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White House to Ease NASA Money Crunch

While most R&D agencies are looking forward to a healthy boost in President Bill Clinton's 1999 budget request, NASA is an exception. Struggling with space station cost overruns and waning White House interest, the agency faced a potential $1 billion cut 2 months ago. Now, however, things aren't looking so grim. Administration officials say the White House will ask for about $13.4 billion for NASA in 1999--just $200 million below the current level.

White House officials hope this brighter funding picture will please NASA boosters in Congress, who have been contesting the move to chop the agency's budget. The officials also hope the higher-than-expected request will grease the wheels for congressional approval of a $200 million transfer in 1998 NASA funding from other parts of the agency to cover ballooning costs in the station program. House and Senate lawmakers rejected an informal transfer request last fall, arguing that it would amount to a raid on the science account.

Now the Administration is prepared to ask for the authority as part of its 1999 request, which is due for release 2 February. NASA officials insist they can find the money without hurting science programs such as the Mars missions. But Congress may be a hard sell. "We don't want to give them a blank check," says one staffer. "We still probably will want to set some conditions."