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Astronomy & Astrophysics in the Federal Budget
Bethany Johns

The President released his budget for the fiscal year 2012 (FY12) on February 14 ( The President has set a five-year freeze on all discretionary non-defense spending in response to challenging economic times and to reduce the national deficit. The President has confirmed his commitment in the State of the Union address to, "out innovate, out educate, and out build" the rest of the world by supporting scientific research in the FY12 budget. From the Analytical Perspectives on the Budget,

"The President's 2012 Budget maintains his commitment to double Federal investment in key basic research agencies: the National Science Foundation (NSF); the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science; and the laboratories of the Department of Commerce (DOC) National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)."

The 2012 budget cycle starts before the budget for 2011 has been finalized. The FY11 budget has yet to be signed into law. The government has been operating on a series on continuing resolutions (CR) that fund government agencies at FY10 levels. The current CR will expire on March 4. House Republicans, who have the majority, have passed H.R.1 a CR funding government operations for the rest of FY11, while making the largest single discretionary spending cut in the history of the nation.

The President's request for additional scientific research and development will be debated in Congress. If you would like to take action and let policymakers know how important it is to invest in our future through scientific research, development, and education, contact your legislators now (

The New Worlds, New Horizons Decadal Survey for astronomy and astrophysics was completed before the federal budget process was embargoed last September. The intent was that the survey could impact decisions on funding for the recommendations. Jon Morse, Astrophysics Division Director for NASA, and Jim Ulvestad, Astronomy Division Director for NSF, have presented at their respective advisory committee meetings how they are implementing the recommendations of the Decadal Survey with little or no increase in the federal budget for astronomy or astrophysics. Both advisory committees have commended the directors on managing to incorporate the survey recommendations in the economic constraints of the FY12 budget, though at lower than anticipated funding levels.

The NASA budget is available at Note that NASA is not one of the agencies participating in the administration's doubling effort for basic research.

For FY12 NASA is requesting the same amount it received in FY10, $18.7 billion. The Science Mission Directorate (SMD) overall increased, while Space Operations took a significant cut in the Space Shuttle program.

The change in management of James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) resulted in it being taken out of the Astrophysics Division budget and placed as a separate line item in the SMD budget. In FY10 the Astrophysics budget received $1086M, of which $438.7M was JWST. The FY12 request for Astrophysics is $682.7M and JWST is $373.7M, totaling $1056M. Overall, the funding for Astrophysics (including JWST) went down 3% compared to FY10. The projected outyear funding for JWST continues at $375M through FY2016. The outyear funding will change once the bottom up review of the JWST budget is completed in the coming months.

The requested astrophysics funding level of $683M, is a 6% increase from the enacted FY10 budget. The other Science Divisions also increased compared to FY10: Earth by 25%, Planetary by 13%, Heliophysics by 2%.

The proposed cuts by the House decrease the FY2010 NASA budget by $578.7M compared to the FY11 request.

The NSF budget is available at

The NSF FY12 budget request is $7.8 billion, an increase of 13% from FY10. NSF is part of the President's initiative to double federal investment in science and research.

The Math and Physical Science Directorate (MPS) requested budget is $1433M, the largest amount of all seven directorates, but with the smallest percent increase of 6% compared to FY10. The increases of the directorates range from 6% to 22%, with Engineering at 22%.

Within the MPS Directorate, the Astronomy Division increased by 1.4%, the lowest of all the divisions. The increases in the divisions range from 1.4% to 10.4%, with Chemistry at 10.4%. In the FY12 budget Astronomy has the lowest request at $249M. The division requests range from $249M to $321M, with Materials Research at $321M.

The proposed cuts by the House decrease the FY11 NSF budget by $827.25M compared to the FY11 request.

High energy astrophysics research at DOE is under the Office of Science, which works on ground and space based instruments for astrophysics. Also, many of the high energy physics labs do research with astrophysics applications, including dark energy and dark matter. The Office of Science requested $5416M for FY12, an increase of 9% from FY10.

However, DOE Science gets the largest decrease in funding in the proposed spending cuts in the House. The House proposes to cut $1111M from Science compared to the FY11 request. For tabulated values on astronomy and astrophysics in FY12 visit the AAS Blog at

As the budget process moves forward, the AAS will keep you informed, take an active stance to defend basic research funding and attempt to move the Decadal Survey recommendations forward from paper to reality. When it is clear our members can have a positive impact, we will issue an ACTION ALERT. Please take time to respond to these alerts as your action at certain times can be critically important for our discipline.

You can also follow AAS Public Policy via twitter @AAS_CAPP or @AAS_Bethany_J


[Mailed from 25 February 2011]

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