It was a missed deadline that was hardly noticed. Monday was the day that, under federal law, the White House was supposed to release its fiscal year 2014 budget proposal. But the Obama Administration did not release its budget proposal on the first Monday in February, as was the case last year. Officials with the Office of Management and Budget say the FY14 budget will be released next Wednesday, the day after President Obama gives his State of the Union address.
However, not many people are thinking about the 2014 budget when spending for 2013 remains unresolved, more than four months into the fiscal year. Attention is now on the March 1 deadline to deal with across-the-board automatic spending cuts, aka sequestration, a deadline that’s already been pushed back from the beginning of the year. Now, though, there’s a growing belief that the sequester, or something like it, will go into effect at the beginning of next month. National Journal reported last month that senators of both parties think sequestration could go into effect given unwillingness to either accept revenue increases or redistributed spending cuts. And POLITICO, in a piece today on the effect of such cuts on defense spending, concluded that currently “bets are on the automatic cuts taking place.”
If sequestration does go into effect, it would mean for NASA a cut of over eight percent for its various accounts (science, exploration, etc.) How those cuts would be distributed among various programs within those accounts remains unclear, as NASA has divulged few details. Speaking at the American Astronomical Society meeting in California last month, John Grunsfeld, the NASA associate administrator for science, indicated that planning for the original sequestration deadline of January 1 started less than a week before. “We never got flow down of what the sequestration would have meant,” he said, before Congress passed legislation to push back the sequestration deadline to March 1. The agency then went back to working with the administration on the FY14 budget proposal, he said.
Grunsfeld did say at the time that he made it a priority with NASA’s science program to protect funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, noting that it had been previously identified as an agency priority. But the lack of information about sequestration planning has created plenty of speculation about how those cuts would be implemented, such as in NASA’s planetary sciences program. An OMB memo to agencies last month provides only general guidance for sequestration planning, emphasizing finding “the most appropriate means to reduce civilian workforce costs” and identifying cost savings in grants and contracts, while working to “reduce operational risks and minimize impacts on the agency’s core mission”. As we get closer to the end of the month, better understanding what those sequestration cuts might entail will become more of a priority.