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AAS Informational Email 2011-13

Bethany Johns, John Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
Kevin B. Marvel, Executive Officer

FY2012 Appropriations for Astronomy

Countdown: 9 days, until federal funding for FY2011 ends and the new federal fiscal year FY2012 begins and, following the new 'business as normal' trend, Congress has yet to finish their appropriations work. While the Senate is scrambling to complete appropriations bills and the House has completed nearly all of their bills, there is no chance the required conference committees will be able to complete their work before the fiscal year ends. And so, preparing for the inevitable, House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Harold Rogers (R-KY) introduced a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government running after September through November 18th. The Senate is likely to follow suit in short order.

The CR continues funding for the federal government at a rate of $1.043 trillion - the total amount to which the Congress and the White House agreed in the recent debt-ceiling legislation. This is a 1.4% cut from the FY2011 level.

Both the House and Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations subcommittees have marked-up their respective bills and they wait on the calendar for a floor vote before the appropriation process goes into conference to produce a final appropriations bill. These subcommittees have jurisdiction over NASA and NSF and other agencies including the Departments of Commerce and Justice.


(Point of Information: The NASA FY2012 President's Budget Request (PBR) was prepared two different ways, a Full Cost View and a Separate Labor Allocation. Both appropriations bills for NASA use the Full Cost accounting.)

The Senate was very detailed in the report language of their bill (S.1572) detailing the budget for NASA. The total NASA budget is proposed to decrease to $17.9 billion, $509 million less than FY2011 enacted levels. Out of the nine directorates within NASA, only three increased compared to FY2011, including the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and the Space Technology Directorate.

All divisions within SMD increased compared to FY2011 enacted levels except for the Heliophysics Division, which remained flat compared to the PBR for FY2012 at $622.3 million. The Planetary Science Division would increase to $1.5004 billion, $51.25 million above FY2011. The Astrophysics Division included James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in the FY2011 budget, which totaled $1.1095 billion with JWST being $438.7 million of the total, almost 40%, leaving $670.79 million for other missions and research. In FY2012, the JWST was moved out of the Astrophysics Division budget to become an agency priority and its own line item. The Senate proposes to fund JWST in FY2012 at a level of $530 million, an increase of $90.9 million over FY2011. Under the Senate plan, the Astrophysics Division would receive $682.2 million, an increase of $11.41 million over FY2011.

The Senate's line item programs within the Planetary Science Division with funding increases compared to FY2011 enacted levels are Planetary Science Research, Mars Exploration, Outer Planets, and Technology. The programs within the Planetary Science Division with funding decreases are the Lunar Quest Program, Discovery, and New Frontiers.

The programs within the Astrophysics Division with proposed Senate funding increases compared to FY2011, (excluding JWST) are Astrophysics Research and the Astrophysics Explorer Program. Programs within the Astrophysics Division with funding decreases are Cosmic Origins and Physics of the Cosmos. The Exoplanet Exploration program remained flat.

At this time we do not have detailed line-item information for the FY2011 enacted levels for the Heliophysics Division to compare individual programs and line items to the proposed FY2012 Senate appropriations.

The Senate report includes stringent language for NASA to avoid cost overruns, improve management, and make its programs more affordable. Other details in the report include a $10 million appropriation for the restart of domestic production of Plutonium-238 for planetary science missions and a statement of strong support for the completion of the James Webb Space Telescope, while imposing a cost cap of $8 billion.

The House FY2012 Appropriations bill (H.R.2596) passed earlier this year proposes to decrease the total NASA budget to $16.810 billion, a $1.637 billion decrease from FY2011. Of all the directorates only Aeronautics and Space Technology increase -- SMD would decrease by $415.7 million. Within SMD, the JWST is proposed to be canceled, the Heliophysics Division decreases to $622 million (flat compared to the FY2012 PBR), the Astrophysics Division increases slightly to $683 million, and the Planetary Science Division increases to $1.5 billion.


The National Science Foundation (NSF) total budget is proposed to decrease in the FY2012 Senate Appropriation bill to $6.698 billion, $161.87 million lower than FY2011 enacted levels.

The important funding accounts in NSF for astronomy are the Research and Related Activities (R&RA), which includes funding for astronomy research, and the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC), which includes funding for construction of large astronomy infrastructure. Some astronomy is also supported through the Office of Polar Programs and even other research Divisions, but all are incorporated into the R&RA line item. The Senate proposes to reduce the R&RA account to $5.443 billion, $120.87 million less than FY2011 and to keep MREFC flat compared to FY2011 at $117.06 million, while providing an option for up to $100 million from the R&RA account. A transfer would bring the total of the MREFC amount within $7 million of the PBR. Unfortunately, the detailed impact at the Division level is not included in the Senate report.

The House FY2012 Appropriations bill proposes to keep funding for NSF flat at $6.859 billion compared to FY2011, but increases R&RA to $5.6069 billion and decreases MREFC to $100 million.

The report for the Senate bill includes language related to the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope (GSMT) selection process, the third priority for large-scale ground-based recommendations by the National Research Council's 2010 decadal survey in Astronomy and Astrophysics. There were no statements on the first priority, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST).

Detailed tables of NASA and NSF funding will be posted at the AAS Public Policy Blog at

Mailed 22 September 2011
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