Department of Defense FY 2024 Request: Another Terrible Budget Request for Defense Research

In our continuing series following the Biden Administration’s Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) budget request, we turn to the Department of Defense (DOD). In what is becoming a bit of a grim ritual, the Biden Administration has submitted another terrible request for the defense research accounts, as it has for the last two years.

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 President’s budget plan. Basic Research (6.1), which is the main Defense Department supporter of fundamental research at US universities, gets a big cut of 15 percent; going from $2.92 billion in the FY23 Omnibus to $2.48 billon under the Administration’s plan (a cut of $440 million). The details within the 6.1 accounts are not any better: the Army, Navy, and Air Force’s “University Research Initiative” subaccounts are cut at 30, 35, and 12 percent, respectively.

The Applied Research (6.2) account is hit even harder, receiving a 23 percent cut; going from $7.80 billion in FY23 to $6.01 billion under the Administration’s FY24 framework, a loss of $1.78 billion. Finally, Advanced Technology Development (6.3) would also receive a significant cut, going from $11.71 billion in FY23 to $9.33 billion in FY24, a cut of $2.38 billion, or 20 percent.

DARPA is the only bright spot among the defense accounts, escaping any proposed cuts. The agency would see a legitimately good increase of 8.1 percent, going from $4.06 billion in FY23 to $4.39 billion in FY24, an increase of $330 million.

FY22 FY23 FY24 PBR $ Change % Change
DOD 6.1 $2.76B $2.92B $2.48B -$440M -15%
DOD 6.2 $6.91B $7.80B $6.01B -$1.78B -23%
DOD 6.3 $9.22B $11.71B $9.33B -$2.38B -20%
DARPA $3.87B $4.06B $4.39B +$330M +8.1%

What’s going on here? The most likely reason is one we talk about almost every year: budget gamesmanship by Pentagon leadership. Namely that money is pulled from what is seen as a Congressional priority (in this case, 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 full attention with the Biden Administration that it has in past Administrations, there’s probably more of a feeling from the Pentagon leadership that they have to do this.

The obvious problem with this is plan is, what if Congress doesn’t put the money back? Such a situation could have terrible consequences for the defense research community, not to mention to the Defense Department itself. There are members of the defense research community who have spoken out about this practice and are advocating for it to stop. But short of a Congressional directive to that end, it’s a practice that is likely to continue.

One thing is for certain: this is a bad place to start the budget 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.

The good news is that Congress is likely to reverse these cuts, as it has for the last two years…but that assumes Congress passes a budget at all this year. As with the other research agencies we’ve highlighted, the partisan fight over the budget is shaping up to be particularly bad this year. Flat funding, a year-long continuing resolution, targeted or across the board cuts, even a lapse in government funding; all these scenarios are equally possible this year. The only caveat is that defense spending typically enjoys wide, bipartisan support, so these accounts may escape the general problems that will plague the other research agencies. Key word is “may.” Still, we’ll have to let the budget process play out more before we know what will happen; please check back for more updates.

Department of Defense FY 2024 Request: Another Terrible Budget Request for Defense Research