The final FY 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act funds the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at $17.3 billion, less than earlier amounts recommended by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, but meeting the budget proposal of President Bush. While the funding is a 5.2% increase over FY 2007 and respectable given the overall restrictions on the federal budget, the spending focus is heavy on manned space programs and light on science.
Attempts failed to shore up unmanned science programs by moving money from the manned programs in the harried, last-minute negotiations over the bill. The final bill leaves basic and applied research at the space agency at $3.4 billion, 0.2% below last year’s funding level.
The Constellations Systems program to replace the Space Shuttle with the Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Crew Launch Vehicle receives $3 billion, a 6.2% increase over FY 2007. The International Space Station (ISS) receives $2.2 billion, up 26%, as NASA pushes to complete construction of the orbiting facility by 2010. The Space Shuttle program, which is focused almost entirely on supporting the ISS, receives $4 billion.
Congress has grown increasingly concerned about NASA’s curtailment of its Earth Sciences programs and made that concern clear in the budget report. The Explanatory Statement notes that NASA’s current plans call for two new earth science missions every two years. “At that rate,” the statement says, “NASA Earth observation research missions will have decreased from 18 down to four or five in the next two decades.” Earlier in the congressional session, appropriations were designated to boost the Earth Science program by 10%, but that fell to a 4.4% increase of $1.5 billion as the final bill was put together.
About $40 million of the Earth Science money is aimed at implementing the recommendations of the National Research Council’s report, "Earth Science and Applications From Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond."
The breakdown of the final numbers for NASA’s Science Directorate are as follows:
FY 2007 budget: $1.46 billion
Administration FY 2008 request: $1.49 billion
Congressional appropriation: $1.54 billion, up $46.8 million, or 3.1%
FY 2007 budget: $1.02 billion
Administration FY 2008 request: $1.05 billion
Congressional appropriation: $1.07 billion, up $13.2 million, or 1.2%
FY 2007 budget: $1.41 billion
Administration FY 2008 request: $1.39 billion
Congressional appropriation: $1.40 billion, up $9.7 million, or 0.6%
FY 2007 budget: $1.56 billion
Administration FY 2008 request: $1.56 billion
Congressional appropriation: $1.59 billion, up $33.7 million, or 2.1%
Within that overall science spending, the consolidated bill sets budget “floors” for the following science missions and programs:
-- Hubble Space Telescope, $280 million
-- James Webb Space Telescope, $545.4 million
-- Global Precipitation Measurement mission, $90.2 million
-- Mars Exploration Program, $626.4 million
-- Space Interferometry Mission, $60 million
NASA has drawn the ire of Congress in the past year for what some claim is neglect of the agency’s “Aeronautics” mission. The administration requested a 21% cut in aeronautics funding, which would have come on top of cuts to the program in previous budgets. Congress added $62 million to the aeronautics request, but that still left the program facing an 11% cut to $616 million.
After a moratorium on earmarking last year, Congress included $83 million in designated programs, ranging from $1.8 million to establish a degree program in space and telecommunications law at the University of Nebraska to $2.7 million to “expand the reach” of an electronic medical records system at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.
NASA’s education program is funded at $173 million, a cut of $20 million from FY 2007.
Finally, the bill's Explanatory Statement reflects ongoing congressional concern over NASA’s drawn-out restructuring process that has made it difficult to accurately track programs and funds. Congress must be notified of “any deviations” from established funding processes, the report says. The appropriations committees also directs NASA to “establish an ongoing relationship with the National Academy of Sciences (to provide) an independent project review,” and notes that, “In the future, the Appropriations Committees do not intend to recommend approval of any major program changes unless an independent review by the National Academies concurs with NASA’s proposed course of action.”
And finally, to get a better idea of what is going on within the space agency, the budget report directs the Government Accountability Office to prepare status reports on “selected large-scale NASA programs, projects or activities.”