Defense Research in the FY17 Omnibus

Earlier this week, we published a breakdown of the research agencies in the Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus spending bill that had been agreed to by both political parties in Congress. There was one significant research agency that was left out of that breakdown: the Department of Defense (DOD). As one would expect, given President Trump’s campaign pledge to increase defense spending, DOD did relatively well in the agreement, with Defense Science and Technology (DOD S&T) accounts being no exception.

As a reminder, the DOD S&T program is made up of three accounts: 6.1 (basic research), 6.2 (applied research), and 6.3 (advanced technology development). These accounts are made up of individual accounts for each of the three services (Army, Navy, and Air Force), as well as a Defense Wide (DW) account. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is included under the Defense Wide account.

With a few exceptions, DOD S&T accounts saw increases from both Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) level and the Obama Administration’s request from last year. As a whole, DOD S&T would be funded at $14.0 billion, which is a 5.7% increase over FY16 ($13.25 billion). The Obama Administration had requested a 4.1% cut. As for the individual accounts:

  • DOD 6.1 basic research would see a slight cut of 1.4% below FY16’s numbers, going from $2.31 billion in FY16 to $2.28 billion in FY17. However this cut is small compared to the 9% cut that the Obama Administration had recommended in February.
  • DOD 6.2 applied research would see a healthy increase of 5.8%, going from $5.0 billion in FY16 to $5.3 billion in FY17. That would be a full 10% above the Obama Administration request, which had recommended a 3.6% cut.
  • DOD 6.3 advanced technology development would receive an even larger increase of 8.4%, going from $5.94 billion in FY16 to $6.44 billion in FY17. The Obama Administration had requested a 2.6% cut.
  • DARPA has the misfortune of not fairing as well under the Omnibus than under the Obama budget request. It is slated to receive a 1.7% increase, going from $2.89 billion to $2.94 billion. However, this is half of the 3.4% increase that had been recommended back in February of 2016.

Now, what does this all mean? As we stated in our budget request round-up last year, this shows that defense research continues to be a Congressional priority. Many of the cuts that the Obama Administration had recommended in their request could be explained by the Pentagon’s budget gamesmanship; namely removing money from a known Congressional priority (DOD S&T), expecting Congress to put it back during the budget process, and use it to fund other areas in the request that are not Congressional priorities, in the hope that some of that money will stick during appropriations. The worry with this ploy is that Congress will not put the money back in; by all appearances, this gamble seems to have worked this year, which is obviously good.

On the whole, this is a good budget for DOD research accounts. It is certainly better than where this process stated in February of 2016. Hopefully this heralds a new commitment to DOD S&T with Fiscal Year 2018 coming up soon.

Update: 5/5/17 President Trump has signed the FY 2017 Omnibus bill, H.R. 244, into law this afternoon.

Defense Research in the FY17 Omnibus