Congress, NASA

Is a budget cut in NASA’s future?

Later today House Republican leaders will unveil “Pledge to America”, their platform of policy changes they seek to enact if the GOP wins a majority in the House in November’s elections. POLITICO obtained a draft of the platform that, while not directly addressing space policy, does suggest that NASA will find it difficult to retain recent budget increases, let alone get additional funding down the road. One provision of the draft platform states:

Cut Government Spending to Pre-Stimulus, Pre-Bailout Levels: With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops, we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to begin paying down the debt, balancing the budget, and ending the spending spree in Washington that threatens our children’s future.

With NASA not falling into any of the listed “common-sense” exceptions, that would suggest the agency would be vulnerable to at least a modest budget cut. In FY 2009 NASA got just under $17.8 billion (plus $1 billion in stimulus funding enacted later in the year). The agency’s proposed FY11 budget is $19 billion, a topline figure that has been accepted virtually without debate in Congress, at least up to now. Another provision, meanwhile, suggests that future budget increases will be hard to come by:

Establish a Hard Cap on New Discretionary Spending: We must put common-sense limits on the growth of government and stop the endless increases. Only in Washington is there an expectation that whatever your budget was last year, it will be more this year and even more the next. We will set strict budget caps to limit federal spending on an annual basis. Budget caps were used in the 1990s, when a Republican Congress was able to bring the budget into balance and eventual surplus. By cutting discretionary spending from current levels and imposing a hard cap on future growth, we will save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

The five-year budget projections for NASA released by the administration in February had the agency’s budget increasing to just under $21 billion by FY2015, an increase criticized in some quarters for not being large enough. Even that, though, could be difficult to retain.

17 comments to Is a budget cut in NASA’s future?


    A ‘pledge’ is meaningless. Especially from that crowd. But a freeze – or cuts certainly have to happen as th Age of Austerity enshrouds the land. History has shown over and over that the Republican Party in general and conservatives in particular have not been strong advocates of bigger budgets for the civilian space agency, which is a discretionary, ‘luxury’ expense. Gingrich once wanted to go so far as to disband NASA in the 90s. The only space budgets that they’ll embrace are DoD related– and those budgets remains untouchable.

  • red

    If we take the path of the status quo, House proposals, or Senate proposals, this would more or less crush NASA if we tried to keep the expensive SDHLV and Orion parts.

    Even the original FY2011 budget plan, which could still work with some mild cuts, would have a tough time working with cuts on the scale Jeff described. That plan’s Constellation termination and extra Shuttle costs are temporary, and we could get by without most of the KSC Modernization and Heavy Lift and Propulsion lines (doing any leftover needed work in those areas in another line as appropriate). You may also be able to get some savings in shared areas like Cross-Agency support with the removal of Constellation. After that it gets a lot more difficult.

  • Wodun

    With NASA not falling into any of the listed “common-sense” exceptions, that would suggest the agency would be vulnerable to at least a modest budget cut.

    If it is even on their radar. It would still be nice to hear what they think about NASA specifically.

    It could be good for NASA to have a real shake up of their spending priorities, they can do a lot with $17.8 billion but maybe not everything on their plate. That is a road that could lead to more drama than canceling Constellation.

  • amightywind

    A rollback of budget increases over the last few years is in the cards. NASA’s core activities could prosper if congress makes some hard choices and jettison non-core functions. I predict Constellation will remain, as it is NASA’s future flagship.

  • GeeSpace

    Unfortunately, the Republicans are not talking about cutting and/or reducing the budget increases for non-discretionary items like defense and homeland security, Medicare and perhaps Social Security. Which if I remember correctly are over 50% of the federal expenditures.

    But on the other hand the recently resigned Director of TOMB asked federal department heads to reduce discretionary items by 5%

    Meanwhile some people interested in space activities are fighting one another over pennies. Instead of working together to have NASA funding at a reasonable level

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Just a couple of things:
    (1) There will not be an across the board cut; some accounts will go down or be eliminated, some will stay the same, some may even go up.
    (2) McCain’s similar scheme put NASA in the security portion. It is not out of the question this plan would do the same.

  • “I predict Constellation will remain, as it is NASA’s future flagship.”

    Constellation has been dead in the water since Obama announced it’s cancellation. Many proposals have been offered as counter-responses to Obama’s plan. Most have suggested retaining Orion in some capacity, usually complete. Most direct NASA to develop at least a modest heavy lifter. But not one proposal containing a whole-cloth inclusion of Cx has garnered more support than perhaps a handful of members of congress. Face it, we may still have a big government rocket in our future, but every piece of Costellation as written, save perhaps Orion, is dead and buried.

    Some people are decrying the potential loss of the capability, but no one is trying to resurrect the architecture as a whole.

    Most of us commercial supporters have come to grips with the strong likelihood that the commercial component will most likely be funded below Obama’s request. It’s time Cx supporters acknowledge the now almost inevitable loss of Ares I/V and turn their attention to the SDLV or EELV options for their big government needs.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ September 23rd, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    …….. put NASA in the security portion. It is not out of the question this plan would do the same…

    yes it is…only goofy people think we need to have NASA as a security function…perhaps to protect “our water” from the Chinese who are going to destroy our purity of essence…

    Mark…try and regain some solid footing in reality

    Robert G. Oler

  • “only goofy people think we need to have NASA as a security function”

    I gotta say, RGO, I’m not Whittington’s side here. Not because I think that’s the way it should be done. I agree it’s not the best possible approach by any measure. But I think he’s potentially right on the mark in that it is a distinctly possible outcome. Remember, if we’re looking for folks with solid footing in reality, congress is not the first place to look.

  • eh

    Paying down the debt. Okay, that was funny. Can’t wait to see it.

  • Robert G. Oler

    aremisasling wrote @ September 23rd, 2010 at 1:38 pm …

    whittington doesnt grasp the political events that are happening in The Republic. He sees everything through either rose or dark glasses and reality tends to fade out.

    The very first place that the GOP (if they take the Congress) will find 1) support starting to fade and 2) a lot of attacks by the other party is if they start to make exceptions in their “plan” (and thats being kind) which are viewed by the American people as exceptions to the rule, just to maintain GOP pork.

    The lesson of the last few months is that outside of the folks whose congressional pie depends on NASA funding; there is no real appetite for large NASA HSF budgets to do exploration particularly of the kind that Cx etc represent.

    So lets say Sun Tan John comes up and says “we dont need more money for school lunches” but “I think NASA HSF is a national security concern so we have to spend 200 -300 billion to race the Chinese to the Moon”.

    now you tell me how that plays everywhere but the home of NASA centers…?

    Robert G. Oler

  • I think it’s far more likely that Republican supporters will read the ‘defense’ line in the summary and accept it whole hog without ever reading the details. I think if you want to take the path of least resistance to getting NASA approved as-is, burying it in the Defense line is probably your number one choice.

  • googaw

    On the news I heard that the budget rollback is to 2008 levels, not 2009. The FY2008 NASA budget was $17.3 billion. That’s a cut of about $2 billion from the Obama budget proposal. Going forward with a cap, compared to the daydreaming Obama and NASA did earlier this year about a $21 billion budget in 2015, that’s a $4 billion cut. So the Republicans pressured by the Tea Party are in synch with what Martijn and I have been advocating.

    As I detailed in an earlier post, in such a budget not only is there no room for Constellation, Ares, or any sort of HLV, there is only room for a minimally operated ISS using longer-duration crews and Soyuz rather than “Commercial” Crew. The bloated “flagship” technology demos have to go, although we can save the smaller ones. It’s triage time, folks. You better figure out what is the most extremely important to you that we can actually afford. If you can’t figure that out and ditch the rest, you get nothing.

  • googaw

    burying it in the Defense line is probably your number one choice.

    A few short hours after the Republicans have released their plan, “Republicans” on this forum start strategizing on how to undermine it. Quite shamelessly in front of us all.

  • Martijn Meijering

    there is only room for a minimally operated ISS using longer-duration crews and Soyuz rather than “Commercial” Crew

    Copying from the other thread:

    OK, let’s look at the numbers from the 2010 budget:

    Exploration: $3.5B
    Shuttle: $3B
    ISS: $2.1B
    Space and Flight Support: $725M

    Shuttle and Exploration together add up to $6.5B. Sounds more than enough. Am I missing anything here?

  • googaw

    Yes, you’re missing that “Exploration” contains, especially in the out years, technology R&D, robotic precursor missions, and a number of other items of importance. Things like depots, inflatables, ISRU studies and experiments, and so on. Canceling these will have a much bigger negative impact long-term on HSF, not to mention on space development generally, than putting smaller crews with longer stays on ISS and not spending money on a gratuitous astronaut ferry when Soyuz is more than sufficient to transport even the larger crews we have now.

    There’s also the KSC port upgrade which ramps up in the out-years and a bunch of other things in the Obama proposal (and AFAIK still in the current Senate and House versions to the extent they are in this years’ budget) at least half of which you are canceling with a wave of the hand. Most of these I wouldn’t miss (e.g. Powerpoint sci-fi stories about “Plymouth Rock”) but many others would.

    Which brings us to a matter of practical politics: we can’t just propose to cut at least half of (or out of) other folks’ projects and expect to get away without our own favorites also being cut. A strong starting position for negotiations perhaps but not a significantly probable outcome.

    I applaud and support these efforts at specifying budget cuts. It’s a breath of fresh air in a community dominated by the most utterly selfish lobbying for “free” government largesse (i.e. money that will be taken out of our children’s W-2 forms to pay back the Chinese). But don’t kid yourself, all of our favorite projects are going to have to share the pain.

  • Martijn Meijering

    I’ll have to think a bit about the exploration item. At first sight delaying it until after a reduced size commercial crew is operational doesn’t sound too bad to me. The KSC upgrade is something I wouldn’t want anyway. Ideally I’d like to see MSFC, MAF and LC-39 go away.

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