In our continuing coverage of the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) federal budget process, we turn to the House Appropriations Committee’s defense appropriations bill. 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. Regular readers will recall that the Administration’s requested budget from May was not good. Unfortunately, the House appropriators’ plan, while better than what the Administration proposed, isn’t an objectively good budget.
Taking a moment to look at the President’s budget request from May, all three accounts received cuts. Both 6.1 and 6.2 would be cut by 14.5 percent, and 6.3 would be cut by 11.1 percent. While DARPA would escape cuts under the President’s plan, it would do so barely with an increase of 0.8 percent.
Under the House’s plan, Basic Research (6.1), which is the main Defense Department supporter of fundamental research at US universities, would still receive a large cut of 8.7 percent compared to its FY21 levels. The account goes from $2.67 billion in FY21 to $2.44 billion for FY22, a decrease of $230 million. There is very little good news in the details: the Army and Air Force’s “University Research Initiative” subaccounts get funded at the Administration’s requested levels, which were both below FY21; and the Navy’s “University Research Initiative,” while funded at a level higher than what the Administration requested, is also below FY21 levels.
The Applied Research (6.2) account is in much the same spot; objectively terrible compared to last year’s budget but good compared to the Administration’s request. The full account would see an 8.3 percent cut compared to last year’s budget, going from $6.45 billion in FY21 to $5.92 billion under the House’s plan (a loss of $530 million). But when compared against the requested budget from May, the account would receive a bump up of 7.5 percent.
Finally, the Advanced Technology Development (6.3) account would receive a relatively good budget but still not escape a cut. It would go from $7.76 billion in FY21 to $7.64 billion in FY22, a cut of $120 million (or -1.5 percent). As before, when compared against the President’s request, the account would receive a 10.8 percent boast.
Unlike with the Biden Administration’s request, DARPA would see a decrease under the House’s plan. The agency would go from $3.50 billion in FY21 to $3.48 billion in FY22, a decrease of 0.6 percent (or -$20 million).
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So while the House has mitigated some of the impact of the President’s proposed cuts, their plan would still roll back budgets in research accounts relative to FY21. CRA and our colleagues in the research advocacy community will continue to make the case that support for these fundamental and applied research lines are critical to ensuring the Defense Department has the technology base it needs to meet the threats we face now and in the future.
What happens next? The bill was approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on July 13th. It now heads to the full House for approval. When that will happen is unclear; it was not included in the package of bills the House Appropriations Committee sent to the House floor at the end of July. This is likely because the overall budget levels for the Defense Department, which were down or flat, do not have overwhelming support. This could hold up the bill advancing until September or later. And there is still the Senate’s slate of appropriations bills to wait on; while they have started their process, details on the Senate defense appropriations bill have not been announced. We’ll keep watching as events unfold; please check back for more updates.