Department of Defense FY 2021 Request: With Few Exceptions, this is a Very Bad Budget

In our continuing series following the Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget request, we now turn to the Department of Defense (DOD). The DOD’s Science and Technology (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 themselves made up of individual accounts for each of the three services (Army, Navy, and Air Force), as well as a Defense Wide account. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a section under the Defense Wide account. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, most of these accounts are cut under the Trump Administration’s plans for FY21.

All three of DOD S&T’s accounts are pretty grim. Basic Research (6.1), which is the main Defense Department supporter of fundamental research at US universities, is cut heavily at 11 percent; going from $2.6 billion in FY20 to $2.32 billon under the Trump Administration’s plan (a cut of $280 million). The details for 6.1 accounts make it look worse: the Army, Navy, and Air Force’s “University Research Initiative” subaccounts are cut at 23.6, 30.4, and 9.5 percent, respectively.

Additionally, the overall Applied Research (6.2) account is also cut at 11 percent; going from $6.07 billion in FY20 to $5.39 billion under the Administration’s framework, a loss of $680 million. Finally, Advanced Technology Development (6.3) would receive the largest cut, going from $7.40 billion in FY20 to $6.33 billion in FY21, a cut of $1.07 billion (or 14 percent). All very bad.

The one bright spot would be DARPA, which would see an increase. It would go from $3.46 billion in FY20 to $3.57 billion in FY21, an increase of 3.2 percent (or $110 million).

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
DOD 6.1 $2.53B $2.60B $2.32B -$280M -11%
DOD 6.2 $6.07B $6.07B $5.39B -$680M -11%
DOD 6.3 $7.36B $7.40B $6.33B -$1.07B -14%
DARPA $3.43B $3.46B $3.57B +$110M +3.2%

It’s hard to explain these numbers, especially when you factor in that the Department of Defense, as a whole, was a big winner under the Administration’s budget plan. The typical view of the policy community is that this is normally a deliberate budget tactic by Pentagon leadership. Namely that they pull money from what is seen as a Congressional priority (ie: research funding) to put toward something else that does not have the same support. If it works, Congress puts money back into R&D and the moved money “sticks” elsewhere in the DOD budget. And it isn’t a new strategy; both the Bush and Obama Administrations did this same thing. However, given that this Administration cut so much from elsewhere in the Federal budget, and that DOD as a whole is taken care of so well, it make little sense that Defense research is hit so hard under this budgetary plan.

The reality is, like with the other research agencies, this budget plan is DOA and will not be taken seriously. It will be interesting to see how both chambers of Congress approach these budgets though; Congress sees Defense research as a national priority, but there are many priorities to take care of this year. As with NSF and DOE, this is not a good place to start the process and we’ll have to wait and see how things play out. So please keep checking back for updates.

Department of Defense FY 2021 Request: With Few Exceptions, this is a Very Bad Budget