6 September 2019

From FY19 to FY20: NASA’s Budget

Kelsie Krafton, American Astronomical Society (AAS)

NASA Meatball LogoA two-year budget deal covering fiscal years 2020 and 2021 (FY20 and FY21) was signed into law on 2 August. This budget does not appropriate discretionary funding for individual agencies and programs — that is accomplished with 12 separate appropriations bills that state which priorities and programs agencies will fund. Congress almost never passes these bills by the end of the previous fiscal year (i.e., 30 September 2019 for FY19). The House of Representatives already passed 10 of the appropriations bills before leaving Capitol Hill for August recess. The Senate Appropriations subcommittees have not released any drafts of appropriations bills because senators and staffers were waiting for the topline spending numbers to be finalized in the budget deal, which didn’t happen until 1 August. The Senate returns to session on 9 September and will have only three legislative work weeks to introduce and vote on these appropriations bills. Given other pressing issues, it is likely that Congress will enact a temporary continuing resolution (CR) that temporarily extends current funding levels until they can agree on bills for 2020. You can follow this process in some detail via appropriations trackers updated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and/or the American Institute of Physics (AIP).

Meanwhile, Congress recently approved FY19 “operating plans” for NASA and NSF. (Yes, you read that right: Agency managers have received their final spending allocations for FY19 less than two months before the fiscal year ends.) An operating plan outlines the agency’s spending. NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are required to submit operating plans to Congress for approval that they have “met the letter and intent of the legislation and explain any changes that needed to be made.” You can learn more about the processes I will be covering in this post from a previous AAS Policy blog entry by Ashlee Wilkins, my predecessor as AAS John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow. 

In this article I will cover the FY19 operating plan for NASA and the current state of its budget for FY20. 

FY19 Operating Plan

Let’s start by looking at what NASA is expected to spend in FY19. NASA’s operating plan can be found here.

NASA Budget

FY 2019 PBR

FY 2019 Enacted Appropriations

FY 2019 Operating Plan

FY 2020 PBR

FY 2020 House Appropriations
Science Mission Directorate$5.90$6.91$6.90$6.30$7.16
Planetary Science Division$2.23$2.76$2.75$2.62$2.71
Astrophysics Division$0.88$1.19$1.19$0.84$1.37
Heliophysics Division$0.69$0.72$0.72$0.70$0.70
James Webb Space Telescope$0.30$0.31$0.30$0.35$0.35

Table: NASA FY19 operating plan in comparison to FY19 and FY20 budgets. PBR stands for Presidential Budget Request, i.e., the President’s proposed budget, which is typically submitted in the first week of February the preceding year. The numbers listed in the table are in units of billions of dollars.

After the PBR is submitted, Congress writes a budget that is then signed by the President, as happened last month with the two-year budget deal for FY20 and FY21. Now we enter the part of the FY20-21 cycle when the House and Senate must pass appropriations bills and eventually enact a final set of appropriations. So far, the House has passed 10 of their 12 appropriations bills, while the Senate has not published any drafts. There was an AAS policy blog post back in February on how the House, Senate, and final appropriations turned out for FY19. As you can see from the table above, Congress has generally been awarding more funding to NASA than what is outlined in the PBR. While most changes in the PBR from 2019 to 2020 are in the 0-10% increase range, there are three exceptions: 17% increases to planetary science and JWST, and a 5% cut to astrophysics.

FY20 House of Representatives Report and Appropriations Bill

So far, science agencies are avoiding sharp funding cuts. Research programs can expect moderate funding increases in FY20 should the House numbers prevail. In the appropriations bill passed by the House of Representatives, there are the following funds designated to NASA through 30 September 2021:

NASA Budget

FY 2020 House AppropriationsFY 2019 Enacted AppropriationsFY 2020 Presidential Budget Request
Jupiter Europa Orbiter$0.59$0.74$0.59
Space Technology$1.29$0.93$1.01
Restore-L$0.18$0.18 (OP)N/A
Nuclear Thermal Propulsion$0.13$0.10 (OP)N/A
Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle$1.43$1.35$1.27
Space Launch System (SLS)$2.15$2.15$1.78
Research & Developement$0.96$0.96$1.58
Space Operations$4.29$4.64$4.29
STEM Engagement$0.12$0.11$0
Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research$0.03$0.02$0
National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program$0.05$0.04$0
Construction, Environmental Compliance & Restoration$0.50$0.35$0.60

Table: NASA FY19 operating plan in comparison to FY19 and FY20 budgets. All numbers are in units of billions of dollars.

The FY20 House appropriations bill did not specify funding for each division, but it did specify funding for certain programs, as you can see in the table above. You can learn more about the Restore-L satellite servicing project with this fact sheet from NASA, and "(OP)" next to the budget amount indicates that the value was pulled from NASA’s Operating Plan, which should reflect the FY19 enacted appropriations. SLS, the Space Launch System, will be the most powerful rocket ever built. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) engagement was originally cut in the President’s budget request. The House decided not only to keep STEM engagement, but to increase its funding by ~40%.

So, if something is cut in the Administration’s budget recommendation, don’t panic. It’s a recommendation, and Congress will proceed with crafting a budget as they see fit. If you are worried about funding for a division or mission, reach out to your representatives and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies to express your concerns, especially if you are a subcommittee member’s constituent. Also, reaching out to your representatives doesn’t have to be about asking for something — you can also just say "thank you" to the members who are supporting science.