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Big Boost for Defense Basic Research in Senate Appropriations

The Senate Appropriations Committee's FY 2015 Defense spending bill, passed out of committee last Thursday on a voice vote, offers some limited similarities with the House's version of the same bill. Both bills would boost Department of Defense (DOD) science and technology spending above the President's budget request. Neither bill is as generous to DARPA as the Administration would have liked. And neither bill would make enormous changes to overall departmental R&D: the House bill would boost DOD R&D by 0.1 percent above FY 2014 levels, while the Senate bill would cut R&D by 0.9 percent, according to current AAAS estimates.

But there are some clear differences, perhaps the biggest being the Senate committee's recommendation to boost DOD basic research by 12.8 percent above the request and 5.0 percent above FY 2014 levels. The House bill would provide only a 0.5 percent increase above the request, meaning basic research would decline by 6.4 percent from FY 2014 levels in that bill. Additional notes follow.

As mentioned, DOD basic research funding (account "6.1" in the DOD nomenclature) would receive a significant increase in the Senate bill, growing to $2.3 billion with a $108 million increase from FY 2014 levels. By comparison, DOD proposed, and the House recommended, cutting basic research by well over $100 million from FY 2014. The Senate increase above the President's request was fairly broad-based, with every military department seeing its basic research budget increased by the same percentage, and university initiatives and Defense Research Sciences programs collectively faring well.

The Senate committee was also provided an additional $73 million above the House for applied research ("6.2") programs, though both bills would ultimately mean funding cuts from FY 2014 levels. In particular, the Senate committee provided increases to several Army applied research initiatives, including materials science and high-performance computing, while some DARPA accounts were cut. Air Force propulsion research also received a sizable boost.

Senate appropriators also added $147 million more than House appropriators for medical research via the Defense Health Program. These activities include both intramural and peer-reviewed extramural research activities. Under the Senate bill, medical research funding would still decline by 7.5 percent from FY 2014 levels, compared with a 17 percent decline in the House bill (even factoring in several floor amendments to increase this funding).

Like the House, the Senate committee added additional funding for the Israeli Iron Dome initiative and for the Defense Rapid Innovation Fund.

The bill now awaits Senate floor action, though it's not clear there will be much activity in the near future.