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Revised House Appropriations Proposal Cuts NASA More Deeply

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The House Appropriations Committee let another shoe drop today with its revised cuts to domestic discretionary spending in the latest version of a Continuing Resolution (CR) to tund the government for the rest of FY2011. The CR is written as a revision of the FY2011 appropriations for the Department of Defense.

The committee's first proposal issued on Wednesday would have cut $379 million from NASA's FY2011 request, and a total of $74 billion from the President's overall FY2011 request for domestic discretionary spending. Tea Party Republicans demanded that the cut be $100 billion, however, and the appropriations committee was forced to propose deeper cuts. The new proposal would cut the $100 billion overall from the FY2011 request, of which $578.7 million is from NASA's FY2011 request of $19.0 billion. The following statement was made by the committee with regard to NASA, as well as NOAA's satellite activities:

"The bill includes necessary funding increases in two areas: to prevent some work stoppage on NOAA's weather satellite program that will help protect Americans from weather-related natural disasters, and to prevent deficiencies in federal detention and incarceration programs. The CR also provides budget flexibility within overall reduced funding levels to allow the Department of Justice to meet high-priority requirements and NASA to carry out its authorized activities."

What that actually means programmatically is difficult to ascertain. Parsing the language of the bill is challenging.

NASA Budget Briefing on Monday at 2:00 pm EST

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Space policy wonks are more than curious to know what will be in the President's FY2012 budget request for NASA due to be submitted to Congress on Monday. The agency will hold a press briefing at 2:00 pm EST that day in the auditorium at NASA Headquarters, which will be telecast on NASA TV.

The budget request ordinarily is available on the website of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) around 9:00 am on the day of its release, but does not include programmatic specifics. Those are provided throughout the day in agency briefings. Information on budget briefings by NOAA and the Department of Defense will be posted here when they are available.

Giffords for Senate?

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Senator Jon Kyl's (R-AZ) announcement today that he will not run for reelection in 2012 set off rampant speculation as to who will compete to replace him. One of the often mentioned names is Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Almost unthinkable four weeks ago in the immediate aftermath of the shooting rampage that left six dead and the Congresswoman critically injured with a gunshot wound to the head, her miraculous recovery to date continues to spur optimism about her future.

Earlier this week, Politico ran a long article about Rep. Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. The article revealed that Rep. Giffords now is eating three meals a day and on Monday was able to speak, asking for toast for breakfast. Other news stories quote her close friend Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) as confirming that Rep. Giffords did in fact verbalize the word toast and hinted it was not the first time she had spoken since the shooting. Her ability to speak is viewed as another milestone in her recovery. Kelly declined to answer reporters' questions last week as to whether she was able to speak or not.

Media reports on the day of the shooting very incorrectly stated that she had died. Today, just four weeks later, there is speculation that she may run for the Senate. She is currently at the TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital in Houston. Kelly calls her rehabilitation a "marathon" and clearly did not want to raise expectations too high at his press conference last week announcing that he was resuming his duties as commander of the STS-134 shuttle mission. Nonetheless, he enthusiastically predicted that she will be at Kennedy Space Center to watch his April 19 launch.

NASA IG: Major Challenges Facing NASA in 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA's Inspector General (IG), Paul Martin, is testifying to the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee this morning. His written testimony is available on the Office of Inspector General (OIG) website.

Martin's bottom line is that NASA is in a "state of significant uncertainty" and its "most immediate challenge" is managing the agency's programs "amid the continuing lack of clarity caused by conflicting legislative directives" in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act and the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act that prohibits NASA from cancelling the Constellation program or initiating a replacement program until Congress gives its approval in a subsequent appropriations act.

He goes on to list six key challenges facing NASA:

  • Future of U.S. Space Flight
  • Acquisition and Program Management
  • Infrastructure and Facilities Management
  • Human Capital
  • Information Technology Security
  • Financial Management

House Tea Party Republicans May Force Deeper Cuts

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The cuts proposed yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee reportedly are not being warmly received by the conservative Tea Party Republicans in the House who promised to cut $100 billion in spending during their campaigns.

Doing the math is a problem in calculating how much of a cut was proposed, starting with the fundamental question of whether the baseline is the President's FY2011 budget request or the FY2010 appropriated levels under which the government is currently operating based on the Continuing Resolution (CR). Appropriators used the FY2011 President's request as their baseline, but apparently the Tea Party Republicans want the cut to be from current spending, which is the FY2010 level. If the FY2011 request is used, the House Appropriations Committee's cuts would total $74 billion. If the FY2010 level is used, the cut is only $32 billion according to calculations by the newspaper The Hill.

Using NASA as an example, its FY2010 level is $18.724 billion, while the FY2011 request is $19.000 billion. The House appropriations committee proposed a $379 million cut to NASA's FY2011 request, which would give the agency $18.621 billion, $103 million less than its FY2010 level. Under the Tea Party Republican approach of using the FY2010 level as the baseline, NASA would end up with $18.345 billion. Any cut would have to be absorbed in just 7 months instead of 12 months, since 5 months of FY2011 will have passed by the time the current CR expires on March 4.

Another question is whether the $100 billion cut should come only from non-security programs as recommended by the House Republican Study Committee, or if cuts to the Department of Defense, for example, can be included in the calculation. House appropriators reportedly want to include the cuts they proposed to the FY2011 request for security programs, but if the FY2010 figures are used as the baseline instead, that spending would increase.

As Republicans debate these points, the upshot is that the numbers released yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee may become only the tip of the iceberg in whatever the House passes. Politico reports that the chairs of the appropriations committee and its subcommittees "were closeted away in the Capitol, fending off talks of across-the-board cuts but also admitting they will most likely need days more to come up with an alternative."

Across-the-board cuts are sometimes used by Congress to meet a target spending goal. Each agency is dealt with individually, but then a certain percentage cut is applied to all of them, usually to be taken at an agency's discretion on an account-by-account basis.

What the Senate will do with whatever legislation is sent to them by the House is highly uncertain. Senators reacted cooly to the earlier-announced House cuts; deeper cuts presumably would increase their concern. With the expiration of the current CR only three weeks away, and the House and Senate scheduled to be in recess for one of those weeks (February 21-25), the clock is ticking for resolving these profound issues.

House Appropriators Will Cut $100 Billion from President's FY2011 Request

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, announced this afternoon that his committee will yield to demands of the Tea Party Republicans and cut $100 billion from the budget in the upcoming Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for the rest of FY2011. The cut will be from the FY2011 President's budget request, not current spending levels at the FY2010 level. Details on where the additional cuts will come from were not revealed.

The cuts announced by the committee yesterday totalled $74 billion from the FY2011 request, meaning that an additional $26 billion in cuts are needed. The cuts will have an even greater impact because they will have to be absorbed by the affected agencies over just 7 months instead of 12 months because the new legislation will not be enacted until at least March, when five months of FY2011 will have elapsed.

In a statement, Rep. Rogers said:

"After meeting with my subcommittee Chairs, we have determined that the CR can and will reach a total of $100 billion in cuts compared to the President's request immediately - fully meeting the goal outlined in the Republican Pledge to America' in one fell swoop. Our intent is to make deep but manageable cuts in nearly every area of government, leaving no stone unturned and allowing no agency or program to be held sacred. I have instructed my committee to include these deeper cuts, and we are continuing to work to complete this critical legislation."


UPDATE: NASA Cut $379 Million, NOAA Cut $336 Million, in House Appropriations Proposal for CR For Rest of FY2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: The House Appropriations Committee has now posted its "partial list of 70 spending cuts" it is proposing for the FY2011 CR. The list includes the $379 million cut to NASA reported by the National Journal, as well as a $336 million cut to NOAA's budget, and one of the largest cuts -- $1.1 billion -- is from the Department of Energy's Office of Science (the press release does not specify that it is DOE's Office of Science, but a committee staffer confirmed that it is). NSF would also get cut by $139 million, and the National Institutes of Health by $1 billion.


ORIGINAL STORY: The document is not yet posted on the House Appropriations Committee's website, but the National Journal (subscription required) reports that the Continuing Resolution (CR) as reported from that committee for the rest of FY2011 includes a $379 million cut to NASA. The article states:

"The spending bill will also include cuts to several of Congress' sacred cows: a $379 million cut to the NASA; a $224 million cut to Amtrak, and a $256 million cut in assistance to state and local law enforcement."


The cut presumably is to the FY2011 President's budget request of $19.0 billion, which would put the agency roughly at its FY2010 level of $18.7 billion. We will provide more details when they are available.

Need a Break From Budget News? Watch A Comet Encounter on Monday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA cleverly designed the Stardust-NExT mission to have its encounter with comet Tempel 1 on Valentine's Day, but that was when the President's budget request for FY2012 was to be released a week earlier. Now, the two coincide. For those on the East Coast who are still awake near midnight on Monday and need relief from analyzing the budget request, the Tempel 1 encounter will be televised on NASA TV beginning at 8:37 pm PST (11:37 pm EST).

A press conference will be held the next day at 10:00 am PST (1:00 pm EST) at which Science Mission Directorate head Ed Weiler and three Stardust-NExT scientists -- Joe Veverka of Cornell, Tim Larson of JPL, and Don Brownlee of the University of Washington-Seattle -- will speak.

Republican Lawmakers Want Human Spaceflight, Not Climate Change Research

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

A group of Republican lawmakers have written to the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and its Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee recommending that funds for NASA's climate change research satellites be shifted to human spaceflight, reports Space News today.

The letter to Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) reportedly was signed by Reps. Pete Olson (R-TX), Bill Posey (R-FL), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Sandy Adams (R-FL), Rob Bishop (R-UT), and Mo Brooks (R-AL). All have districts with interests in the human spaceflight program.

Many Republican Members of Congress are skeptical that climate change is human-induced and in the past have not been particularly supportive of NASA programs focused on climate change research. Recommendations to cut those programs thus are not surprising, whether the money is reallocated to other space activities or to deficit reduction.

The House Republican leadership is expected to introduce the latest Continuing Resolution (CR) later this week, perhaps Thursday, with a vote anticipated next week. The CR would cover the rest of FY2011. Overall spending for domestic discretionary spending is slated to drop by $74 billion compared to the President's FY2011 budget request (or $32 billion compared to FY2010 spending) in whatever is introduced, but various news sources indicate that Tea Party Republicans plan to offer amendments to cut more deeply. The Republican Study Committee, for example, wants to cut $100 billion to fulfill a Republican campaign promise. Others argue that a cut of that magnitude, which would have to be absorbed with only seven months remaining in the fiscal year, is too precipitous.

The impending House cuts have received a tepid response in the Senate so far.

ATK and Astrium to Team on New Rocket

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

ATK and Europe's Astrium have announced that they will team to build a new commercial rocket to compete for the commercial crew launch business. Called "Liberty," the rocket will build on the work ATK has been doing for NASA's Ares I.

Ares I is part of NASA's Constellation program that is on its way to being cancelled as soon as Congress passes an appropriations bill that lifts an existing congressional prohibition on terminating the program or beginning a new one. Liberty will use the solid rocket motors ATK was developing for Ares I paired with the first stage of Europe's Ariane rocket, which is built by Astrium. The rocket would be able to lift 44,500 pounds to low Earth orbit with a first launch at the end of 2013, a second test flight in 2015, and operational status is 2015, according to the press release.

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