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House proposed cuts pose no threat to NASA, despite the screams of agony

Proposed Republican budget cuts
Proposed Republican budget changes

Before even beginning this story, it is critical for my readers to understand that the worst any of these possible cuts could do to NASA’s budget in 2024 would be to bring it back to budgetary levels from most of the last decade, levels that hardly crippled the agency in the slightest.

The graph to the right, posted initially by Roll Call, outlines in detail the required cuts the Republicans in the House are demanding in the federal budget for the 2024 fiscal year. The percentages in the last column list the amount each of these twelve appropriation subcommittees must cut from their area of focus. NASA is part of the Commerce-Justice-Science category, which requires a total cut of 28.8%.

NASA’s budget in 2023 was $25.4 billion. If the House imposes that percentage cut to NASA, it would lower its 2024 budget to about $18 billion.

O my! We are all going to starve!

However, from 2010 to 2018 NASA’s annual budget was almost always about $18 billion, an amount that was also a generous increase from the budget numbers in the previous decade, when NASA’s budget was usually around $15 to $16 billion. During that time the agency had no problem funding its projects. In fact, now that private enterprise is accomplishing what NASA needs done for far less than in the past, it is clear the agency can manage with less. Cutting its budget by almost 30% will likely cause little impact.

However, it is also possible that NASA, one of Congress’s most favorite programs, will not be cut by this much. As noted by Marcia Smith at SpacePolicyOnline.com:

Each subcommittee is given a fixed amount of money — an “allocation” — to spend. The subcommittee members decide how to divvy it up among the departments and agencies under their jurisidiction.

NASA’s appropriations subcommittee could dole out the cuts unevenly, cutting Justice far more than Science and Commerce for example. In fact, considering the pro-Democrat partisan corruption we have seen in the Justice department, we should not be surprised if it receives a much larger cut so that the science and commerce areas are impacted less.

And even if NASA gets cut 28.8%, so what? As I wrote back in 2011:

Now I am not one to say, “Cut the budget, but please leave my favorite programs alone!” I recognize the serious financial state of the nation, and realize that any budget suggestions I make must include significant total cuts to NASA’s budget.

As a space historian and science journalist who knows a great deal about NASA, however, I also know that there is plenty of room for cuts in NASA’s budget. By picking our priorities carefully at a time when our options are limited, NASA might even be able to accomplish more, not less, with a smaller budget.

Moreover, if I, as a space junky, think it is possible to continue NASA’s most important programs and still trim its budget by 15% to 20%, in real dollars, doesn’t that suggest that the same could be done across the entire federal government?

All it takes is a little knowledge, some common sense, and the courage to say no.

In that essay I then outlined how I would have saved NASA billions, and actually gotten more done in the next decade.

Sadly, for more than a half century Congress has shown little knowledge, common sense, or courage. Instead, it has kept spending madly, even though the money did not exist, putting the American nation deeper and deeper into debt. It is now questionable we can ever get out of that debt.

An effort to meet these new proposed budget cuts would however be a small first step. We shall see if Congress will finally show the ability to do so, in these upcoming budget negotiations.

I have my doubts. During these negotiations the Democrats and their allies in the federal bureaucracy, including in NASA, will squeal like pigs in horror at these cuts. Their squeals will in turn be amplified by the mainstream press, which almost never reports these budget issues with any context.

The likely result, based on what has happened over and over again for decades, is for the Republicans to back down.

Is now different? Some say yes. As I have already noted, I have my doubts.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 
The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.


The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.
 

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

7 comments

  • David Ross

    Commence the squealing: https://twitter.com/CaseyDreier/status/1668765667397603328
    Nothing about SLS. Nothing about maybe Starship lowering the launch-costs.
    A lot of “science” Twitter is “i luv science” posturing and Republican-bashing. Now: I am, myself, often first-in-line to trash American conservative bad-takes on science, starting with the biological sciences. But I do know what a woman is, having seen a few in magazines during my youth, and a lot of these “i luv science” types are most unclear on that concept, based on the flags I see on their profiles.

  • James Street

    I wonder if NASA could have squandered $400 billion more efficiently than the Biden administration….

    “Over $400 Billion in COVID Aid Was Stolen or Wasted”
    “A new Associated Press analysis of government data suggests 10 percent of all COVID aid was lost to fraud or theft. That figure will likely grow.”
    “Over the past three years, the federal government distributed more than $4.2 trillion in aid connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than $400 billion of it—nearly one in every $10 spent—was either wasted or stolen, according to a new report.”
    “One major failure, according to the AP, was the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) decision not to cross-check Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications against the Treasury Department’s “Do Not Pay” list, which is intended to keep federal dollars from flowing to known criminals and scam artists.”
    https://reason.com/2023/06/14/over-400-billion-in-covid-aid-was-stolen-or-wasted/

  • James Street:

    Part of the waste comes from PPP ‘loans’ turned into outright grants. I know two people who applied for, and received, PPP loans well into four figures, and were then told they did not have to pay the money back. I did not apply to the program, because I didn’t want to take on additional debt in uncertain economic times, but, damn.

  • GaryMike

    SpaceX is currently doing most of NASA’s work, at discounted prices.

    The bean counters are not as dumb as they’ve always seemed.

    They are, but they’re feeling better about themselves because someone else is doing their heavy lifting, and they believe they can arguably share the credit.without most people noticing.

  • Star Bird

    We need a Phantom Zone like in Superman to send our worst crinimals Biden Brag and Soros

  • Charles Lurio

    The fundamental point of “NASA could do more even with less,” has a required corollary: “do more even with less [if you use FPC’s for the majority of projects].” If say, today it dumped SLS for privately bought transportation systems. Same for Orion.

    But the old guard still wants to keep the the old Cost-Plus monsters. Too much of NASA, like Jim Free, would rather work towards building their systems that way, even if it takes forever before it is operational and is too costly to do much of anything, if it does start flying.

    And Free’s and others in NASA want to fight off New Space, by burdening them with too many cots to remain viable for HLS. You could call this thought pattern a “mental disorder,” or just plain unconscious stupidity, but it is there. Bob.

  • Charles Lurio and all: I will say it again: As soon as we stop kidding ourselves and recognize that the quest for power is the ultimate and fundamental purpose of NASA managers like Free and the old guard — not the building of anything — only then will everything begin to make sense, and only then will we be able to fight them on the right terms.

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