Everything is set for tomorrow’s unveiling of the administration’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposal. The overall budget proposal will likely show up on the OMB website Wednesday morning, with NASA posting its detailed budget proposal documents at 1 pm Eastern. At 1:30 pm, the Office of Science and Technology Policy will hold a budget briefing, with NASA administrator Charles Bolden among the participants; Bolden will hold a NASA-specific briefing at 3 pm.
However, the book is not yet closed on the final 2013 budget. Late last week, OMB used its powers under the Budget Control Act to make an additional 0.2% across-the-board cut for all agencies to account for differences in economic forecasts for the housing market as well as adjusting for additional spending added by the Senate for meatpacking inspectors. Combined with the original 1.877% rescission and 5% sequestration, it means NASA’s $17.862 billion in the bill is reduced to about $16.62 billion.
NASA also has the ability to make some modest reallocations of the funding among its various programs by submitting an operating plan for FY13 to Congress. “They can make proposals to mitigate the impact of cuts on certain programs,” said Diana Simpson, on the majority staff of the House Appropriations Committee, during a joint meeting of the Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board in Washington on Thursday. “But, of couse, the other side of that is in order to mitigate the cuts to some programs you have to take even bigger cuts in other areas.” That operating plan is due to Congress 45 days after the enactment of the appropriations bill, in early May, but she said she expects NASA to complete it before that deadline. “I think they want to put all of these questions to bed as much as everyone else does.”
What changes might NASA make? One area that might benefit from reprogramming of funds is commercial crew. Speaking at the SSB/ASEB meeting later Thursday, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, noted that the Space Launch System and Orion programs did well in the final budget, even after taking into account rescission and sequestration, ending up with slightly more than in the president’s original request. Commercial crew, though, ended up with $488 million, well short of the requested $830 million. “We kind of knew we were not going get this level, so we planned back at this kind of level,” he said, referring to the $525 million the Senate proposed. “We can repair some of this with an ops plan change with Congress, so we’ll probably make some movement to try and fix commercial crew a little bit.” He didn’t specify how much of a change he would seek.
One program that could suffer under any reprogramming is NASA’s planetary sciences program, which got $1.415 billion before rescission and sequestration in the final appropriations bill, more than $200 million above the administration’s original request. If those cuts are applied evenly, planetary science would still end up with more than $1.3 billion, but James Green, head of the planetary science division at NASA, fears his program will take a bigger share of the cuts in order to reprogram funds to higher priority programs. That could jeopardize plans Green discussed last month to use additional funding to make early payments for the launch of upcoming missions, freeing up money to move up the next Discovery-class mission a year, from 2015 to 2014.