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NASA, other agencies denied pay raise

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The U.S. Senate gave final passage to a stripped-down spending measure Feb. 14 that denies NASA and many other federal agencies a budget increase for 2007.

The spending measure, House Resolution 20, was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 31 and now heads to the White House where President George W. Bush is expected to sign it into law.

Congressional Democrats first announced in mid-December they intended to pass a so-called continuing resolution to fund most federal agencies besides the Defense and Homeland Security departments at or near their 2006 levels rather than try to finish work on nine of 11 separate 2007 spending bills left undone at the end of the last Congress.

For NASA, passage of the spending measure means that the agency will have to make do with $16.2 billion for the year, about $544 million less than it had requested for 2007.

Hardest hit will be the U.S. space agency's exploration program, which was counting on every dollar of that proposed increase and more in order to keep development of its proposed space shuttle replacement, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares 1 rocket, on track to enter service by 2014. NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said last week that denying the agency a budget increase jeopardizes that schedule.

Once the president signs the measure into law, which needs to happen Feb. 15 to avoid a partial government shutdown, NASA has 30 days  to submit to Congress an operating plan detailing the budget cuts the agency intends to make to get through the year with a half-billion dollars less than it was counting on.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that deals with NASA, said she did the best she could for the space agency given the circumstances.

"While I would have liked to have increased funding for NASA, there was simply not enough extra funding available for us to do so," Mikulski said in a statement.  "Within the limits of NASA's [2006] operating plan, we added an extra $460 million to exploration while protecting other critical NASA programs in science and aeronautics.  With only seven months left in this fiscal year, I believe NASA will be able to manage their programs in exploration with minimal impact to the overall schedule."