If the "fiscal cliff" isn't averted by Congress by January, triggering $109 billion in automatic spending cuts for the next 10 years, NASA Langley Research Center would be among the agencies facing serious job losses, according to a new study by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA).
The AIA states that an 8.2 percent sequestration cut mandated under the Budget Control Act of 2011 would eliminate 713 contract jobs at Langley.
Those cuts and thousands more at other NASA facilities, the AIA claims in its report, "are the single greatest threat to our space programs' continued success."
NASA Langley referred comment on the matter to its Washington headquarters. There, spokesman Allard Beutel said NASA expects "all sides will reach an agreement to avoid sequestration."
"But that being said," Beutel said, "we're still assessing what impact it would have, if it actually goes through in a couple weeks."
According to the journal Nature, the federal Office of Management and Budget expects that under sequestration NASA would lose $417 million from its science budget, $346 million for space operations, $309 million for exploration and $246 million for cross-agency support, among other cuts.
The AIA is a trade group of manufacturers and suppliers to civil, military and business entities, including NASA. Its study was conducted by Stephen S. Fuller, a public policy expert at George Mason University. According to Fuller's analysis, more than 20,000 NASA contractor jobs overall would be lost under sequestration.
There's sharp disagreement on the findings, however.
In a scathing response to the AIA report, The Brookings Institution think tank in Washington cautioned that the association's "apocalyptic numbers" are both absurdly specific and flawed.
"Such amazingly specific predictions are actually based on very crude and sometimes erroneous assumptions and calculations," Peter W. Singer and Brendan Orino wrote in "The Cracked Crystal Ball" in July in response to an earlier AIA assessment of the sequestration threat.
Singer is director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative and a senior fellow at Brookings; Orino is a senior research assistant with the inititiative.
The authors state it's impossible to devise exact numbers on job losses without knowing exactly where the budget cuts will fall. The AIA's analysis is also based on an overblown assessment of the number of workers now in the aerospace and defense industries and an overestimation of the ripple effect of job losses on the larger economy. And it ignores changes already taking place within the defense industry.
In addition to the impact on NASA, the AIA also predicts the loss of 2,500 jobs related to weather satellites at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, jeopardizing the ability to forecast dangerous storms.
A short-term gap in polar-orbiting weather satellite coverage is already expected to begin in 2017 because of delays in NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System. Losing an additional $154 million under sequestration would only extend that gap to two to four years, the group states.
"The importance of maintaining satellite vigilance of weather phenomena cannot be overemphasized," the report states. ___