NASA’s FY13 Budget Request Demonstrates Tough Choices

FL - Kennedy Space Center - NASA - 10-14-08

APS has been saying for a while that Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13) would be very difficult for a number of reasons (not the least of which are the coming sequestrations).

But the main reason is that government spending should be cut, according to the general view in Washington. Such a fiscal approach will require all parties in government to make some tough choices, and NASA’s budget request demonstrates those tough choices. 

I’ll focus on NASA Science, but if you want to check out the full NASA budget proposal, click here.

On the whole, NASA Science will get a slight cut in FY13, from FY12 levels; it will go from $5.07B in FY12 to $4.91B in the FY13 request – a reduction of 3.6%.  After breaking down the sub-accounts, you discover that Earth Science, Heliophyiscs and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will receive increases, while Planetary Science and Astrophysics will be cut.

However, that’s not the whole picture, as two Mars satellite missions were cancelled (both are part of  ExoMars missions sponsored by the European Space Agency and NASA).  And of those sub-accounts that are getting increases, the Webb Telescope will receive the largest by far, at 21% increase from FY12.

Why is this the case?  It’s a matter of making tough choices.

During the official NASA budget rollout, reporters asked for a list of programs that were cancelled or scaled back due to increased funding for JWST.  NASA Administrator Charles Bolden evaded the question.  However, everyone knew the truth:  A general increase to NASA’s budget is not politically possible, and NASA had to set priorities, namely JWST and not those two Mars missions.

Tough choices had to be made.

Some people have said that the increase to JWST should have been added to NASA’s budget.  But this ignores the political situation that increasing budgets, regardless of the agency, is not a realistic option.  Even increases the Obama Administration has suggested for NSF, DOE -SC and NIST will be difficult to get into law, as there are political forces that want to cut federal spending even more than is planned.  As the budget process moves through Congress, expect to see more tough choices being made.

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