FY24 Appropriations Update: The House’s Defense Research Budget is Very Bad, Even Though It Is Better than the Administration’s

Following the Debit Limit Agreement that President Biden and House Speaker McCarthy (R-CA) signed at the end of May, the appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2024 started up in earnest. That agreement, which set specific funding marks for defense and nondefense spending, is already appearing to break down, with the House Appropriations Committee saying that the agreed to spending “marks,” were actually “ceilings” that they could work under. In response, the Senate Appropriations Committee has said they will adhere to the funding strictures set in the agreement. This sets up a difficult dynamic where the House and Senate will likely have wildly different budget plans, making a final, compromise decision on FY24 spending very difficult, if not impossible. All the same, that disagreement has not stopped the process from moving forward in both chambers.

The House Appropriations Committee has taken the lead and begun its work to craft their spending plans and legislation. As we have done in years past, CRA will examine the House and Senate’s budget plans for each federal research agency of note to the computing community and provide a summary and breakdown. The first agency to check is the Department of Defense (DOD) and the House’s defense appropriations bill.

Taking a step back, 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 for these accounts, released in March, was very bad. Unfortunately, the House appropriators’ plan, while better than what the Administration proposed, isn’t an objectively good budget. This situation has recurred several times over the last few years, with the House appropriators working from the Administration’s request but not from the agencies’ previous year’s budgets. While Congress has ultimately passed into law healthy budgets for defense research, given the previously mentioned budget agreement, general federal funds are likely to be hard to come by this year; so, where does that leave accounts like these?

Getting into the details of the House’s plan, Basic Research (6.1) would receive a significant cut of 13.4 percent compared to its FY23 levels. The account would decrease from $2.92 billion in FY23 to $2.53 billion for FY24, a reduction of $399 million. There is no good news in the details: the individual services all received cuts to their 6.1 programs (Army: -14.9 percent; Navy: -4.6 percent; Air Force: -3.8 percent; and Defense-wide: -20.2 percent). And, digging a little deeper into the details, none of the service’s “University Research Initiative” subaccounts would see plus ups, only cuts.

The Applied Research (6.2) account is in much the same shape; objectively bad compared to last year’s budget but good compared to the Administration’s request. The full account would see a 13.7 percent cut compared to last year’s budget, decreasing from $7.80 billion in FY23 to $6.73 billion under the House’s plan (a loss of $1.07 billion).

Finally, the Advanced Technology Development (6.3) account would also receive a cut under the House’s framework. It would go from $11.71 billion in FY23 to $9.33 billion in FY24, a cut of $1.57 billion (or -13.4 percent).

Finally, DARPA would not escape the bad budget numbers under the House’s plan. The agency’s budget would increase from $4.06 billion in FY23 to $4.12 billion in FY24, an increase of only 1.5 percent (or +$60 million). For all intents and purposes, the DARPA is flat funded. President Biden had recommended $4.39 billion for the research agency, which would have been an 8.1 percent increase.

FY23 FY24 PBR FY24 House $ Change % Change
DOD 6.1 $2.92B $2.48B $2.53B -$399M -13.4%
DOD 6.2 $7.80B $6.01B $6.73B -$1.07B -13.7%
DOD 6.3 $11.71B $9.33B $10.14B -$1.57B -13.4%
DARPA $4.06B $4.39B $4.12B +$60M +1.5%

As with the last several years, 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. We will have to wait and see what the Senate’s plans are for defense research; hopefully they are better.

What happens next? The bill was approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on June 22nd. It now heads to the full House for consideration, where it is likely to be passed. Then we will have to wait for the Senate to release their plan for the Defense department. The good news there is that the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to release their mark in regular order, something they have not done in several years. However, the general view in Washington is that the appropriations process will break down at the conference stage. That is because of the previously mentioned disagreement with overall funding levels; both chambers are working with different numbers, and they are far apart. This is looking to be a very long and difficult year for the Federal budget; please keep checking back for more updates.