Appropriators cut OSTP budget by one-third, spare James Webb Space Telescope
NSF, NIST receive modest budget increases for FY 2012, but NASA takes a $648 million hit.
November 17, 2011Published: November 17, 2011
House and Senate appropriators agreed to slash the budget of the Office of Science and Technology Policy by nearly one-third for fiscal year 2012. The reduction, which is expected to receive approval from both chambers, is part of a spending package for FY 2012 that includes $7 billion for NSF, a $173 million increase from last year; a $648 million cut for NASA, to $5.1 billion; and a 7% increase for the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including $924 million for a long-delayed polar-orbiting satellite system.
The spending measure, passed by a House-Senate conference committee, also spared the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) from termination, as the House side had proposed. But conferees warned that NASA will have to come up with $1 billion in added funds to keep JWST on schedule from FY 2013 through its planned launch in 2018; the agency must simultaneously work to cut its overall spending to meet reductions imposed by this year’s Budget Control Act. The JWST’s lifecycle cost estimate was revised upward this year to $8.8 billion, $1.2 billion above the previous estimate. The conference committee dipped into NASA’s Earth, planetary science, and astrophysics accounts to find additional monies for JWST in FY 2012. That upped spending on the mission this year to $530 million, $156 million more than the White House requested in February.
A full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope is on display at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Credit: NASA, ESA, and P. Jeffries (STScI).
Both chambers could vote on the bill, known as a conference report, as early as this week. The Obama administration in October said it “strongly supports” the bill’s passage, although it urged lawmakers to provide $6 million for OSTP. The White House cannot veto individual line items of appropriations bills.
Despite cutting OSTP’s budget to $4.5 million from last year’s $6.6 million, the committee relaxed the current statutory prohibition on all bilateral activities between OSTP and Chinese officials. The new restriction will continue to bar OSTP interactions with Chinese counterparts that could result in “the transfer of sensitive technology, data and other information that could adversely impact our national security or disadvantage American companies relative to their Chinese counterparts.” According to the conference report, the change in language “should enable OSTP to engage in beneficial collaborative endeavors, such as public health planning or disaster response activities, while providing greater protection for U.S. economic and national security interests.”
Conference committee members acknowledged that the Department of Justice had advised OSTP director John Holdren, who met with Chinese officials weeks after the prohibition was enacted in April via the FY 2011 full-year continuing resolution, that the provision was unconstitutional. The measure was authored by Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds OSTP. Wolf has been a vocal critic of China’s policies on human rights and political and religious freedoms. He has also denounced China’s alleged widespread economic espionage and cyberwarfare practices. Wolf’s version of the bill would have cut OSTP’s budget to $3 million. It said that Holdren’s disregard of the prohibition “demonstrates a lack of respect for the policy and oversight roles of the Congress.”
The Government Accountability Office, in an opinion requested by Wolf, concluded that Holdren had violated the continuing resolution and the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits expenditures of government funds for non-appropriated purposes. The GAO noted that Wolf’s provision, approved by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, “is entitled to a heavy presumption in favor of constitutionality.”
The committee provided $751 million for NIST, up $33 million from last year. That total includes $128 million for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the same amount as last year.
Committee members noted their acceptance of NSF’s decision to abandon its support for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory at a disused mine in South Dakota.