Yesterday most of the Texas Congressional delegation—both senators and 26 of its 32 representatives—sent a letter to President Obama asking him to direct additional stimulus funding to NASA. Specifically, the letter requested that the White House request a redirection of $3 billion in stimulus funding from unspecified programs to NASA to provide initial basis for the additional funding the Augustine committee identified as necessary for NASA.
One reason they asked for the redirection of stimulus funding is that it’s late in the FY2010 budget cycle, so therefore it would presumably be easier to get the additional money that way than through the conventional appropriations approach (the full Senate is expected to take up the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill, which includes NASA, this week.) A second argument is that, as Congressman Pete Olson notes in the release accompanying the letter, “only 15% of the $787 billion in ARRA funds have been spent”. That statistic is a little misleading, since only about $581 billion of the $787 billion is actually stimulus spending (the rest are tax cuts); of that $581 billion, $107 billion (over 18%) has been spent and an additional $144 billion is “in progress” of being spent, according to ProPublica. That leaves $330 billion left to spend: still a lot.
A second issue is that this provides a short-term solution only: the Augustine committee identified a need for an increase of at least $3 billion a year, not a one-time stimulus. The Texas legislators’ letter to the president recognizes this, noting the need for “the projection of at least that level of increase, as recommended by your Committee, at a 2.4% rate of inflation in the out-year projections included in the initial FY2010 Request.” However, Congressional appropriators have been reticient to provide even a fraction of that level of increase to NASA in the past, and it seems unlikely future Congresses will be as spendthrift as the current one. Getting $3 billion in stimulus money only defers the problem; it does not solve the agency’s budget issues.
Of tangential interest: the ProPublica data shows that NASA has been one of the laggard agencies in spending what stimulus money it did receive: only $27 million of the $1 billion it received has been spent, although nearly $400 million more is in “progress”. Only four agencies—the EPA, the Departments of Energy and the Treasury, and the NSF—have spent a smaller fraction of their stimulus funds to date.