After Budgetary Dust Settles, NASA Left with $16.5B for 2013

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WASHINGTON — NASA will see a $1.3 billion budget cut this year under a stopgap spending bill the U.S. Congress approved March 21.

After absorbing across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, NASA stands to receive $16.5 billion for 2013 — an amount 7.3 percent below the $17.8 billion the agency has been held to since 2011 under a series of short-term spending resolutions Congress has been passing in lieu of annual appropriations bills.

“It would be nice to get a real budget that defines where the agency’s going,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said March 20 at the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium in Greenbelt, Md. “Talking to the corporate representatives here, I know it drives you batty to have to plan in six-month increments, or three- month increments, or whatever else we’re doing.”

The Senate passed an amended version of the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (H.R. 933) on March 20, sending it back to the House of Representatives the next day for final approval. U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the nearly $1 trillion measure, which funds federal agencies through September.

NASA, which is now six months into its 2013 budget year, is still awaiting Obama’s proposed budget for 2014. The president’s budget proposal is supposed to be delivered to Congress in early February; this year’s request is not expected to be made public until the second week of April.

While the spending measure Congress passed March 21 technically includes $17.8 billion for NASA, not all of that money will reach the agency.

That is because the Senate tacked on a 1.877 percent rescission for nonsecurity spending in the Commerce, Justice, Science portion of the bill, which includes NASA. Factoring in a 5 percent sequestration cut, NASA’s total funding falls to $16.5 billion for 2013.

H.R. 933 softens sequestration’s blow for some NASA programs, however, by boosting their budgets at the expense of others.

NASA’s Space Operations and Cross Agency Support accounts, both of which the White House had proposed cutting this year, were used as bill payers for the increases Congress included for the Exploration and Space Technology accounts.

The Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, the biggest piece of NASA’s Exploration account, will get $1.99 billion, post sequester. That is slightly more than the $1.88 billion the rocket development effort got in 2012.

Meanwhile, the Commercial Crew Program will get $489 million in 2013, after sequestration. That is substantially less than the $830 million the White House sought for its signature human spaceflight program for 2013, but a boost compared with the 2012 funding level of $406 million.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, meanwhile, will wind up with a postsequestration budget of about $4.8 billion for 2013, nearly $295 million less than 2012.