Another round of belt tightening

While work on fiscal year 2012 budgets is slowly making progress in Congress, federal agencies are already working on their planned 2013 budgets, preparing submissions to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Those agencies, including NASA, are now being given guidance from the White House to be ready to trim their budgets. In a memo to agency heads Wednesday, OMB director Jacob Lew said agencies should be ready to cut their budgets by five to ten percent. "Unless your agency has been given explicit direction otherwise by OMB, your overall agency request for 2013 should be at least 5 percent below your 2011 enacted discretionary appropriation," Lew says in the memo. "As discussed at the recent Cabinet meetings, your 2013 budget submission should also identify additional discretionary funding reductions that would bring your request to a level that is at least 10 percent below your 2011 enacted discretionary appropriation." In the case of NASA, which received $18.485 billion in 2011, the memo's guidance would require the space agency to submit a budget no greater that $17.56 billion (a five-percent cut) as well as a version no higher than $16.64 billion (a ten-percent cut). However, House appropriators have approved a budget that would give NASA just $16.8 billion in 2012, which means that, if that spending level holds, the 2013 proposal would represent a much more modest cut over 2012. Those proposed cuts, Lew said, should be targeted on certain programs rather an across-the-board cuts or other budgetary sleight-of-hand. However, he also said there was an opportunity for agencies to "double down" on specific programs "because they provide the best opportunity to enhance economic growth." In a separate blog post, Lew said that just because OMB is asking for proposals with five- and ten-percent cuts doesn't mean the administration will enact them. "We asked agencies to provide these two options so that the President can have the information needed to make the tough choices necessary to meet the hard spending targets put in place by the Budget Control Act and to meet the needs of the Nation," he wrote. If this guidance from the White House sounds familiar, it should. Last year then-OMB director Peter Orszag and then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, in a joint memo, asked agencies to propose targeted cuts in agency's 2012 budget submissions amounting to at least five percent of its budget. As it turns out, the 2012 budget proposal for NASA only partially incorporated any proposed cuts: the administration's request for 2012, $18.72 billion, was a little more than $700 million, or about four percent, below what the administration had proposed for FY12 in its 2011 budget submission. As noted above, though, at least the House is seeking bigger cuts in 2012-and quite possibly in 2013 as well.

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