CR Clears Congress, Funds Government for Remainder of FY2013
The House agreed to the Senate version of the new FY2013 Continuing Resolution (CR) this morning, clearing the measure for the President. He is expected to sign it, funding the government for the remainder of FY2013.
The good news is that agencies now know how much money they have to spend this year. The fiscal year began on October 1 and agencies have been operating under a 6-month CR at their previous year's funding levels since then. The new CR, H.R. 933, funds the government for the rest of the year (through September 30) and agencies included in five of the regular appropriations bills actually get completely new FY2013 appropriations bills instead of being constrained by what passed last year. DOD, NASA and NOAA are among the agencies getting new appropriations bills. (The five regular appropriations bills incorporated into the CR are Defense, Military Construction/Veterans Affairs, Commerce-Justice-Science, Agriculture, and Homeland Security).
The other good news is that passage of the CR avoids the possibility of a government shutdown, which could have occurred if Congress did not agree on a new CR by March 27 when the current law expires.
How much good news is contained in the bill in terms of funding levels and flexibility is a mixed bag. Although precise numbers will have to await calculations by the respective agencies, NASA will get about $16.65 billion for FY2013, a reduction of more than $1 billion from its FY2013 request of $17.77 billion or its FY2012 appropriated level of $17.8 billion. NOAA's funding for satellite procurement will be about $1.68 billion compared to its request of $1.8 billion, which included a significant increase from FY2012 in order to begin procurement of launch vehicles for its next generation geostationary weather satellites (the GOES-R series).
The numbers can be difficult to discern looking at the language in the bill and the accompanying explanatory statement. One must factor in provisions at the very end (sections 3001 and 3002) that make clear everything is still subject to the sequester (5 percent for non-defense agencies, 7.8 percent for defense) as well as across-the-board rescissions (1.877 percent for agencies in Division B, the part of the bill that pertains to NASA and NOAA). The funding figures shown in the bill and explanatory statement for NASA and NOAA therefore must be reduced by 6.877 percent, and for DOD, generally by 7.8 percent (funding for military construction/veterans affairs is subject to an additional 2.513 percent rescission, but not the rest of DOD).
The total amount of funding provided in the bill is $984 billion after the $1.043 trillion is adjusted for the sequester. The vote was 318-109. Many Democrats oppose the sequester, but split 115-82 in favor of the bill. Republicans were split 203-27 in favor.
At the end of the day, some programs may fare better than others because of language in the bill or explanatory statement that instructs agencies on how to fund specific activities. For example, the explanatory statement has rather extensive language about NOAA's GOES-R and JPSS programs as well as a number of NASA programs. Also, the sequester and rescission are intended to be applied equally to all budget accounts as well as the programs, projects and activities (PPAs) within those accounts. Agencies may interpret the meaning of a PPA differently, however.
Some programs also may be exempt from the sequester either by law or policy. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing yesterday that he has excluded NASA's top three priorities as well as funding for security, safety and export control compliance from across-the-board cuts. The three priorities, agreed to in 2011 by key Senators and the Administration, are the James Webb Space Telescope, the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, and the International Space Station augmented by commercial cargo and commercial crew.
Consequently, until NASA and other agencies issue operating plans or otherwise make public how they plan to distribute the funds, the precise dollar amounts for each program cannot be determined.
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