NASA Responds to the Columbia Accident Report: Money

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More money please

Over the past decade NASA's budgets have experienced little real - or consistent growth - either in constant terms or buying power, Indeed, it has lost a lot of buying power. Moreover, these decreases have led the agency to sacrifice some things in order to keep others going.

When asked on September 2nd by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to characterize the effect of budget cuts and Congressional earmarks on NASA's shuttle program, Adm. Gehman replied: "The Shuttle program's purchasing power has been reduced by 40% over the course of a decade. People have tried to ring money out of Shuttle to pay for other things. The Shuttle program operates on flat budget. Some of these budget changes are legitimate. The effect: for a number of years after Challenger, the Shuttle management scheme changed to vertical scheme in which the program manager has become responsible for schedules, manifests, costs, budgets, personnel, technical specifications, waivers, and safety. Because people try to get money out of the program, the program manager made trades within that trade space. That is too much power in one person's hands. NASA needs to separate engineering and safety."

As for earmarks, Gehman said "they give an over-inflated value of NASA's budget. This is not really NASA's money to spend because they cant move it around. Most of earmarks were "adds" which makes the budget look bigger than it is."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) urged "I think everybody including members of this committee that want to see our space program continue to be robust and continue to fill that desire of this nation to explore needs to know that you are going to be fighting, in the internal fights of the administration, with OMB and the White House, to make sure the monies are there for NASA."

As is the case with all Federal budgets, interaction is currently ongoing between NASA and OMB. Around Thanksgiving NASA will "pass back" its budget to OMB for a final work through as part of the overall development of the FY 2005 budget. The FY 2005 budget will be rolled out in early February 2005.

Last year NASA asked for a substantial alteration to the FY 2003 budget such that the Space Launch Initiative could be overhauled and work begun on the Orbital Space Plane (OSP). As it happened, NASA' s bottom line did not change. While NASA has not been specific on details with regard to the final, full cost of returning the Shuttle to flight operations, it is possible that the White House could make a supplemental request for the FY 2004 budget to begin the process.

Already, NASA has sent a request for an update to its operating plan to Congress with in the FY 2003 budget (FY 2003 end in several weeks) to the tune of $40 million to cover some aspects of Shuttle activities.

Given that last year's supplemental request contained what amounted to a preview of what was later seen in the FY 2004 budget request vis a vis the OSP. It would not be without precedent to see something like that happen this year with regard to Shuttle's return to flight.

As for anything above and beyond just returning to the status quo i.e. new human exploration efforts, that will all depend on what policy notions are being formulated in the White House and when they make their way into the public arena. If the past is a guide they will not emerge in great detail until the release of the FY 2005 budget and, if they warrant mention, in the President's State of the Union speech.

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