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Casey DreierJanuary 14, 2014

Congress to NASA: Don't You Dare Steal Money Away from Planetary Science Again

A little congressional scolding to NASA and the White House

I'm working on a longer post about the recently released congressional "omnibus" spending bill that restores some funding to Planetary Science and NASA overall, but I came across a nice little paragraph that I wanted to highlight first.

As some may recall, last year Congress allocated $1.42 billion for Planetary Science. With an even application of the sequester, the final number given to solar system exploration should have been about $1.31 billion dollars. Instead, NASA first proposed to spend only $1.19 billion and then, after congressional and public pressure, acquiesced to $1.27 billion. The missing money went to unrelated programs in Earth Science and the James Webb Space Telescope.

The medium through which NASA raided its Planetary Science Division was by reprogramming money through its operating plan – the formal application of how money allocated by Congress is spent. Operating plans tend to vary slightly from the enacted amounts, usually due to programmatic needs, not because of internal political priorities.

So it was welcome to read the following heavy scolding included in the explanatory statement released along with the spending bill (emphasis mine):

"Reprogramming and transfer authorities exist so that NASA can respond to unexpected, exigent circumstances that may arise during the fiscal year, not so that NASA can pursue its internal priorities at the expense of congressional direction. If NASA persists in abusing its reprogramming and transfer authorities, those authorities will be eliminated in future appropriations acts."

Basically: don't try this again, or you lose your reprogramming privileges. Let's hope NASA heeds this warning and spends planetary money on planetary projects in 2014.

Read more: FY2014 NASA Budget, Space Policy, best of

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Casey Dreier

Director of Space Policy for The Planetary Society
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