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Lightfoot: NASA Budget Still in Formulation, "Confident" of Administration Support

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Mar-2017
Updated: 07-Mar-2017 05:41 PM

NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot told employees today that the NASA budget is still in the formulation phase and he remains "confident" in the Trump Administration's support for the agency.

In a memo entitled "Update on Budget Process," Lightfoot explained that the process for formulating the FY2018 budget request to Congress is later than usual because of the presidential transition, but the timing is "not unusual during a transition year."  The deliberations are "not yet at a point" where sufficient details can be shared other than what is already known publicly -- the President plans to increase defense spending by $54 billion and decrease it for non-defense spending by the same amount.  NASA is part of non-defense spending.

"While the final numbers for the agency and its programs are going through this give and take process, we remain confident in the Administration [sic] support for NASA," he writes.

The White House is expected to release its "budget blueprint" publicly on March 16 that will provide top-level numbers for NASA and other government agencies, but the detailed requests are not anticipated until May.

Last week, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent government agencies memos stating what it is currently planning to request for their activities.  Although the information is supposed to remain confidential, details are leaking out.  NOAA's budget is due for a 17 percent cut, for example, and multiple news sources published reports today that the Trump Administration plans deep cuts to the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), all part of the Department of Homeland Security, in order to fund the construction of the border wall. Significant proposed cuts to the State Department, foreign aid, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also have made the news.

Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) was quoted by AL.com as telling constituents yesterday that the non-defense spending cuts "may include NASA and you need to be mindful of that."  Brooks is a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and vice-chair of its Space Subcommittee.  His district includes NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

NASA is currently funded by a FY2017 Continuing Resolution (CR) at basically its FY2016 funding level of $19.285 billion.  Congress has not completed action on the FY2017 budget request from the Obama Administration, which was $18.262 billion in appropriated funds (see SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on NASA's budget for an explanation of the FY2017 request, which was convoluted.) The House and Senate Appropriations Committees were poised to provide much more than that request, providing slightly more than FY2016 before time ran out on the 114th Congress. The CR expires on April 28 and Congress must pass new appropriations to keep NASA (and other agencies) operating past that point.

The House is expected to pass a FY2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act today, clearing it for the President. That bill does not provide any funding for NASA, however.  It is an authorization bill that sets policy and recommends funding levels, but only appropriations committees have money to spend.  (Not clear on the difference between appropriations and authorizations?  See SpacePolicyOnline.con's "What's a Markup" fact sheet.)

Whatever the President's request turns out to be, it is just that, a request.  Under the Constitution, Congress has the "power of the purse."  Only Congress decides how much money the government will spend and on what. 

As Lightfoot points out in his memo: "we have a long ways to go in the budget process."


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