If you looked at only the first sentence of the NASA section of the fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill summary released by the Senate Appropriations Committee after its markup of the bill Tuesday afternoon, you might have jumped for joy. “The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is funded at $19.4 billion, an increase of $1.6 billion over the fiscal year 2012 enacted level,” it reads. Were senators suddenly feeling generous? Well, not really. The increase is due entirely to the transfer of NOAA’s satellite programs to NASA. Without that transfer, NASA’s budget is $41 million less than the agency’s fiscal year 2012 appropriations and just above the $17.71 billion requested by the administration.
The chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations subcommittee, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), singled out NOAA for criticism in her comments about the budget, explaining the decision to move NOAA’s programs to NASA. “Unfortunately, the Committee has lost confidence in NOAA’s ability to control procurement costs or articulate reliable funding profiles. Therefore, we have taken the unprecedented step of transferring responsibility for building our Nation’s operational weather satellites from NOAA to NASA,” she said in a statement. “While NASA missions have also experienced cost overruns and schedule slippages, NASA has been more responsive and competent in correcting these deficiencies.” The transferred funding would be placed in a separate, new account, called Operational Satellite Acquisition, within the NASA budget.
That move was endorsed by the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). “NOAA and the Department of Commerce have failed to rein in the life-cycle costs which are now exceeding $1 billion above last year’s revised budget projections,” she said in her opening statement. “NOAA is traveling in the wrong direction, and NASA is the right agency to oversee the procurement of satellites.”
Beyond the shift of NOAA funds, the committee largely made tweaks to the administration’s budget request. The subcommittee restored $100 million to NASA’s Mars science programs, although didn’t allocate that funding to any particular Mars program. The administration’s request for commercial crew was cut by just over $300 million, from $830 million to $525 million, but that reduced level is still above both the program’s 2012 funding of $406 million and the authorized level of $500 million for FY13. The Space Launch System and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle are funded at effectively the levels in the budget proposal: $1.5 and $1.2 billion, respectively.
The full appropriations committee will take up the CJS appropriations bill in a hearing at 10:30 am Thursday morning.