NASA Still Waiting on 2014 Budget Passback

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WASHINGTON — NASA has yet to receive its 2014 budget passback from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), according to government sources, leaving the agency without a clear idea how much U.S. President Barack Obama will ask Congress to spend on its programs during the coming fiscal year.

Under the schedule OMB issued last August, federal agencies submitted their 2014 budget requests in September with the expectation that OMB would pass back its initial revisions by late November. The timing is meant to allow agencies several weeks to petition for changes before OMB issues a final passback between Christmas and New Year’s Day that gives agencies their first look at the president’s budget proposal before it is sent to Congress in early February.

As of Jan. 9, however, NASA and other federal agencies had not received even an initial passback from the White House, multiple government sources told SpaceNews. Several of these sources said it now seems likely that the White House will miss its Feb. 4 deadline for sending the president’s budget proposal to Capitol Hill. The U.S. government’s new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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The U.S. president is required by the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 to submit his budget request for the upcoming fiscal year no later than the first Monday in February. The Obama administration has missed that deadline three times since taking office, including last year when the president’s 2013 budget request arrived on Capitol Hill a week late. As it turned out, none of the 12 appropriations bills that fund the federal government made it all the way through Congress last year, leaving lawmakers to pass a six-month stopgap spending bill, called a continuing resolution, to keep the government running at 2012 spending levels through March. For NASA, that has meant holding steady at $17.8 billion, slightly more than what the White House had sought.

With the White House and Congress still at odds over a host of thorny budget issues, including raising the debt ceiling, averting automatic across-the-board spending cuts set to kick in late February and replacing the stopgap spending measure that expires March 28, government sources said it looks likely the president’s budget request will be delayed until late February or early March, if not later.

“How can we know what to ask for in [2014] when we don’t know what we will have in [2013]?” one source said.

A pair of congressional sources made a similar point, speculating that the White House is reluctant to send a 2014 spending proposal to Congress while so many broader budget issues remain unresolved.

NASA spokesman Allard Beutel on Jan. 9 referred questions about the passback to OMB, which had not replied by the time of publication.