Department of Defense FY 2023 Request: Yet Another Terrible Budget Request for the Defense Research Accounts

In our continuing series following the Biden Administration’s Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) budget request, we now turn to the Department of Defense (DOD). In a mirror of this year’s NSF request, it’s déjà vu all over again: a terrible request for the defense research accounts that makes one think the Biden Administration hit copy and paste on their proposal from last year.

A little background: 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.

All three of DOD S&T’s accounts do badly under the Biden Administration’s plan. Basic Research (6.1), which is the main Defense Department supporter of fundamental research at US universities, gets a big cut of 14 percent; going from $2.76 billion in the FY22 Omnibus to $2.38 billon under the Administration’s plan (a cut of $380 million). The details for 6.1 accounts are not any better: the Army, Navy, and Air Force’s “University Research Initiative” subaccounts are cut at 23, 48, and 9 percent, respectively.

The Applied Research (6.2) account is also cut heavily at 16 percent; going from $6.91 billion in FY22 to $5.79 billion under the Administration’s framework, a loss of $1.12 billion. Finally, Advanced Technology Development (6.3) would also not escape a large cut, going from $9.22 billion in FY22 to $8.29 billion in FY23, a cut of $930 million, or 10 percent. In short: no good news here.

DARPA is the only bright spot among the defense accounts, escaping any proposed cuts. The agency would see a healthy increase, going from $3.87 billion in FY22 to $4.12 billion in FY23, an increase of 6.5 percent (or $250 million).

FY21 FY22 FY23 PBR $ Change % Change
DOD 6.1 $2.67B $2.76B $2.38B -$380M -14%
DOD 6.2 $6.45B $6.91B $5.79B -$1.12B -16%
DOD 6.3 $7.76B $9.22B $8.29B -$930M -10%
DARPA $3.50B $3.87B $4.12B +$250M +6.5%

As with last year’s defense research request, it’s fair to ask, what’s going on here? Especially in light of the Biden Administration’s general support for scientific research. The most likely reason is one we’ve talked about before: budget gamesmanship 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 the scheme works, Congress puts money back into R&D and the moved money “sticks” elsewhere in the DOD budget. It’s not a new strategy, as the Trump Administration (and the Obama and Bush Administrations before them) did this same thing. Given that defense spending generally isn’t getting the attention with the Biden Administration that it has in Administration’s past, there’s probably more of a feeling from the Pentagon leadership that they have to do this. And they are likely to keep doing it until there’s a reason to stop.

These budgets are now in the hands of Congress, and it will be interesting to see how they are handled. It’s likely, though not assured, that this will play out much like this past year’s defense budget: a House mark that is better than the Administration’s, though not objectively good, and then a Senate mark which is quite good. The final numbers will be somewhere between the two. But one thing for sure is that this is a bad place to start this process and the defense research community in Washington will need to put in another year of hard work to get these proposed cuts rejected. CRA will continue to make the case, in concert with our friends and allies in the other scientific fields and higher education institutions, for the importance of these Federal investments in defense research for our national security. We’ll keep track of the progress at each step of the process, so please check back for updates.

Department of Defense FY 2023 Request: Yet Another Terrible Budget Request for the Defense Research Accounts