.  First, the “mandatory” spending apparently refers to the optional money while “discretionary” is equivalent to the “base” budget.  Table S-11 shows NASA’s “discretionary” request as $18.3 billion, while Table S-9 has $325 million as the additional “mandatory” amount for  FY2017.  That would total $18.625 billion, but page 28 of OMB’s The Budget of the U.S. Government: FY2017 clearly states that $19 billion is requested for NASA of which $763 million (not $325 million) is “mandatory.”   Additional budget information will be released as the day progresses that hopefully will clarify what OMB means.

In any case, NASA’s budget fact sheet, which is posted on NASA’s budget website, shows the request as $19 billion with a notation that it includes mandatory and discretionary funding without designating how much is in which category.

Since NASA’s budget fact sheet uses the $19 billion, will follow suit for this discussion, although it remains unclear as to whether Congress will see it that way.   It may not matter since Republicans in the House and Senate already have made clear that they have no plans to consider the President’s request.  In fact, breaking with tradition, the chairs of the House and Senate Budget Committees decided not to invite the OMB Director to testify to their committees to explain the request.  In terms of NASA, for the past two years Congress has added substantial funds to the President’s request anyway.  In the long run, it may not matter very much what is in the request, although budget discussions usually compare the President’s request with congressional action and that will be complicated this year.

From NASA’s standpoint, the request is $19 billion, divided as follows (listed in the order in which these programs were identified in the FY2016 budget, which is different from how they are listed in the NASA fact sheet).  More details will be available at 1:30 pm ET when NASA releases its full budget justification.

  • Science: $5,601 million
    • Earth Science: $2,032 million ($111 million more than what was appropriated for FY2016)
    • Planetary Science: $1,519 million ($112 million less than FY2016)
    • Astrophysics: $782 million ($51 million more than FY2016), including $25 million for SMD education programs
    • James Webb Space Telescope: $569 million ($51 million less than FY2016, as planned)
    • Heliophysics: $699 million ($49 million more than FY2016)
  • Aeronautics:  $790 million ($150 million more than FY2016)
  • Space Technology:  $827 million ($140 million more than FY2016)
  • Exploration (SLS, Orion, Exploration Ground Systems): $3,337 million
  • Space Operations (including commercial crew program): $5,076 million
  • Education:  $100 million
  • Safety, Security and Mission Services plus CECR (two categories that are usually separated): $3,257 million
  • Inspector General:  this amount is not included in NASA’s fact sheet, but last year was $37.4 million

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