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Langley 2013 Budget Proposal Indicates Flexibility Needed
By: Jim Hodges

Stressing that there was enough money ahead to fulfill its role in supporting the agency's mission and to keep NASA Langley's workforce employed, Lesa Roe unveiled the center's $738 million proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget Monday at the Reid Conference Center.

Advising both fiscal perspective and an understanding that the proposed budget is a starting point in what could be a long process, "we're certainly feeling pretty good in these fiscally tough times," said Roe, Langley's center director.

"We do not take deep cuts. … Despite the difficult economic times, we continue to implement science, aeronautics, exploration and space technology programs, and we can lay the foundation for some truly remarkable discoveries."

The Langley budget is about $29 million less than anticipated 2012 expenditures and is a reflection of an overall sense of evolving government austerity.

Langley 2013 budget rollout: Roe.
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Lesa Roe, NASA Langley's center director, explains the numbers and thought behind some of the numbers of of the 2013 budget proposal. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Of that figure, about $12 million less is available for center management and operations costs, and Langley leaders already have trimmed travel budgets and are seeking reductions in administrative areas. Langley's civil service workforce will lose 17 positions, a figure that will be met through attrition, as were the 19 positions the center lost last year.

There will still be hiring, because that 17 positions is "about 1 percent of the workforce," Roe said. "We generally have 2 to 3 percent retire each year."

There were 70 retirements at NASA Langley in 2011.

New hires will help in what will be an ongoing balancing of the workforce's skills as new missions and mission support needs are assessed. That's a process that happens every year, and "we're probably talking in the realm of 50 people in a skills mismatch," Roe said.

As for contractors, "there might be puts and takes," Roe said, meaning losses in one area balanced by gains in another. "With a flat budget, we don't really expect a lot of downsizing of the (contractor) workforce."

Langley's $738 million is a part of NASA's overall $17.7 billion overall budget, down $59 million from anticipated expenditures in 2012.

"Despite a constrained fiscal environment, this budget continues to aggressively implement the space exploration program agreed to by the President and a bi-partisan majority of Congress," NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told an audience at agency headquarters and a virtual gathering at all of the centers.

At Langley, Roe called the budget "flat-line," but pointed out that the center's aeronautics directorate should benefit from about $20 million in procurement spending for the agency's Environmentally Responsible Aviation program, an initiative being led by Langley to cut aircraft noise, fuel burn and emissions.

That overall aeronautics figure is reduced by a $13-million cut in hypersonic research at Langley.

Science is being trimmed by $11 million in the proposed budget, but the cuts can be made up by winning programs that are being competed. Winning competitions in space technology also could add to Langley's bottom line, and the center also is seeking more partnership agreements with the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration and with other NASA centers.

Commercial space is again a point of emphasis in the NASA budget, and Langley has proposals for work with such companies as Sierra Nevada, Boeing and SpaceX.

At a managers' retreat in March, Langley's leaders will seek to further refine the center's skill set as a springboard to seeking out more industry partners.

It's another way to supplement the center's budget.

So, too, were talks among center directors during a swing around the country in November. One reason for the talks was dealing with anticipated austerity.

"I think it's played out because we've seen the work come in for Space Launch System (SLS)," Roe said.

Langley is working on an aerodynamic database, spacecraft adapter and developing composites technology for the SLS, and some of that work is reflected in a Space Technology increase of $27 million in the Langley budget request.

"And we're working with Johnson (Space Center) on some of these advanced exploration projects," Roe added.

In all, Roe emphasized that flexibility is going to be needed in the budget process, which began Monday and faces an uncertain end in its path through Congress and back onto the President's desk for implementation.

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