Enacted budgets in FY 2011 and 2012, along with the President’s budget request for FYs 2013 and beyond, for astronomy-related divisions of NASA and NSF AST. Funding amounts after FY 2012 are (thankfully) subject to change.

Introducing the Federal Budget Process

BY JOSEPH O’ROURKE
DECEMBER 26, 2012

“I don’t know what they want from me
It’s like the more money we come across
The more problems we see”
–Kelly Price (“Mo Money Mo Problems,” The Notorious B.I.G.)

Few astrophysicists get rich—we like to think that we’re devoted to pursuing cosmic truth, not chasing dollars. Don’t even think about dressing like an investment banker at a conference or, for that matter, in class. But, like it or not, our science depends on financial support from other people. A $2.5 billion Mars rover here, an $8 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) there, pretty soon, you’re talking about real money. In our austerity-hungry political environment, you need to navigate the complicated and volatile landscape of science policy if you want to explore the universe. You need answers to some simple questions: Who supports science? Why?

By far, the federal government of the United States of America is the single largest sponsor of research in astronomy and astrophysics. Most money flows to astronomers through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), although the Department of Energy also provides limited support for high-energy astrophysics. Unfortunately, understanding the history, priorities, and politics of these agencies usually involves wading through reams of legislation and dense policy documents—great if you’re looking for a sleep aid, but less than ideal if you’re a budding scientist seeking to understand your place in the world.

In this post, I hope to provide a morsel of policy background, focused on the federal budget process. We’ll explore how money is divvied up to federal agencies, using the latest budgets for NASA and the NSF as examples. Future astrobites will delve into specialized topics and current issues in science policy.

Read more: Introducing the Federal Budget Process | astrobites.

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