WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. House subcommittee with NASA funding responsibility is asking the White House to identify programs whose budgets would have to be cut to cover skyrocketing costs on the agency’s next flagship-class astronomy observatory.

In a Sept. 28 letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee, said the White House has been slow to provide the information needed to make a 2012 funding decision on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Wolf’s panel in July proposed canceling JWST, whose estimated price tag has risen to $8.7 billion, but the Senate Appropriations Committee recommends pressing ahead with the mission, billed as the successor to the hugely successful Hubble Space Telescope.

In the letter, Wolf said the White House has expressed opposition to canceling the program but has yet to identify any programs whose budgets would have to be trimmed or eliminated to offset the cost of JWST, whose original estimated price tag was less than $2 billion. The lawmaker also complained that NASA completed a JWST replan months before his subcommittee drafted the bill that recommends killing the program but declined to share that information.

“In the coming weeks, the House and Senate will sit down to negotiate final appropriations bills for fiscal year 2012, and the appropriate level of funding for JWST will be one of the most significant issues considered,” Wolf wrote. “For us to make a truly informed decision that takes into account both the value of JWST and the value of opportunities that may be precluded by the JWST replan, we must have the offset information. If such information is not provided by the time that conference negotiations begin, I will consider that to be an indication that JWST is no higher in priority than any other existing or planned NASA activity.”



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Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...