Tag Archives: budget

Status of Arecibo radio observatory

It appears that, while Puerto Rico itself suffered devastating damage from Hurricane Maria, the Arecibo Observatory came through relatively unscathed.

The surface of the dish was largely unscathed, and the observatory’s most vulnerable component, the instrument platform suspended high above the dish by cables strung from three towers, each more than 80 meters tall, was still in place and seemed undamaged, says Schmelz. She is based at the Columbia, Maryland, headquarters of one of Arecibo’s operators, the Universities Space Research Association, and spoke with staff in Puerto Rico who first used a ham radio and then a single working satellite phone. But the roofs on some observatory buildings were blown off, the sinkhole under the dish was flooded, and other equipment was damaged by rain and fallen trees. Most significantly, a large portion of a 29-meter-long antenna—the 430-megahertz line feed used for studying the upper atmosphere—appears to have broken off and fallen from the platform into the dish. Mathews estimates a bill of several million dollars to replace the line feed alone.

Because of the significant infrastructure damage across the island, there will be significant delays in getting any of this fixed. Since the telescope is already being considered for shut down due to budget issues, these delays could lead to that shut down.

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The Worst Part of Losing Cassini Is That It Has No Replacement

Link here. This article is an honest review of the current lack of concrete plans by anyone to send a new probe to Saturn. While there are some tentative missions in the works, nothing is certain.

[I]f looking back on Cassini’s major discoveries at Saturn, Titan, and Enceladus have left you thirsty for more, we have some bad news: That thirst is going to go unquenched for a while. Talks of Uranus and Neptune missions are tentative at best. The best hope for Saturn now comes from NASA’s New Frontiers program, which looks for excellent medium-cost missions has spawned spacecraft including Jupiter’s Juno and Pluto’s New Horizons. This round of New Frontiers missions must launch by 2024, and there are two Enceladus proposals, a Titan proposal, and a Saturn atmospheric probe under consideration. We may hear word about those proposals by the end of the year “Hang tight, we’re going through the evaluations now and we’ll be announcing at the end of the year what some of the finalists will be,” Jim Green, NASA Planetary Science Director, said at the Cassini press conference Friday morning.

This list of possible Saturn missions sounds great, but they are all competing against each other and a number of other equally (and possibly more) interesting missions to other places. And with the federal budget out of control and mired in debt, there isn’t really a lot of money to go around.

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An oral history of the Cassini mission to Saturn

Link here. Those who have read my book on the building of the Hubble Space Telescope will recognize many of the same people and political maneuvers used to get the project off the ground and funded.

Note too that the idea of Cassini was first proposed in 1982, but it didn’t actually launch until 1997. Fifteen years. While today I think such a spacecraft could go from concept to launch much faster, this timeline gives us a guide on when the next Saturn orbiter might launch. At the earliest do not expect another mission to Saturn to launch before 2025.

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Federal debt tops $20 trillion

The coming dark age: Because of the Democratic/Trump deal raising the debt limit, the federal government’s debt officially topped $20 trillion last week.

From March 16 through Sept. 7, every Daily Treasury Statement showed the total federal debt subject to the legal limit opening and closing each day at $19,808,747,000,000. That was because the previous suspension of the debt limit had expired on March 15 and the debt limit had been reset at the level the debt reached at the close of business that day–which was $19,808,772,381,624.74. The Treasury then started using what it calls “extraordinary measures” to keep the debt subject to the limit about $25 milion below the limit.

This is all a fraud. Not only do they cook the numbers to make the debt ceiling appear legal for as long as possible, the debt is actually far larger, as this doesn’t include the raids to the Social Security trust fund that Congress has routinely been making for the past few decades, and never paying back.

But hey, who cares? What is really important is that we call looters “heroes” and any cops who try to arrest them “racists!”

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Trump teams up with Democrats on debt limit deal

Trump today backed a Democratic proposal to only extend the debt limit by three months, instead of the Republican plan to extend that ceiling first 18 months, than six.

While it is clear the Democrats want more debt ceiling negotiations in order to force the Republicans to make repeated concessions each time, I find it disgusting that the Republican leadership is more interested in kicking the can down the road than to address the problem now. In a sense, this might be why Trump is siding with the Democrats, as it keeps the debt ceiling on the table as a political issue, and might eventually force these brainless cowards to eventually do something to gain some control over the budget.

Then again, it might not. It could also be that none of these politicians, including Trump, has any interest in controlling the budget, and are merely playing petty politics with the nation’s future.

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Senate/House budget conflicts over science and space

Link here. The article gives a good overview, from a pro-science, pro-big spending perspective, of some of the significant budget differences between the proposed House and Senate budgets for 2018.

Except for NASA’s planetary program, the House generally wants to cut more than the Senate. This once again reflects the overall political trends. Because House membership changes more frequently (its members must face the voters every two years), the positions of its membership tend to reflect more closely the wishes of the voters. The Senate meanwhile (with only one-third of its membership facing re-election every two years and with six year terms for all senators) has historically trailed behind, defending past positions that are no longer popular with the voters.

If you want to predict the political future, look at what the House proposes. The budget proposals here reflect the increasing desire of the voters to trim back the federal government. Congress (and the establishment Republican leadership) might not yet realize this, but the trends show it. Soon (I hope after 2018), the resistance by that leadership and within the Senate will break, and we shall finally see some major budget cutting.

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House appropriations approves NASA and NOAA budgets

The squealing of pigs: The House appropriations committee yesterday approved the budgets for both NASA and NOAA, essentially accepting the budget numbers approved by its subcommittee.

Overall, the House increased spending over the Trump administration’s proposed cuts. Only in the area of climate did the legislators appear to support those cuts, and even here they pumped more money in.

The Trump Administration proposed a deep cut to [NOAA’s Polar Follow-On mission] saying it will re-plan the program ($180 million instead of the $586 million NOAA said last year it would need for FY2018). The committee went even further, approving only $50 million, but added it would reconsider if NOAA provides a better explanation of how it is restructuring the program. NOAA’s plans for new space weather satellites also fell far short of what the agency planned last year, although the committee provided more ($8.5 million) than the Trump Administration requested ($500,000).

In general, do not expect this Republican Congress to gain any control over the federal deficit. They are as spendthrift as Democrats. The only difference is their choice of programs.

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House Republicans push for big spending in Defense and NIH budgets

Failure theater: Two different House committees have chosen to ignore the budget cutting recommendations of the Trump administration and add billions to the budget of the National Institute of Health while approving — against the objections of the administration — the creation of a military “space corps.”

The first story is especially galling. Instead of cutting NIH’s budget to $25.9 billion, which is about what the agency got in the early 2000s, the increase to NIH would raise its budget from $31.8 billion to $35.2 billion. Worse, the House proposal would continue the policy where NIH pays the overhead for any research grants, which has been an amazing cash cow for American universities, most of which are leftwing partisan operations whose focus these days is often nothing more than defeating Republicans and pushing agenda-driven science.

Trump was right to push for those cuts. The Republicans are fools to eliminate them.

As for the second story, as I noted yesterday, the limitations of the Outer Space Treaty are almost certainly what is pushing Congress now to create a separate military space division. That and a greedy desire to establish another bureaucracy where they can take credit for any additional pork barrel funding. While such a force will certainly be necessary should the Outer Space Treaty not be revised to allow sovereignty and the establishment of internationally recognized borders, it is simply too early to do so now. The result will be a bureaucratic mess that will only act to waste money and possibly hinder private development in space.

But then, that’s what too many Republicans, like Democrats, want. They aren’t really interested in the needs of the country. They are interested in pork and power, for themselves.

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Republican Senate restores spending in NASA budget

The Senate subcommittee marking up the proposed NASA budget has followed the House lead and restored most of the cuts proposed by the Trump administration.

The bill provides nearly $780 million more for NASA than the administration’s request, including an increase of more than $615 million for exploration programs, such as the Space Launch System and Orion. “We made sure the Space Launch System is fully funded, and that astronauts will have the ability to go beyond low Earth orbit in the Orion crew vehicle,” Culberson said.

The bill restores funding for NASA’s Office of Education, which was slated to be closed in the budget proposal. The bill provides $90 million for the office, including funds for two programs in that office, Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, that would have been shut down.

More here.

It appears that Republicans, like Democrats, have no interest in gaining any control over its out-of-control spending. The Trump budget was a very reasonable document, and would have done no harm to NASA’s overall mission, and in many ways would have helped focus it. Congress however can’t stop spending, no matter who the voters put in power.

The only area where Republicans seem willing to fight for cuts is in NASA’s climate budget. With both the House and the Senate bills, the Republicans supported most of these cuts, though not all.

Overall, this whole process, and the contempt Congress and Washington has for the American people, was best demonstrated by this quote from Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia):

“I’m not sure the private sector is going to step in with so much left undone.”

In other words, private enterprise can’t do it! We need big government, routinely over budget and behind schedule, to make it happen!

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Republican House restores spending in NASA budget

The House committee marking up NASA’s budget has added about $800 million to the budget proposed by the Trump administration, restoring the proposed cuts in the SLS/Orion budget as well as in NASA’s education programs.

NASA’s exploration account receives the largest increase in the House bill: a $616 million increase over the request to $4.55 billion. The bill would fund the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System at the same levels as in the 2017 omnibus bill, rather than the lower levels in the budget proposal. It increases funding for ground systems and exploration research and development above both the request and the 2017 omnibus bill.

The bill would also restore much of NASA’s education program, which the administration proposed closing in its 2018 budget request, offering $37.3 million in closeout costs. The bill offers $90 million for education, $10 million below the 2017 level. The bill specifically funds two programs in that office, Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, that would have been shut down in the budget request.

Plans to end those education programs faced bipartisan opposition when the CJS subcommittee held a hearing on NASA’s budget proposal June 8. “I’m concerned about, in your budget, your cuts to the Office of Education,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), a former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who is now a member of the CJS subcommittee. “I can’t understand why you would want to cut that.”

The budget also adds money to the planetary budget, but also micromanages NASA by ordering it to fly two missions to Europa.

What this budget tells me is that the Republicans in Congress have no idea why Trump was elected. The public likes space, but it does not like its tax dollars wasted, and the public who voted for Trump (and the Republicans) considers much of what the federal government does to be a big waste. They want that budget trimmed. The Trump budget didn’t gut NASA, but it did try to refocus its effort away from pork. These House changes reinstate much of that pork.

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Illinois facing budget collapse

Leftist governance: Having now gone three years without an official budget and having expenses exceeding revenues by large amounts on a monthly basis, Illinois now faces a budget collapse.

A mix of state law, court orders and pressure from credit rating agencies requires some items be paid first. Those include debt and pension payments, state worker paychecks and some school funding. Mendoza says a recent court order regarding money owed for Medicaid bills means mandated payments will eat up 100 percent of Illinois’ monthly revenue.

There would be no money left for so-called “discretionary” spending – a category that in Illinois includes school buses, domestic violence shelters and some ambulance services

More here. Essentially, this state, run for decades by Democrats (and Republican helpers) and their union buddies, has unfunded pension liabilities that make it impossible to pay its real bills. I saw this happen in New York City in the 1970s, after almost a century of one-party Democratic rule. Watch it happen again here, as well as in California and several other radicalized blue states. They have decided to go full socialist, and as such are guaranteed societal failure.

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Connecticut: sinking in debt with a fleeing population

Running out of other people’s money: Connecticut, run for years by Democrats, is sinking in debt with a population that is shrinking as people flee.

The administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat who has been in office since 2011, projects a budget deficit of more than $5 billion over the next two years, thanks to generous pension benefits and the burden of servicing its big debt, plus falling tax revenue due to the exodus of large employers and residents reaching retirement age.

Its budget woes, as well as concerns that they will be repeated year after year, helped lead General Electric in 2015 to consider moving its headquarters out of the state. Last year, it did exactly that.

The state’s population is falling: Its net domestic out-migration was nearly 30,000 from 2015 to 2016. In 2016, it lost slightly more than 8,000 people, leaving its population at 3.6 million. Indeed, recent national moving company surveys underscore the trend, showing more people leaving Connecticut than moving in. In 2016, the state also saw a population decline for the third consecutive year, according to Census Bureau estimates.

One of the companies, United Van Lines, reported that of all their Connecticut customers, 60 percent were leaving compared to 40 percent who were moving there. Only three other states had higher rates of people moving out – New York, New Jersey and Illinois. One out of five of those leaving said they were retiring. [emphasis mine]

Isn’t it interesting that the four states with the most people leaving are four states that have been largely run by Democrats for decades. And in those cases where Republicans have been in charge, they have taken the moderate go-along-to-get-along approach, essentially rubber-stamping the high spending and high tax agenda of the Democrats that dominate the political region.

Unfortunately, it is this agenda that dominates Washington and the federal government, and the Republican leadership there seems quite willing to do the same as the moderate Republicans in this states. Worse, we don’t have another country we can escape to.

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California single-payer $400 billion healthcare plan approved by state committee with no funding

Running out of other people’s money: A California legislative committee yesterday approved a single-payer state healthcare plan that is estimated to cost $400 billion, twice the state’s entire annual budget, without indicating how they intend to pay for it.

Details, details! Who cares about how one pays for an entitlement program? The point is to pass it, and let your great-granchildren figure it out. In this case, however, the problem is so large that it’s impossible to do without the funding in place first, because of the need to pay providers for goods and services. California hardly has an extra $200 billion laying around, and even if it did, it would need to shore up its collapsing pension system first. The state is also on the hook for a $100 billion high-speed rail system whose funding is still unclear. Democrats don’t have much idea about how to pay for their current priorities, let alone their seizure of the health-care sector. [emphasis in original]

The leftists in California want to secede from the U.S. Maybe we should let them, since that state is about to go bankrupt and I am sure most Americans in the remain 49 states don’t wish to stuck with the bill.

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Sixty-six programs slated for elimination in Trump budget

The Trump budget followed through in one area very clearly: It proposes to completely eliminate sixty-six government programs.

The programs eliminated would only save $26.7 billion, which in terms of the deficit is chicken-feed. Still it would be a step in the right direction.

The pigs are squealing however, including one recent failed presidential candidate:
Clinton: Trump Budget Shows ‘Unimaginable Level of Cruelty’

Based on past experience, expect the Republican leadership in Congress to gut most of these cuts. The budget will grow. The deficit will grow. The federal debt will grow. The power of the people in Washington will grow. And we will be one step closer to bankruptcy and collapse.

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Trump budget released only to be immediately trashed

Today the Trump administration released its proposed 2018 budget for the federal government. Here is a good article on what that budget proposed for NASA.

The Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget request includes $19.1 billion for NASA, a $561 million decrease over previously enacted levels that would reduce the number of Earth science missions, eliminate the agency’s education office and do away with the Obama administration’s plans to robotically retrieve a piece of an asteroid as a precursor to eventual flights to Mars.

The budget closely reflects the administration’s blueprint, released in March, and overall, NASA’s acting administrator said America’s space program remains healthy and suffered relatively modest cuts compared to other federal agencies.

Though the NASA budget did include the cancellation of a handful of Earth Science projects as well as a cut in the Earth science budget, those cuts were nowhere near what had been hinted at previously.

The Trump administration has made no secret of its skepticism about global warming and its presumed causes and impacts and as expected, the budget eliminates funding for five Earth science missions and instruments. Earth science would receive $1.8 billion overall, reflecting a reduction of nearly $170 million. “The hard choices are still there, and we can’t do everything,” Lightfoot said. But the budget “still includes significant Earth science efforts, including 18 Earth observing missions in space as well as airborne missions.”

That’s a reduction of less than 10% in the total Earth science budget, hardly a catastrophe. The overall budget proposal was a little more daring, calling for a 30% cut at the EPA, and a 16% cut at Commerce, mostly in NOAA.

What does this all mean? Nothing. A president’s budget proposal is generally only a statement of desires. It has no force of law. Congress decides how to spend money, and the Republicans controlling this Congress are not really interested in cutting anything. In fact, the pigs have already begun to squeal, including a complete rejection of the budget by many Republican leaders in Congress.

‘President Trump’s $603 billion defense budget request is inadequate to the challenges we face, illegal under current law, and part of an overall budget proposal that is dead on arrival in Congress,’ said Arizona Sen. John McCain.

The administration didn’t seem to signal its own vote of confidence by releasing the document during President Trump’s first overseas trip.

Longtime GOP Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, a longtime appropriator, declared proposed cuts to safety net and environmental proposals ‘draconian.’

‘I don’t think the president’s budget is going anywhere,’ said Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, asked if he’s concerned about the message sent by slashing the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled.

That’s only a sampling. Essentially, these Republicans have no interest in gaining control of the out-of-control federal budget. They like having that budget out-of-control, as it feeds money to their friends and partners whom then line their pockets with campaign contributions.

I should note that I fully expect Trump to bow to their demands, and back off. When it has come to budget matters, he has so far shown no stomach for the fight.

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In 2016 federal government improperly paid out $144 billion

Our government in action! In testimony before the Senate Budget Committee yesterday, the controller general revealed that the federal government improperly paid out $144 billion in 2016.

The problem is growing, he said, from $125 billion in 2014; to $137 billion in 2015; to the most recent estimate of $144 billion in 2016. “This includes estimates for 112 programs at 22 federal agencies, so it is a pervasive problem,” he added.

Since 2003 – when Congress required many executive departments and agencies to estimate the amount of improper payments annually – the cumulative total is estimated to be “in excess of $1.2 trillion,” Dodaro said. “So it’s a significant amount of money.” Dodaro said three big federal programs – Medicare, Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit — account for most (75 percent) of the improper payments. “But there are a number of programs across government where this problem is an issue,” he said.

And the problem is worse than the numbers indicate, because 18 “risk-susceptible” programs – including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — do not report estimates at all. SNAP (food stamps) stopped reporting in 2015. And the $144 billion in 2016 does not include estimates from the Defense Department, which could be a sizeable number, Dodaro said.

Obviously, the solution is to hire more auditors and increase the budgets at these agencies so they can better track the improper payments. Simply cutting these budgets, well now, that’s a terrible idea.

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Trump signs $1 trillion spending bill

Trump today signed the $1 trillion continuing resolution, keeping the government well funded, with no significant cuts, through September.

The article included a detail I had not noticed previously. When the bill passed in the House, the only ones who voted against it were 103 Republicans, while the entire Democratic caucus voted for it. In other words, the Republican leadership screwed their own party and allied themselves with the Democrats to pass this big spending bill that cuts nothing and breaks almost every promise the Republicans and Trump made about spending during the election campaign.

The article also has this very revealing quote from Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney:

“I think it’s great that the Democrats like the bill. That’s fantastic.”

As I have said repeatedly, the election in November was nothing more than the Democratic primary, with a choice between a radical socialist (Clinton) and an old fashioned liberal Democrat (Trump). We get the government we deserve.

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Senate passes $1 trillion continuing resolution 79-18

With friends like this, who needs enemies? The Republican Senate today passed the $1 trillion continuing resolution that contains none of the promised cuts to the federal budget promised by the Republican Party and by Donald Trump.

The vote was 79-18. The resolution now heads to the White House, where Trump is expected to sign it eagerly.

A look at the names in the Senate who voted against this bill essentially lists the few remaining real conservatives left. Such people are now a minority, surrounded by corrupt deal makers who have no interest in the needs of the nation.

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New bipartisan budget deal cuts nothing from bloated federal government

The swamp wins! A bipartisan budget deal worked out by Republicans and Democrats in Congress will cut nothing from the bloated federal government.

While losing on the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump won a $15 billion down payment on his request to strengthen the military.

GOP leaders demurred from trying to use the must-do spending bill to “defund” Planned Parenthood. The White House also backed away from language to take away grants from “sanctuary cities” that do not share information about people’s immigration status with federal authorities.

The measure funds the remainder of the 2017 budget year, rejecting cuts to popular domestic programs targeted by Trump, such as medical research and infrastructure grants.

In other words, these corrupt bastards are doing nothing to reduce the budget, even though that is exactly what they were elected to do. Instead, they are growing it.

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Trump administration plans 9% staffing cuts at State Department

It’s a start: The Trump administration is looking to eliminate about 9% of the workforce in the State Department.

The majority of the job cuts, about 1,700, will come through attrition, while the remaining 600 will be done via buyouts, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the decision hasn’t been publicly announced. William Inglee, a former Lockheed Martin Corp. official and policy adviser in Congress, is overseeing the budget cuts and briefed senior managers on the plan Wednesday, the people said.

The personnel cuts, which may be phased in over two years, represent the most concrete step taken by Tillerson as he seeks to reverse the expansion the department saw under former President Barack Obama’s administration and meet President Donald Trump’s demand — outlined in an executive order signed last month — to cut spending across federal agencies. A draft budget outline released in March for the year that begins Oct. 1 seeks a 28.5 percent reduction in State Department spending from fiscal 2016.

I am not fully cognizant of the history of State Department staffing, but I am willing to bet that these cuts will not reduce the staffing to levels seen prior to the Obama administration. Still, we can’t gain control of the federal government if we don’t start somewhere, and at least the Trump administration is making an effort, something neither Bush administration did.

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NASA officially delays SLS first flight to 2019

Government in action! Despite spending almost $19 billion and more than thirteen years of development, NASA today admitted that it will have to delay the first test flight of the SLS rocket from late 2018 to sometime in 2019.

“We agree with the GAO that maintaining a November 2018 launch readiness date is not in the best interest of the program, and we are in the process of establishing a new target in 2019,” wrote William Gerstenmaier, chief of NASA’s human spaceflight program. “Caution should be used in referencing the report on the specific technical issues, but the overall conclusions are valid.”

Anyone who is a regular reader of Behind the Black will not be surprised by this. Beginning as far back as March 2015 I began noting the various issues that made a 2018 launch unlikely. All that has happened here is that NASA has gone public with what has been obvious within the agency now for two years.

The competition between the big government SLS/Orion program and private commercial space is downright embarrassing to the government. While SLS continues to be delayed, even after more than a decade of work and billions of wasted dollars, SpaceX is gearing up for the first flight of Falcon Heavy this year. And they will be doing it despite the fact that Congress took money from the commercial private space effort, delaying its progress, in order to throw more money at SLS/Orion.

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19 federal agencies eliminated in proposed Trump budget

This article provides a clear and detailed list of the nineteen federal agencies that the Trump administration proposes to eliminate in the budget blueprint it issued last month.

The total budget for all these agencies is only $3 billion, so the cuts are only a mere drop in the bucket in the federal deficit. Still, it is a start, though I have doubts the Republicans in Congress will have the spine to follow through on these cuts, especially with the elimination of National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. All three have essentially become propaganda operatives for the left and the Democratic Party, so there is good reason for Republicans to cut their funding. The problem is that the left will squeal like pigs if these cuts go through, and the ability of the Republican leadership to withstand that squealing has generally been nil.

Nonetheless, it is definitely worthwhile to read this list of agencies that are on the chopping block. Almost all of them have accomplished little with their funds, other than pay the salaries of the bureaucrats who run them. In the private sector they would be gone in a nanosecond.

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Trump signs NASA authorization

President Trump today signed the NASA authorization bill, initially written and sponsored by Senator Ted Cruz.

The most significant aspect of this authorization is what is not in it. The bill outlines what Congress wants NASA to focus on, and makes literally no mention of any Earth science research at all. Essentially, it tasks NASA to focus on space exploration, and space exploration only.

In many ways this is merely a symbolic act, since it is the budget that really determines what NASA will do, and the budget that Trump put forth last week only cut NASA’s Earth science budget by 5%. Nonetheless, the authorization bill gives us a sense of where the politics are heading. I expect that by the time Congress gets done with NASA’s budget there will be more cuts to that Earth science budget.

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Trump budget proposal

The Trump administration today released its overall rough budget plan for 2018. This is not a detailed budget, but an summary of their plan, indicating where they wish to cut and where they wish to increase budgets. The proposal is also not complete, making no mention of the administration’s budget plans for many departments, such as the National Science Foundation.

Science research in the federal government is significantly impacted, but not as badly as most of the articles you will read in the mainstream anti-Trump, Democratic Party press. A few examples:

I must note that not all the news stories are blindly hostile to this budget proposal:

Of all the science agencies, NASA probably came off with the least change. The budget cuts only about 5% from the agency’s Earth science budget, while cutting some specific Earth science missions. The budget also supports SLS/Orion, though it finally puts the nail in the coffin of the asteroid redirect mission, an Obama proposal that has never garnered any interest from anyone else.

The Trump budget proposal in context

The key to understanding all these budget cuts is to see them in context, to compare the 2018 proposed budgets with the budgets these agencies received in the past. The table on the right gives some of this context (numbers shown are in millions) for several of the science agencies most effected by the proposal. The proposal is not detailed enough to pin down the changes for many other science agencies, but from this table it is clear that the Trump administration is not calling for the end of science, and is proposing some reasonable cost cutting, something that has been rare in government for many years.

What will be missed by most of the press about this Trump budget proposal is that it is not trying to trim the size of the federal government. While it cuts spending in many departments, those cuts are entirely aimed at providing room to raise the budget of the Defense Department by $54 billion. While I can applaud the desire of the Trump administration to be revenue neutral, the stark fact remains that by remaining revenue neutral Trump still leaves us with a gigantic annual federal deficit. They have made no effort to balance the overall budget.

Worse, this proposal would repeal the Budget Control Act of 2011, which imposed sequestration to the federal budget and has actually done the most in the past half century to bring that budget under control. Once this act is repealed, it will allow the spenders in Congress (of which the Republicans are as guilty as the Democrats) to open the floodgates once again. This will not be good.

Let me add one good aspect of the Trump budget. It proposes to eliminate a whole range of government political agencies that accomplish nothing but provide pork or to propagandize the Democratic Party’s positions:

The Budget also proposes to eliminate funding for other independent agencies, including: the African Development Foundation; the Appalachian Regional Commission; the Chemical Safety Board; the Corporation for National and Community Service; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the Delta Regional Authority; the Denali Commission; the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the Inter-American Foundation; the U.S. Trade and Development Agency; the Legal Services Corporation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation; the Northern Border Regional Commission; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; the United States Institute of Peace; the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness; and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Getting these eliminated will at least be a start to cleaning up the mess in Washington.

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House approves NASA authorization

The NASA authorization act that the Senate passed on February 21 was approved by the House today.

As I discussed in reviewing the act on February 21, the bill’s overall focus is to shift NASA from running “a space program” to facilitating the success of competing private enterprise. It also eliminates all of NASA’s climate budget so that the money can be spent instead on space exploration.

Trump is expected to sign it. Then will come the hard work, actually writing the budget for NASA.

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Senate passes NASA budget that slashes environment spending

While keeping NASA’s overall budget the same, the Senate has passed a NASA budget bill that will slash NASA’s environmental spending and pass the money to other programs within the agency.

The budget zeros out all budget items dedicated to climate research. The budget also outlines a number of important space policy approaches that are now endorsed by Congress:

  • Commercial crew and cargo are fully supported
  • Privatizing ISS is encouraged
  • Congress reaffirms its support of SLS and Orion
  • NASA is asked to prep Orion for ISS flights, using other rockets
  • NASA is tasked to create a roadmap for reaching Mars
  • The Mars roadmap is not restricted to using SLS or Orion
  • An alternative to Obama’s asteroid redirect mission is requested
  • Funding is provided to pay for astronaut health needs
  • NASA science is to focus on astronomy, planets, exoplanets, asteroids, aviation, and space technology

It is expected that the House will also pass the bill, and that Trump will sign it.

I also expect that most of NASA’s climate work will now be shifted to NOAA, under new management. Thus, the climate budgets are adjusted, and the people in charge are changed. A nice way to drain the swamp.

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U.S. 2020 Mars rover faces delays

A new inspector general report has pinpointed a number of issues that could cause a delay in the 2020 launch of the next American Mars rover mission.

The biggest risk to the mission, according to NASA OIG, is the sampling system that will be used to collect and store samples of Martian rock and soil that a future mission will gather for return to Earth. That system, an essential part of the mission, has several key technologies that are less mature than planned at this phase of the mission’s development. “The immaturity of the critical technologies related to the Sampling System is concerning because, according to Mars 2020 Project managers, the Sampling System is the rover’s most complex new development component with delays likely to eat into the Project’s schedule reserve and, in the worst case scenario, could delay launch,” OIG stated.

I find it puzzling that the sampling system is an issue. This rover is essentially based on Curiosity, which has very sophisticated equipment for grabbing and even storing samples for periods of time. I don’t understand why such systems could not be quickly revised for future retrieval.

Nonetheless, there are other problems however.

Two instruments on the Mars 2020 mission have also suffered problems. One, called MOXIE, is designed to test the ability to generate oxygen on Mars, saw its estimated increase by more than 50 percent during its development. NASA has taken steps to reduce some of that cost growth by eliminating development of an engineering model and skipping further design improvements in one element of MOXIE.

Another instrument designed to study atmospheric conditions on Mars, MEDA, has suffered delays because of a “financial reorganization” by its developer, Spain’s National Institute for Aerospace Technology. OIG concluded in its report that MEDA is unlikely to be ready for delivery to NASA in April 2018, as currently scheduled. That could require adding MEDA to the rover later in the overall assembly process, or flying the mission without the instrument.

One of the reasons the Obama administration decided to make this 2020 rover mission a reboot of Curiosity was to save cost and development time. Thus, it does not speak well for NASA’s planetary program that they are having these problems.

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Major budget cuts and agency eliminations coming from Trump?

It appears that the first budget Trump administration is putting together will include some dramatic budget cuts and the outright elimination of many government agencies, and are based on numerous recommendations made by a variety of conservative policy proposals.

Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years. The proposed cuts hew closely to a blueprint published last year by the conservative Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has helped staff the Trump transition. Similar proposals have in the past won support from Republicans in the House and Senate, who believe they have an opportunity to truly tackle spending after years of warnings about the rising debt. Many of the specific cuts were included in the 2017 budget adopted by the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus that represents a majority of House Republicans. The RSC budget plan would reduce federal spending by $8.6 trillion over the next decade.

Read the article. I can’t quote it all here, but the cuts would dramatically weaken the Washington leftwing community’s ability to push its agenda. More important, the generally conservative make-up of Congress means that, for the first time in decades there is a real chance these cuts will happen.

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The status of telescopes the NSF is getting rid of

Back in 2012 the National Science Foundation (NSF) proposed that it cease funding a slew of older, smaller telescopes in order to use that money to fund the construction and operation of newer more advanced facilities. This article, focused on the fate of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, provides a nice table that shows the status of these telescopes.

The options were either to find new funding, be mothballed, or even demolished. It appears that most of the telescopes in question have found new funding and will remain in use in some manner. The one telescope that has apparently failed to obtain any additional funding from others is the McMath–Pierce Solar Telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona, which when built in 1962 was the world’s largest solar telescope, an honor for which it is still tied.

In 2015 I had written an article for Sky & Telescope about how these budget cuts were effecting the telescopes on Kitt Peak. At that time the people in charge of McMath-Pierce were hunting for new support but were coming up short. Almost two years later it appears that their hunt has been a failure, and the telescope will likely be shut down, and possibly demolished.

It will be a sad thing if McMath-Pierce is lost, but I am not arguing to save it. If its observational capabilities were truly valuable and needed by the scientific community than someone would have come forward to finance it. That no one has suggests that the money really can be spent more usefully in other ways.

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Republicans moving to restore earmarks

Idiots: Senate Republicans are pushing for a secret vote tomorrow that will propose restoring earmarks.

Senate Republicans are poised to restore earmarks unless opponents muster the votes to stop them in a secret ballot Tuesday. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, is under severe pressure from his members and has agreed to study the issue. “Very tone-deaf,” Mr. Coburn told The Washington Times. “I’d love to know who the smart guys are in the Republican conference who want to do this.”

Earmarks increase spending. Right now we have a spending problem in the federal government, which is also the hammer that government uses to wield its out-of-control power over the citizenry. Doing anything that increases that spending thus increases that power and is entirely counter to the overall sense of the electorate that voted in November.

Coburn is right. This is very tone-deaf, and incredibly stupid.

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