Early month the White House will release its fiscal year 2013 budget proposal. While most of the details of that budget proposal have been, or very soon will be, nailed down, some organizations are making a last-minute push to lobby for funding for NASA science programs in particular. Others, though, worried about what the budget proposal may contain, are already looking ahead to Congressional action on the budget.
The Planetary Society is in the first camp. This week the organization released a letter it sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on NASA science funding. In the letter the society asks OMB for a “small but significant” change in NASA science funding, so that it accounts for 30 percent of NASA’s overall budget. (In FY2012 science accounts for $5.09 billion out of the agency’s $17.8-billion budget, or 28.6%.) This “modest rebalancing”, the society argues, would support the agency’s portfolio of science programs in an era of tight budgets. “If NASA’s overall budget shrinks, we are concerned that the Science program will carry a disproportionate burden of any reduction,” the letter states. “Increasing the share of the NASA budget for Science is the best place for the agency to make the most effective use of the taxpayers’ money in today’s austere budget environment.”
The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is more pessimistic about the administration’s budget request, particularly for the planetary science portion of the overall NASA science budget. “The reality is that within NASA’s science budget, planetary science is nowhere near the Administration’s top priority and that does leave us vulnerable to budget pressures,” DPS chair Dan Britt writes in a DPS newsletter published this week. A cut to planetary science funding, he notes, would jeopardize a wide range of missions as well as research funding.
However, he is more optimistic about how Congress will deal with planetary science funding. “Planetary science has a lot of friends on both sides the aisle in Congress. Congress likes the results the planetary science program, they like the consensus plan in the Decadal Survey, and they want to see it continue,” he writes. NASA’s planetary science program got a largely sympathetic hearing by the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee in November, with the OMB blamed for problems like the apparent unwillingness to commit to cooperation with Europe on Mars exploration. Britt adds, though, that Congress won’t act on its own. “While Congress is a potentially friendly forum, it’s going to be up to us, the planetary science community, to make the case for continued priority support.”