Spacelift Washington: NASA Budget Faces Squeeze when Congress Returns

By frank_sietzen
August 28, 2001
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Spacelift Washington

Spacelift Washington Archive

Keith Cowing assisted in the writing of this article

WASHINGTON – When House and Senate members return from their month-long summer recess on September 4th they will find the federal budget surplus a thing of the past -in part due to their own profligate spending. Contributing to the evaporation of the surplus are a number of add-ons to President George W. Bush’s fiscal 2002 budget – something remaining to be resolved by conference committee. While the White House pledged to refuse all of these add-ons (also known as “earmarks” or more bluntly as “pork”) earlier this year, few in Washington expect that this lofty pledge will ever be put into practice.

Among the hardest hit increases proposed by the free-spending members of the House and the Senate will be those added to the NASA budget. Before all of the politicians left town, the space agency’s budget was boosted by both chambers of Congress – and millions in earmarked spending added to the different versions of the bills.

While the politicians were gone, the Bush Administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sharply criticized the increases, especially the funds added by the House to the International Space Station. Blunt statements by OMB’s Sean O’Keefe would seem to suggest that there will be no extra money for NASA to fix its Space Station budget overrun – an overrun that seems to grow with every passing week. On the other hand, OMB sources haven’t quite predicted a Bush veto of a plused-up NASA bill either. Regardless, pressure will be increased on House and Senate conferees to keep their spending under tighter control.

With the exception of statements from OMB, the annual round of ISS finger pointing hasn’t quite started yet. Given that the original Spring 2001 ISS overrun estimate of $4 billion is now in the range of $6 billion (and growing), few in Washington expect this lull to continue. No one is at all happy with this situation. Nor does anyone expect it to be solved this year – or next. Nor does anyone have a clear solution to propose. One thing is becoming clear however: whatever happens, the outcome might well determine the shape of the civil space agency for the duration of the Bush II presidency.

Consider the quandary the legislators face, given the surplus crisis facing them upon their return. The House added $440 million to the Bush budget request for a total NASA budget proposed at $14.951 billion (the White House had asked for $14.511). Much of the boost -some $275 million -was for restoration of the station’s crew rescue vehicle. Such a rescue craft would allow the station to be built and house a full crew of six or seven astronauts, thus conducting a full suite of experiments. But the House also added millions in earmarked spending for such projects as:

-$2.5 million for the NASA-Illinois Technology Commercialization Center at DuPage County Research Park
-$2 million for the University of New Orleans Composites Research Center -at the Michoud Assembly Facility where the Shuttle fuel tanks are built
-$3 million added to the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program in Florida and New York
-$8 million added for the National Center of Excellence in Photonics in New York
-$7.5 million added for the Technology Transfer Centers
-$1 million added for the Carl Sagan Discovery Center
-$4 million added for programs at the American Museum of Natural History
-$2 million added for the Alan B. Shepard Discovery Center in New Hampshire
-$5 million added to the request for the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program

The Senate voted for a $14.561 billion NASA budget, some $50 million above Bush’s request. It cut human spaceflight spending by $428 million and transferred $50 million to station research. It also voted for add-ons, such as:

-$2 million for space radiation studies at the University of Missouri
-$1 million for the Mid-America Geospatial Information Center at the University of Texas
-15 million for the Rotorcraft research program
-$20 million for aviation safety
-$1.7 million for the Independent Verification and Validation Facility in West Virginia
-cut $15 million from the 2nd gen RLV program
-$2 million for the Great Plains Space Sciences and Technology Center
-$4 million for infrastructure at the Mauna Kea Astronomy Education Center in Hawaii
-$1 million for the Bishop Museum in Hawaii
-$2 million for the Instrumentation Lab at Rowan University, New Jersey
-$1 million for a Challenger Learning Center in Florissant Missouri

The Space Shuttle budget was boosted by $50 million for upgrades by the Senate, and boosted by $35 million by the House for repairs to the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) roof. Overall, NASA itself trimmed Shuttle spending by $218 million from last year’s request and will cut the future Shuttle budgets $1 billion over five years, part of which will be achieved by reduced flight rates (to 6 annual on average). It is important to note that JSC’s Human Spaceflight projects 12 Shuttle flights in the 2005 calendar year.

It may well be that the Administration’s original request – shorn of the majority of the increases -prevails after all in the budget battle likely to face nearly every federal agency – except defense. Or perhaps something else will be cut to make room for the increases in space spending. That would surprise observers in Washington, who as of this writing have seen scant indication of any interest in civil space by this Republican president, like the Democrat before him.

Related Links

  • 14 August 2001: AIP FYI: Update on NASA Appropriations; Language on Space Station Overruns, American Institute of Physics

  • 14 August 2001: S. Rpt. 107-43: FY 2002 Senate VA/HUD Appropriations Bill Committee Report: NASA

  • 14 August 2001: H. Rpt. 107-159: FY 2002 House VA/HUD Appropriations Committee Report: NASA

  • 25 July 2001: AIP FYI # 95 Senate Appropriations Report Language on NASA

  • 25 July 2001: H. Rpt. 107-159 (excerpt) House VA/HUD Report: NASA

  • 10 July 2001: House Appropriations VA-HUD Subcommittee Reports VA-HUD FY2002 Spending Bill, press release

  • 10 July 2001: Congressman DeLay Hails NASA Funding Victory, press release

  • 8 July 2001: The International Space Station’s Distressing Shortfall, SpaceRef

  • 9 May 2001: Science Committee Members Blast GOP Budget For Inadequately Funding Science, House Science Committee, Democratic Membership

  • 9 May 2001: AIP FYI #61: Chairman Boehlert: The Scientific Community Has Its Work Cut Out for It, American Institute of Physics

  • 3 May 2001: Testimony of Sean O’Keefe, OMB, before the House Appropriations
    Subcommittee on VA/HUD and Independent Agencies

  • 2 May 2001: Charter, NASA FY 2002 Posture Hearing, House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

  • 25 April 2001: Testimony of NASA Administrator Goldin Before the House Science
    Committee on NASA’s FY 2002 Budget Request

  • 11 April 2001: AIP FYI No. 44: NASA FY 2002 Request: Space Science, Academic Programs, American Institute of Physics

    9 April 2001: NASA’s FY 2002 Budget: Challenges and Opportunities, SpaceRef

  • 9 April 2001: National Aeronautics and Space Administration FY 2002 – Congressional Budget Home Page

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