NASA, Congress Finalize Operating Plan for 2013

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WASHINGTON — NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and Commercial Crew Program are almost fully shielded from the sequester budget cuts under the agency’s final operating budget for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The final operating plan, concluded in August after months of negotiations with Capitol Hill, includes about $16.9 billion for NASA in 2013, nearly 5 percent less than what U.S. President Barack Obama requested, according to NASA spokeswoman Beth Dickey. But the 5 percent cut was not applied evenly across NASA’s programs as originally envisioned under the sequestration policy.  

According to Dickey, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, intended to nurture development of commercial crew taxi services to and from the international space station, received $525 million under the final operating plan — exactly the presequestration amount Congress approved in the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (H.R. 933) signed March 26. That is a high-water mark for Commercial Crew, but still is about 37 percent less than what the White House wanted for 2013.

JWST, meanwhile, will get $627.6 million for 2013, even with the request and less than 1 percent below the presequester level approved in the March 26 spending bill.

Congressional sources said NASA and the White House wrangled over the final operating plan because lawmakers wanted the agency’s Planetary Science Division to get more money than the administration requested. In the end, Planetary Science wound up with $1.27 billion, some 6.6 percent more than the White House’s request, according to the figures NASA provided.