Department of Defense FY 2025 Request: Another Brutal Budget Request for the Defense Research Accounts

In our continuing series following the Biden Administration’s Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25) budget request, we turn to the Department of Defense (DOD). In what has become a grim ritual, the Biden Administration has submitted another terrible request for the defense research accounts, as it has for the last three years. This time there is at least some reasoning behind the actions.

As we have pointed out with NSF’s and DOE’s budget request, the Administration is heavily constrained by the requirements of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, agreed to by President Biden and then House Speaker McCarthy in May of 2023. That law splits all federal spending into two pots of money for Fiscal Year 2025, one for Defense and the other for NonDefense. It then limits the increase of each pot to 1 percent for FY25. This has impacts for entire Defense Department budget; in fact, the Defense Secretary has said the entire Defense Department request for this year constitutes a zero-growth budget. As with the just passed FY24 budget, this creates a harsh budgetary environment.

Before we get into the budget numbers, a little refresher about the DOD research accounts: 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 the smallest cut of 6.8 percent; going from $2.63 billion in FY24 to $2.45 billon under the Administration’s plan (a cut of $180 million). The details within the 6.1 accounts do not improve the situation: the Army, Navy, and Air Force’s “University Research Initiative” subaccounts are cut at 8.8, 11.4, and 22.7 percent compared to their FY24 levels, respectively.

The Applied Research (6.2) account is hit even harder, receiving a 23.6 percent cut; going from $7.59 billion in FY24 to $5.80 billion under the Administration’s FY25 framework, a loss of $1.80 billion. Finally, Advanced Technology Development (6.3) would also receive a significant cut, going from $11.29 billion in FY24 to $9.00 billion in FY25, a cut of $2.29 billion, or 20.3 percent.

DARPA is the only bright spot among the defense accounts, escaping any proposed cuts. The agency would see a good increase of 6.1 percent, going from $4.12 billion in FY24 to $4.37 billion in FY25, an increase of $250 million.

FY23 FY24 FY25 PBR $ Change % Change
DOD 6.1 $2.92B $2.63B $2.45B -$180M -6.8%
DOD 6.2 $7.80B $7.59B $5.80B -$1.80B -23.6%
DOD 6.3 $11.71B $11.29B $9.00B -$2.29B -20.3%
DARPA $4.06B $4.12B $4.37B +$250M +6.1%

What’s going on here? There are two ways of looking at these budgets. Unfortunately, neither view is good news by itself and they are quite terrible when viewed together. The first way to look at them is the way the Pentagon leadership plans their budgets, which is from budget request to budget request. Put simply, no country can plan a workable national defense strategy around the vagueness of a legislative budget cycle. When we look at the FY24 budget request and compare it to the FY25 budget request, as the Pentagon’s planners do, it shows that even this year’s request is a reduction:

6.1 – reduced by 1.1 percent
6.2 – reduced by 3.7 percent
6.3 – reduced by 4.0 percent
DARPA – reduced by 0.4 percent.

This shows that the defense research accounts don’t appear to be a priority for the Defense Department leadership.

The other way to look at them is one we talk about almost every year: budget gamesmanship. Namely that money is pulled by DOD leaders from what is seen as a Congressional priority (i.e. 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 last couple of presidential administrations have done it.

The obvious problem with this plan is, what if Congress doesn’t put the money back? You get what happened in the final FY24 budget, namely hard budgetary cuts. It only goes to show that to start at a bad budget request is a good way to end with a bad budget for the year.

As CRA has done for the past several years, we 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.

With the difficult political year ahead, and the zero-sum budget environment we are in, this will be a long process. As with the other research agencies we’ve highlighted, the partisan fight over the budget is shaping up to be particularly bad this year, especially with the Presidential election in November. 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 2025 Request: Another Brutal Budget Request for the Defense Research Accounts