Wolf Presses OMB on JWST Replan Details

Wolf Presses OMB on JWST Replan Details

Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, wants the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to tell Congress where it plans to get the money to pay for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) overrun.

In a letter to OMB Director Jacob Lew today, Rep. Wolf said that if the White House does not tell his subcommittee what NASA activities it plans to cut in order to make funds available for JWST, he will have to assume that JWST is no higher a priority than NASA’s other programs. The letter says —

“While acknowledging that substantial cuts will be necessary, the Administration has so far failed to identify a single specific proposal to offset the increase in JWST spending above the levels contained in the President’s fiscal year 2012 request. Either no offsets have been proposed because JWST really isn’t a top priority, or the Administration is hoping that remaining silent will force Congress to act unilaterally and thereby take sole ownership of the cuts necessitated by the Administration’s actions. No matter which explanation is correct, continuing silence is neither fair nor acceptable to the Congress and to members of the scientific community who will be deeply impacted by the ultimate outcome of the JWST debate.”

Wolf reminded Lew that the House and Senate will be meeting “in the coming weeks” to negotiate NASA’s FY2012 appropriations level and funding for JWST “will be one of the most significant issues considered.” For Congress to make “a truly informed decision,” it needs to understand “both the value of JWST and the value of opportunities that may be precluded” by shifting money from other activities into JWST. He made clear that if OMB did not provide the information before the conference negotiations begin, “I will consider that to be an indication that JWST is no higher in priority than any other existing or planned NASA activity.”

NASA has said that it will reveal the future spending plan for JWST when it submits its FY2013 budget request in February.

The House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, chaired by Wolf, recommended termination of the JWST program. The full committee agreed. The Senate Appropriations Committee, conversely, voted to provide more funds than requested for JWST in FY2012 to ensure that it could be launched in 2018. Neither the House nor Senate has voted on the CJS bill, yet.

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