NASA, Other

Did NASA dodge a bullet in the deficit commission report? Not really.

On Wednesday the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, better known as the “deficit commission”, released its final report on its proposal to reduce the budget deficit through a combination of spending cuts, tax reform, and changes to mandatory spending programs. Many in the space community noted that the report does not include the recommendation in the illustrative list of discretionary spending cuts to eliminate funding for NASA’s commercial crew development program (a recommendation that was edited by the commission after its release in November.) The final report does reference a “list of illustrative savings options accompanying this report” with $200 billion in potential savings, the same amount in the original proposal, although no such list was in fact released with the report.

Even if NASA is not included in that list, though, the proposal isn’t good news for the agency. The final report would cap discretionary spending in 2012 at 2011 levels, then cut it the following year back to 2008 levels before allowing growth at half the rate of inflation in following years. That’s potentially more jarring than the co-chair’s earlier proposal, which would have capped 2012 spending at 2010 levels then made one-percent cuts annually through 2015. Assuming across-the-board cuts, under the final report’s scenario NASA’s budget would go down to about $17.3 billion in 2013, compared to $18.5 billion (a one-percent cut from the $18.7 billion NASA got in 2010 and thus would get in 2012) it would get in the co-chair’s proposal. (The administration’s FY11 budget proposal projected a NASA budget of $19.96 billion in 2013.) And as for those who would argue that NASA should somehow be insulated from these cuts, the final report notes, “Every aspect of the discretionary budget must be scrutinized, no agency can be off limits, and no program that spends too much or achieves too little can be spared.”

23 comments to Did NASA dodge a bullet in the deficit commission report? Not really.

  • amightywind

    A reset of funding back to 2008 levels is hardly a bullet. It might seem so if you feel obliged to preserve all jobs across the agency. What is required is a good old fashioned private sector resructuring and 10% RIF. That tends to get the remaining employees attention and has a positive effect on costs. Does Bolden have it in him? Doubtful.

  • Anne Spudis

    Objectives Before Architectures – Strategies Before Tactics

    [excerpt] A key assumption of the VSE was that no significant increase in NASA’s budget was likely, either immediately or for the foreseeable future. Thus, the agency was charged with devising a way to gradually extend human reach beyond low Earth orbit using existing levels of resources. This was (and is) quite a challenge. The key to accomplishing this is to make the free variable time rather than money. We were to gradually but inexorably “make steady progress, one step at a time.” Although dates were given for lunar return, they were intended as guidelines, not deadlines. They represented best estimates for when specific milestones might occur.

    Given these conditions, what does it imply for our return to the Moon under the VSE? First, you must understand and accept the nature of the objective. In this case, the objective was well articulated: We go to the Moon to understand how we might live off the land and use local resources to create new capabilities. Next, we must design a strategy that uses small, incremental steps. Each small mission gives us either strategic knowledge or some capability. Moreover, these steps are cumulative; we obtain more capability with time and the individual steps build upon each other. This is a critical insight; it allows us to make constant progress and not lose our way, even when budgetary times are difficult. [end excerpt]

    http://www.spudislunarresources.com/Opinion_Editorial/Objectives%20before%20architectures.pdf

  • Major Tom

    “What is required is a good old fashioned private sector resructuring and 10% RIF.”

    NASA’s civil servant workforce is arguably oversized and burdened by dead wood. But civil servant salaries and benefits only constitute ~$2.1 billion of NASA’s $19 billion budget. A 10% cut would only save $210 million. You’re a couple billion dollars short of what’s needed to meet the deficit commission’s target. To meet that target, NASA has to kill one or two big programs.

    “Does Bolden have it in him? Doubtful.”

    It doesn’t matter whether Bolden has “it in him”. Congress has forbidden RIFs at NASA in law, primarily to protect the Shuttle standing army (which will really be standing) after STS is shut down. Your blame finger is pointed in the wrong direction.

  • Curtis Quick

    Even though I see the tremendous value in space exploration and enjoy the great entertainment value of human space flight, I am encouraged by what the commission is recommending. Honestly, a little austerity will do NASA a world of good and do more to help the future of human space flight than any increase in budget that some would like NASA to receive.
    In many ways NASA is America in microcosm, for we have all been misled by the sweet siren song of having all we want and spending beyond way our means to get it. NASA has become like so many Americans – an obese and lethargic individual that considers the public trust an entitlement. Long ago NASA was a slim, clever, energetic organization that enabled us to see a dream come true. However, historians may one day conclude that NASA got addicted to the entertainment value of the heady adventure that they both dreamed and even accomplished. At one point it must be concluded that NASA believed the convenient lie that it was important for its own value and deserved to be paid for out of the public largess without having to show any value for the cost.
    Like NASA, we all need some austerity. We need to agree that we need to learn to live with less, not more. That we need to learn how to use our meager resources more efficiently and not waste them on the next big screen TV or promise of a trip to Mars (even if enjoyed only vicariously). We need to work harder and lose that extra girth around our waist – exercise and get healthy! In the same way NASA needs to go on a weight loss program and get healthier as well. The race is won by the fit, not the fat.
    We have also bought into that warped view of NASA’s role. We want to go to the stars and we believe that NASA is the one to take us there. We need to back up and realize that NASA was commissioned from the start not to take us to the stars, but to enable us to get there by showing us how and then getting out of the way so that we ALL can go, not just a pitiful few. I still remember my late grandfather watching the last Apollo moon landing with me, then a youthful starry-eyed 8 year-old. He firmly believed that the wonders we were watching on the TV screen would be something that my generation would live out every day as normal. Ironically, now I sit here with my 8 year-old son watching the latest news reports of delayed Space Shuttle launches and nothing much coming up on the horizon. Sadly, I do not suggest to my son that he might have an opportunity to live even half the wonder of what my grandfather had hoped for me. All the while NASA still speaks of spending untold billions to send a few lucky souls to some tiny rock floating through space in a couple of decades. Please forgive me for being so underwhelmed!
    We have walked too far down the road of unaffordable space flight for the chosen few. It is time for NASA to be reorganized along its founding principles to enable the rest of us to reach the stars. The time has passed for NASA to hold the monopoly on building & flying rockets and holding the reigns that keep the rest of us on the ground. Take away half of NASA’s budget and you will force changes that will bring about a revolution in human spaceflight. When NASA no longer has anywhere near the budget to build and fly rockets, it will no longer try to do so. Instead, if it is forced back to its roots, it can be reoriented to helping the rest of us learn how get to the stars in an economical and even profitable way that truly enables us to get off the ground, and the sky’s the limit!

  • amightywind

    But civil servant salaries and benefits only constitute

    You should read more closely. I said ‘restructure’ by which I mean entire programs need to be eliminated: ISS, climate research, earth sciences… The argument to maintain a bloated workforce because it is ‘a drop in the bucket’ is a weak argument.

  • Robert G. Oler

    What remains amusing in all of this is the “shock” over NASA cuts by the very people who otherwise argue that a great deal of the federal government should be cut…and the shock in the face of stunning incompetence and gross overspending for results by NASA.

    Robert G. Oler

  • “You should read more closely. I said ‘restructure’ by which I mean entire programs need to be eliminated: ISS, climate research, earth sciences… ”

    That suffers from precisely the same problems as any other governmental spending reduction proposal. You don’t like the ISS, climate research, earth sciences… But the guy next to you does and thinks the HLV is a waste of resources.

    And even then it won’t solve the problem. ISS is an asset in orbit with several international partners and live people on board. That is not something that goes away at the flip of a switch even if we are draconian about it. It’s taking us several years to wind down Cx and that’s a program that has never even flown. My guess is that it would be a solid 3-4 years before any measurable savings would be seen by terminating ISS.

    I’m not going to get into climate reasearch except to say that stopping research doesn’t prove climate change isn’t a problem. Indeed one of the central arguments of climate change skeptics is that we don’t know enough about it. If you asked the skeptical scientists if they would like us to stop researching the subject you’d be exceedingly hard pressed to find even a handful willing to go along.

    As for Earth Science, a lot of not just interesting but extremely useful information comes out of the Earth Science wing of NASA. From data immediately useful to disaster recovery to information that helps us improve our agriculture and industry, NASA’s earth science program has probably the best ROI rate of nearly any program in NASA. From a strictly money point of view, Earth Science has provided far more value than any probe we’ve sent beyond Earth orbit.

  • Dennis Berube

    The future will be fantastic. Here at 62 I have seen men on the moon, my grandmother lived to see science produce the airplane and even land on the Moon. Certainly an amazing life indeed. Today, shall I call it in the shadows, people are working on the technologies of Star Trek. Russia wanted us to join them in an effort to build a nuclear space engine system. An engine that could propel us out into the deep solar system. Mankind wont give up on the advances that science can give us. Today the big gripe with spaceflight is its huge cost. Already the private boys like Musk are yelling for more money per seat when the available ship comes along. I guess if you can push 7 people into your spacecraft at 20 mil. per seat, thats a pretty good days profit. Now they are talking 50 mil. with a similar price per seat as the soviets. Lets see 50 mil. times 7, really good profit. Maybe I should start building a rocket! Why not build a 10 man space vehicle. Wow at 50 mil, per seat, thats fantastic. Good idea.

  • Coastal Ron

    Anne Spudis wrote @ December 2nd, 2010 at 8:44 am

    …we must design a strategy that uses small, incremental steps. Each small mission gives us either strategic knowledge or some capability. Moreover, these steps are cumulative; we obtain more capability with time and the individual steps build upon each other.

    Normally I don’t encourage “link farm” type posts, but this one I found too ironic.

    The author (relative of yours?) is actually supporting Obama’s NASA plan, including commercial crew. For instance, commercial crew is a “small, incremental step” that makes access to LEO a line item in a programs budget, and not a program itself.

    Add on top of that fuel depots, SEP, and the other basic technologies that Obama/Bolden have been pushing, and those are the cumulative steps that form the foundation for all of our future exploration programs, including the Moon.

  • Barry

    Hey amightywind,a lot of good technology come from reasearch done on the ISS. A number of things we take advantage of on earth is developed from reasearch up above! So think before you make statements like what you just made.

  • Major Tom

    “I said ‘restructure’ by which I mean entire programs need to be eliminated”

    That may have been what you meant, but it’s not what you wrote. You used “restructure” only in the context of the workforce. There is no reference to programs in your post.

    “You should read more closely.”

    I did read closely. If you meant programs, then you should have written such.

    Think before you post.

    “ISS”

    It’s not going to happen, for better or worse. The same human space flight interests that lobby for HLV and Orion also lobby for ISS. On top of that (and unlike HLV and Orion), ISS has international commitments that the Administration and elements of Congress are not going to abrogate.

    HLV or Orion would take the hit before ISS. And Orion’s budget is too small to meet the Deficit Commission’s targets, so HLV is the likely target.

    “climate research, earth sciences…”

    To meet the Deficit Commission’s targets, NASA has to cut its budget by $2.7 billion in FY 2013. The entire Earth Science program (of which climate research is only a small part) is only $2.1 billion in FY 2013. You’re still off by $600 million.

    And in terms of political realities, the program is not going to be eliminated, only reduced. The most recent nadir for the Earth Science budget was $1.3 billion in FY 2007. It’s hard to see the program going below that, so realistically you’re off by $1.4 billion.

    Again, HLV is the likely target given its size. It’s the one NASA program besides ISS that approaches $2.7 billion in FY 2013. (It’s authorized at $2.64 billion in that year.)

    “The argument to maintain a bloated workforce because it is ‘a drop in the bucket’ is a weak argument.”

    That’s not what I argued. I agreed that “NASA’s civil servant workforce is arguably oversized and burdened by dead wood.”

    Read and comprehend before you post.

  • amightywind

    aremisasling wrote:

    You don’t like the ISS, climate research, earth sciences… But the guy next to you does and thinks the HLV is a waste of resources.

    This is a good point. I contend that HLV funding has high public approva (as represented by bipartisan support in congress)l, and climate research and ISS have none. Vocal minorities keep these programs alive. You newspace yahoos are clearly in the minority as last year’s events have clearly demonstrated. In an era of shrinking budgets significant choices should be made. That means someone has to lose. Better you than me.

  • Alex

    Vocal minorities keep *every* aspect of NASA alive, as people in real life don’t care about it or space.

    Space, let alone launch vehicle development, is simply not an issue that normal people think about.

    Cut HLV (and by extension drop the Shuttle workforce), cut the KSC infrastructure upgrades, and continue to partner with foreign space agencies on future robotic missions.

  • Justin Kugler

    The ISS has broad bipartisan support in Congress, as evidenced by the specific language in the Authorization Act regarding its development as a National Laboratory. By the standard you are using for HLV, amightywind, the ISS has high public approval.

    Neither the facts nor your own logic support your conclusions.

  • Vladislaw

    Anne wrote:

    “Although dates were given for lunar return, they were intended as guidelines, not deadlines.”

    The VSE used dates as BOTH guidelines and deadlines:

    “B. Space Exploration Beyond Low Earth Orbit
    The Moon
    • Conduct the first extended human expedition to the lunar surface as early as 2015, but no later than the year 2020″

    “as early as 2015″ is a guideline, “but no later than the year 2020″ is a deadline. (page 6 of 32)
    http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/55583main_vision_space_exploration2.pdf

    The strategy versus tactics is straight out of Griffin’s text in this report on page 2 and 3.

    http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/386961main_091509-Griffin%20-%20House%20Science%20Committee%20Testimony.pdf

  • Vladislaw

    “And even then it won’t solve the problem. ISS is an asset in orbit”

    I would add that the asset is already paid for. I wonder if the ‘Lunar base now’ advocates got their way, and the Nation spent 100 billion in building it, would they be okay with destroying it a couple years after it was paid for and finally became operational?

  • Anne Spudis

    Coastal Ron wrote @ December 2nd, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    I’m glad you’re beginning to see the objectives of the VSE.

  • Coastal Ron

    Anne Spudis wrote @ December 2nd, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    I’m glad you’re beginning to see the objectives of the VSE.

    I always have. But I’ve also been part of the majority that saw the Moon goal of 2020 as a wish, not a requirement. The 3/4 of the VSE “Goals & Objectives” that don’t mention the Moon have always been needed before any serious HSF return to the Moon.

    Maybe you’re beginning to see the light? Who knows, Christmas is right around the corner… ;-)

  • Anne Spudis

    Coastal Ron wrote @ December 2nd, 2010 at 11:33 pm [I always have. But I’ve also been part of the majority that saw the Moon goal of 2020 as a wish, not a requirement.]

    Then you have either missed the point of the Vision or you have rejected it.

  • DCSCA

    The United States Government has to borrow 41 cents of every dollar it spends. And NASA is competing for this increasingly costly and dwindling pool of resources. NASA is a relic of the Cold War which ended 20 years ago. Our civilian space agency as structured is a luxury in an age where necessities take priority and the U.S. can no longer afford this luxury given the massive deficits facing the country. The only honest chance for mid and long term space research projects and long term HSF proposals may have to survive through this inevitably lengthy Age of Austerity is to consolidate U.S. space ops, eliminate duplications of facilities, personnel and areas of overlapping research and have NASA absorbed under the ‘protective’ wing of the DoD. In this way, space projects, which are a luxury in an age where necessities have claim to dwindling resources, may have a chance of maintaining funding with the added ‘shield’ of “national security” but it is not a guarantee. Otherwise, the civilian space agency as presently structured appears increasingly obtuse and out of sync with a country heading for financial disaster.

  • Coastal Ron

    Anne Spudis wrote @ December 3rd, 2010 at 3:57 am

    Then you have either missed the point of the Vision or you have rejected it.

    Ha! Well, let’s take a look at the VSE Goals & Objectives:

    - Implement a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the solar system and beyond;

    Yep, I do that, especially by advocating for ways to lower the cost to access space. If you can’t lower the cost, you’ll never be able to do anything significant beyond LEO (or even in LEO). Money matters Anne, and I don’t think you get that…

    - Extend human presence across the solar system, starting with a human return to the Moon by the year 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations;

    Yep, I have always advocated for human exploration, although I have also stated that the 2020 Moon date was an aspiration, and not an edict. Congress agrees with me on that also. For me, going to the Moon is part of our organic push into space, but does not need to be done in any particular sequence – let the needs dictate when we go to the Moon, and what we do there.

    - Develop the innovative technologies, knowledge, and infrastructures both to explore and to support decisions about the destinations for human exploration; and

    Right out of Obama’s NASA proposal, and a key part of the current NASA direction. For me, this is the area that was neglected most with Constellation, and needs to be focused on most now.

    - Promote international and commercial participation in exploration to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests.

    I have always supported the International Space Station – I could have said the ISS, but some people tend to forget that the “I” means that we’re partners in this endeavor with 14 other countries (i.e. International). The other part of this section is “commercial participation in exploration”, and I have been loudly advocating for this, mainly from the standpoint of lowering the overall costs to explore, all while keeping NASA as the lead entity (we’re a long ways from corporate exploration).

    For you, Anne, you have always made it seem like the VSE’s ONLY goal was the Moon – not the technology and systems to get there, and certainly not going beyond to Mars and other destinations.

    I think I support the VSE better than you. I’ll let my record speak for itself, as your’s already does for you.

  • Anne Spudis

    DCSCA wrote @ December 3rd, 2010 at 4:45 am

    Then you must be riding high in fat city Coastal Ron.

    My record? I have no record Coastal Ron, just goals.

  • Coastal Ron

    Anne Spudis wrote @ December 3rd, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Then you must be riding high in fat city Coastal Ron.

    I’m just herding cats like everyone else. ;-)

    My record? I have no record Coastal Ron, just goals.

    For good or bad, on the internet (and this forum) everyone has a record…

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