Sequestration Looks to Be Inevitable, What Happens to Planetary Science?
Don't let my profile picture fool you. I'm not smiling today.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced earlier that no fiscal cliff deal seemed likely before December 31st, and that sequestion – the across-the-board cuts to all federal programs – may be inevitable. NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD), which manages the planetary exploration program, stands to lose $417 million in funding over the next nine months. If the pain is spread equally among major divisions within the SMD, planetary science looks to lose around $100 million in addition to the deep cuts already proposed for 2013.
This would obviously be very bad for the program.
A few weeks ago, the NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden, released a statement discussing the immediate effects of sequestration on NASA as a whole, which can be mitigated in the short term. Money quote:
I do not expect our day-to-day operations to change dramatically on or immediately after January 2, should sequestration occur. This means that we will not be executing any immediate personnel actions, such as furloughs, on that date. Should we have to operate under reduced funding levels for an extended period of time, we may have to consider furloughs or other actions in the future. But let me assure you that we will carefully examine other options to reduce costs within the agency before taking such action, taking into consideration our obligation to execute our core mission.
This seems to be the standard tactic among government agencies. They assume that sequestration will be reversed within the next few weeks, and if not, they are vague on the details of what will actually happen. They're slow-walking implementation of cuts because they're betting on a resolution.
Note that delaying any cuts now will make the eventual cutbacks much deeper in order to hit the overall savings targets by the end of the fiscal year on Sep 30th, 2013.
We here at the Planetary Society will continue to follow this story very closely over the next few weeks.