At first glance, NASA’s astrophysics division got a pleasant surprise in the final fiscal year 2014 appropriations bill signed into law last month. The bill gives astrophysics $668 million, $26 million more than the $642 million originally requested by the administration. (The James Webb Space Telescope, funded as a separate line item in the budget, received its original request of $658 million.)
But, as Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, told members of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee at a meeting Monday, there’s a catch. The final bill includes language from the earlier Senate report allocating $56 million of astrophysics funding for early development work on the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a proposed mission that was the top-ranked large mission in the latest astrophysics decadal survey, but which NASA has not formally requested a new start for. That was significantly more than NASA had requested for the program, which will have impacts on other NASA astrophysics programs despite the increase in the overall budget.
“The rest of astrophysics, not including WFIRST and JWST, got $30 million less than we had requested and were planning for,” Hertz said. The agency is now working out how to accommodate that change in its FY14 operating plan, although he said he did not expect any major impacts to other astrophysics programs. “I think that we will be able to adjust to this appropriation without any noticeable negative effects on astrophysics” by rephasing programs.
At least, though, Hertz knows what his overall 2014 budget is. James Ulvestad, director of the NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences, told the same committee later Monday that since his division is not a line item in the appropriations bill, he doesn’t know yet how much money he’ll have available. NSF knows its funding in Research and Related Activities (R&RA), which funds the organizations broad range of research activities and constitutes more than 80 percent of NSF’s total budget, but not for the various directorates and divisions funded by R&RA.
Instead, Ulvestad said, the division has to wait for the NSF to develop its FY14 operating plan, due at the end of March. The R&RA account suffered about a 6.5% cut from its original request, but was up more than 4.5% from fiscal year 2013. How those changes percolate down to his division, which received $233 million in 2013 and requested $244 million for 2014, remain unknown. “So, somewhere between $230 and $244 million is likely where we will land,” he told the committee.