We’re now only two and a half weeks away from the dreaded “fiscal cliff,” which includes significant budget cuts (aka “sequestration”) for NASA and other federal agencies. While discussions continue, there’s no sign that the White House and Congress are particularly close to a solution to avoid those automatic budget cuts.
Although the size of the cuts has been known for some time—an 8.2% cut across NASA’s various budget accounts, for a total of nearly $1.5 billion in cuts compared to the agency’s fiscal year 12 budget—the agency has not disclosed how it would implement those cuts, making it difficult to understand what programs, field centers, or contractors could be particularly affected by the cuts. However, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) has attempted to measure the fiscal and employment impact of the cuts on the overall national, as well as various state, economies in a report the organization released this week.
“Sequestration budget cuts… are the single greatest threat to our space programs’ continued success,” the AIA report, which also includes NOAA, warns. “Such a deep and reckless cut to these agencies would senselessly jeopardize U.S. space leadership and stifle exactly the kind of investment in innovation that our economy needs.”
The report’s basic conclusion: the cuts to NASA alone would result in a $2.8 billion reduction in Gross National Product and the loss of nearly 20,700 jobs. Texas would feel the biggest impact of any single state, with a loss in total output of more than $750 million and 5,600 jobs lost. It’s followed closely by California, with nearly $700 million in lost output and nearly 4,600 jobs. Rounding out the top five were Colorado, Maryland, and Alabama.
The report doesn’t go much into the methodology of its analysis, but it’s based on an earlier study that the AIA released, performed by Stephen S. Fuller of George Mason University, that took a broader look at the effects of sequestration on the economy. That report used an economic impact model called IMPLAN to convert the reduced federal spending into impacts on the economy and reduced jobs. It’s worth noting that while the press release about the report said that “over 20,000 NASA contractor jobs” could be lost, the original study’s job numbers included “indirect” and “induced” job losses, at suppliers or other subcontractors and in the general economy, respectively. (An AIA spokesperson confirmed Friday that this methodology was also used in the new report.) All the job losses related to NASA spending cuts would be in the private sector, as NASA is prohibited under its current authorization act from laying off civil servants through fiscal year 2013.
The exact economic and employment impacts will depend on exactly how NASA implements sequestration cuts, and many hope that this will be an academic exercise, with a solution to avoid sequestration found before the looming deadline. However, in even that case there’s likely to be some kind of spending reductions for non-defense discretionary programs like NASA—hopefully not severe enough to stop Curiosity before it stumbles across its Martian surprise party.