NASA Faces Deep Budget Cuts Under Sequestration, Romney

Mitt Romney. (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

NASA’s budget is facing deep cuts in January from two sources: sequestration and Mitt Romney.

If President Obama and Congress cannot work out a deal, sequestration will cut NASA’s budget by 8 percent or $1.458 billion in early January, according to a new report issued by the White House.

Meanwhile, Romney has promised if elected to send a bill to Congress on his first day in office, Jan. 20, that would slash non-security discretionary spending across the board. If the measure approved, it would result in a reduction of nearly $900 million from the space agency’s budget.

It is not clear if Romney would go ahead with the 5 percent reduction on top of sequestration cuts. Romney also has promised to cap non-discretionary spending below 2008 budget levels.

The table below shows potential cuts using NASA’s FY 2012 budget, which expires on September 30. It looks unlikely that Congress will pass an FY 2013 budget before that date. The government will run on a continuing resolution, which will keep spending at FY 2012 levels.

POTENTIAL NASA BUDGET REDUCTIONS, JANUARY 2012
ReductionNASA FY 2012 Budget
(Millions)
Percentage CutAmount Cut (Millions)
Reduced Budget
Sequestration$17,7708.2$1,458$16,312
Mitt Romney Budget Cut
$17,7705$888.5$16,881.5

Under either scenario, NASA’s spending would be well below the $17.318 billion the space agency spent in 2008.

It is impossible to know how NASA’s various programs would fare under Romney planned cuts. To date, the Republican Presidential candidate has not given any specifics about what he would do with NASA’s budget.

The White House released a report this week showing how reductions would be made under sequestration, which would take place in early January before any change of administration.

ESTIMATED NASA SEQUESTRATION CUTS
ACCOUNTREDUCTION
(MILLIONS)
Science$417
Space Operations$346
Exploration$309
Cross Agency Support$246
Aeronautics$47
Space Technology$47
Construction, Environmental Compliance and Remediation$32
Education$11
Office of Inspector General$3
TOTAL:$1,458

  • Walter

    it’s always conforting to see how fast they propose cuts science and research fundings (let aside education) not even mentioning the hundred of billions (yes billions here not millions) spent in what they call ‘defence’…I’m wondering if they really think to help the nation’s rebirth with weapons…I wuold have thought that science and education was a better way…

  • Doug,

    I know us space cadets really want NASA to get all the money it can. However, the worst of these cuts (from sequestration) would only bring NASA’s budget back to numbers it got in 2005. This might hurt, but it will not destroy the agency.

    We have a serious problem with the federal debt. To solve it we are going to have to all make sacrifices. As a proponent of space travel, I see either of these cuts to be a reasonable contribution by the space community to solving this problem.

    In fact, that sequestration is being imposed on everyone pretty much equally, it is a very fair first step to regaining control over the federal budget. And if regain control, everything is going to fall apart and future space travel will be delayed a lot longer than any delays caused by these proposed cuts.

    For more on this issue, see this essay: “We have a choice.”

    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/essays-and-commentaries/we-have-a-choice

  • The previous Administration was willing to sacrifice American lives in two wars that have cost nearly $4 trillion while insisting that no one pay higher taxes to cover the costs. I think that’s a large chunk of the problem, something that’s largely ignored by Republicans who have spent this campaign season pretending that the Bush Administration never existed.

  • Jim Hillhouse

    I agree with Doug’s point. I’ll add that the discretionary budget is not what is driving the deficit. Zeroing-out the whole non-security discretionary budget (Treasury, Justice, Commerce, etc.) would only cut the annual budget deficit by 1/3, making cuts to non-security discretionary spending are a literal drop-in-the-deficit-bucket.

    The numbers don’t mislead though the politician do, and the GOP has been especially at fault here. The numbers dictate that we are going to raise taxes and decrease entitlement spending or we are not going to bend the curve on our nation’s annual budget deficit.

  • Tom Billings

    Before this conversation slags down into partisan wrangling, lets us look at the actions in a sequestration, if NASA is allowed to pick the cuts. NASA could, and should, IMHO, take them out of SLS, and MPCV, and fund commercial developments of CCiCap and Propellant Depots with what is left of the funds for human spaceflight R&D. However, I doubt even with Dana Rohrbacher at the head of the relevant House Committee that Congress will allow that. The Texas, Florida, Utah, and Alabama delegations have 75 House members. No committee Chair can ignore such numbers. The Senate has Shelby ensconced at least till 2016.

    Thus, we will find ourselves in another fight to save commercial crew. Yes, some Texas members from the Brownsville area are happier with SpaceX today, but that won’t outweigh the bird in the hand they have in JSC. What may be crucial is the attitude of the WH, once they see the real numbers for costs and capabilities and schedules. They may make the same decisions in regards to NASA that the present WH did in regards to WW4. They cannot admit to being the administration that was caught dropping human spaceflight completely, but they *need* cheaper NASA budgets. Not all of it need come out of human spaceflight, BTW.

    It may take time to get them to commit to what the present administration would *not* do for its own better NASA budget, to horse trade things out of *other* non-NASA parts of the budget, to reduce the objections from the Florida and Texas delegations, at least, to more SAA-styled contracts, rather than less. That is all I believe that will get us a CCiCap intact in a 2014 budget.

    The point here is that by the last quarter of 2013, we almost certainly *will* have a budget for the 2014 fiscal year, because both Houses will have the same Party as the President in charge. We cannot predict the single year effects of sequestration because DC will become a furball of pols screeching as they grab for whatever they can get. The 2014 fiscal year is the first chance we will have to do anything positive.

    We should focus on getting real numbers into the WH, probably through Dana’s committee staff, if he does in fact get the Chair of the Science Committee. It will be a hard job, especially against the pushback from the “advisory committee” already established by Romney.

  • Paul451

    Caption: Romney looks longingly at NASA cuts.

    Tom,
    “if NASA is allowed to pick the cuts. NASA could, and should, IMHO, take them out of SLS, and MPCV, and fund commercial developments of CCiCap and Propellant Depots with what is left of the funds for human spaceflight R&D.”

    They are required by law to develop a 70 & 130 ton to LEO launcher. So they can’t cut the goal… but they can choose how they implement it… by scrapping the existing SLS/MPCV program, as a NASA controlled program, and instead put out a call for contractors to bid on supplying a complete HLV solution to NASA. Under SAA for the first rounds, during the design-to-demonstration phases; FAR after they down-select to two vendors for the production phase. (One for the 70t man-rated vehicle and capsule, one for the 130t cargo vehicle.) Previous contractors welcome to apply. Just over $2 billion per year available to be assigned, after the automatic cuts.

    Not gonna happen, too much opposition even within NASA, but it would be fun to see Obama or Bolden grow some balls and push this.