NASA released more detailed information about what would happen if the across-the-board cuts to almost all government agencies, known as the Sequester, goes into effect on March 1st.
The very useful information in this recent release is that it details the budget changes in reference to proposed 2013 levels. Congress has yet to pass a budget for 2013 and is currently funding all agencies at 2012 levels. Many people expect them to extend this for another six months and never pass a budget for 2013.
Planetary Science, the division that faces a 21% cut in 2013, is currently only allowed to spend at 2013 levels, despite the continuing resolution which reflects a higher budget. As such, the sequester may not be as harsh of a blow. It's still very hard to say.
The information released today only specifies spending down to the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), which is responsible for Planetary Science, Earth Science, Astrophysics, the JWST, and heliophysics. Money quote:
Science (President budget request: $4,911.2 million; -$51.1 million sequester impact to FY 2013 budget request)
Sequestration would reduce Science by $51.1 million below the FY 2013 budget request, which would cause NASA to have to take such steps as:
- Reducing funding for new Explorer and Earth Venture Class mission selections by 10 to 15 percent, resulting in lower funding levels for new activities and causing minor launch delays, and
- Reducing funding available for competed research (e.g., “research and analysis”) projects by about 2 percent, resulting in about a 5 percent reduction in new awards to support labor/jobs at universities, businesses, and other research entities distributed around the nation this year. Ongoing projects started with awards made prior to this fiscal year would not be affected.
The harshest effects appear to be in NASA's Exploration program and Construction and Environmental Compliance, where new funds were needed for the SLS, Orion, and Commercial Crew programs.
You can read the document yourself [PDF].