Senate Appropriators Rue Cuts to NASA Technology, Constrain Availability of Commercial Crew Funds

Senate Appropriators Rue Cuts to NASA Technology, Constrain Availability of Commercial Crew Funds

An updated edition of our fact sheet on NASA’s FY2012 budget request is now available reflecting the actions taken by the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday. The committee posted the report to accompany the FY2012 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill (S. 1572) today, providing details on the “puts and takes” that resulted in the final total of $17.9 billion recommended for the agency.

The Senate committee-approved amount is $509 million less than NASA’s current spending level and $775 million less than the FY2012 request. That sounds like bad news, but it is $1.1 billion more than what the House Appropriations Committee approved, so in these austere budget times, it actually seems like good news! It is roughly the same amount as the agency received in FY2009.

The report (S. Rept. 112-78) shows that the $775 million in cuts from the requested level were taken from every NASA budget account except science, education, and the Inspector General’s (IG’s) office. Science received $84 million more than requested while education received the same as the request and the IG office received $1 million more than requested.

The biggest cuts were to space technology and commercial crew. Space technology was provided with $638 million compared to its $1.024 billion request. The committee said that it “regrets not being able to fund this promising new program more robustly.” Commercial crew was allocated $500 million compared to the request of $850 million. The committee made availability of $192 million of that contingent upon NASA moving forward with the Space Launch System, however.

The committee added $156 million to the $374 million requested for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) so that the telescope can be launched in 2018. The total amount for the Science Mission Directorate, of which JWST is part, was increased by $84 million. Cuts to Earth science ($32 million) and planetary exploration ($40 million) made up the difference. The committee blamed NASA for not requesting adequate funds for JWST in prior years, saying that “budget optimism led to massive ongoing cost overruns.” It capped the development cost for JWST at $8 billion, noting that NASA’s current cost estimate for the project is $8.7 billion (which includes some funding for science operations).

Neither the House nor Senate has voted on the CJS appropriations bill yet, so there are several more steps to go before NASA’s FY2012 budget will be finalized. Assuming no changes are made when the bills are debated by those bodies, they still need to reach a compromise between the two very different versions of the bill.

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