Bill Would Clip U.S. Air Force Space Purse

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WASHINGTON — A U.S. Air Force budget account that funds a substantial portion of the service’s space portfolio would be reduced by $1.1 billion, or 18 percent, this year compared to 2012 under a spending bill passed by the House March 6.

The cut could be even deeper with the automatic, across-the-board budget reduction known as sequestration, which would shrink the Air Force’s Missile Procurement account by another $400 million. Missile Procurement funds  “construction, procurement, and modification of missiles, spacecraft, rockets, and related equipment,” according to budget documents. 

The Air Force received $6.08 billion for that fund in 2012. Under the proposed Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, Missile Procurement would receive about $4.96 billion, nearly identical to the amount agreed upon by the Senate in July 2012.

The Air Force requested $5.52 billion for Missile Procurement in 2013.

Military space programs also draw heavily from budget accounts labeled as research and development. The House  bill contains about $70 billion for that activity across the Department of Defense, about $2.5 billion less than last year’s level. 

The bill was not specific about funding levels for individual programs within the Missile Procurement or defense-wide research and development accounts.

The Defense Department is one of only two agencies that would receive a tailored appropriation for 2013 — the other is the Department of Veterans Affairs — under the bill, which keeps the rest of the government funded at 2012 levels. 

Todd Harrison, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments here,  said the bill is a small step forward for U.S. military planners.

“At least now they’ll be closer” to a 2013 budget, he said.

The Defense Department, like the rest of the government, spent the first six months of this fiscal year operating under a continuing resolution that provides funding at 2012 levels.

Harrison noted that the defense spending bill allows the Pentagon to move up to $4 billion between accounts without seeking congressional approval. 

At press time, budget watchers were still trying to make sense of the numbers.

“It’s a moving target,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank. “You just don’t know what the meanings are.”