R&D in the FY 2014 Omnibus: NASA

Most R&D programs at NASA recover significant funding from sequester-level spending, and some see marked boosts.

Given a tough fiscal environment surrounding the FY 2014 omnibus, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) ranks among those agencies that have fared relatively well coming out of appropriations, all things considered. According to AAAS estimates, NASA R&D would rise substantially from FY 2013 post-sequester levels, by 10.8 percent, and by 3.5 percent above FY 2012 funding in nominal dollars, though this increase disappears when adjusting for inflation.

The space agency's total budget will actually come down below FY 2012 levels in nominal dollars, though this is partly due to the retirement of the Space Shuttle, which is now off the books, and to cuts in general institutional support. The biggest winner in terms of funding is the Exploration account — especially the Administration's program to support private industry spaceflight. Most other R&D programs recover significant funding from post-sequester spending levels and surpass the request, while still falling short of FY 2012 funding when factoring in inflation. And most programs end up closer to the Senate's recommendations from last summer than the House numbers, which were much lower across the board.

Items to note:

  • Most programs in the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) matched the President's request, more or less. The Planetary Science program, which had been slated for below-sequester cuts under the President's budget, came in about midway between the request and FY 2012 levels. Appropriators had consistently opposed those potential cuts; however, the conference report also includes $80 million in funding for a Europa mission not included in the request, which will eat up quite a bit of the apparent increase. Elsewhere in SMD, the Webb Space Telescope is set to continue its funding growth.
  • The Space Technology Directorate is one of the few areas in which the House numbers one out, contra the Administration's strong support for the program.
  • The Administration had sought cuts to programs dealing with next-generation space flight systems such as the Orion crew vehicle, and instead proposed a major increase to it's program supporting commercial spaceflight. Appropriators have been pretty consistent in their opposition to this shift, and that opposition was realized in the final omnibus. However, commercial spaceflight is still getting a large boost.
  • The conference report also expressed skepticism of NASA's proposed asteroid mission, arguing that the agency has yet to provide satisfactory justification materials.

The overall NASA budget will end up much closer to the Senate proposal than the House, but in historical terms will remain 12.9 percent, or $2.6 billion, below its 2010 peak in constant dollars.