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Defense Funding Notes: DARPA Up, But House Shifts Away From Other Research

Legislators were somewhat more generous than the Pentagon, but would redirect some defense research dollars to other needs.

It was just a few months ago that Congress handed the Defense Department hundreds of millions of extra dollars for intramural and extramural research, as part of the historically generous FY 2018 spending omnibus. Now, House appropriators are looking to roll some of that funding back. Last week’s FY 2019 Defense bill – adopted in the House Appropriations Committee on a 48-4 vote – would reduce DOD's early-stage science and technology or S&T accounts by 2.8 percent or $422 million below FY 2018 levels. This includes reductions of 1.9 percent for basic and applied research and 3.9 percent for advanced technology development and prototypes. 

On the whole, the bill would actually increase the Department of Defense R&D spending by an estimated 2.3 percent to $59.9 billion (under the new federal rules for tallying R&D), but this increase is entirely for latter-stage engineering development, which tends to be less experimental and more focused on testing and pre-production activities. These latter-stage accounts would increase by over $3 billion altogether, a near-five percent increase (see table). Also getting large plus-ups are personnel, operations and maintenance, and overseas War on Terror activities, accounting for the bulk of the 3.1 percent spending increase for DOD in the House bill.


Science and technology programs would decline across all three military branches, with the sharpest reductions for the Army, followed by the Navy (see table, and graph at right).

Shifting Away from Research. Several years ago the Defense Science Board (DSB) suggested a funding target of 3.4 percent for S&T programs relative to the rest of the DOD budget. In the House bill, S&T programs would account for less than 2.2 percent of all DOD spending (including the slice of DOD construction funds appropriated in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill). In addition:

  • S&T programs would drop to 15.6 percent of all RDT&E appropriations, versus 17.9 percent two years ago and 16.6 percent in last year’s omnibus, below DSB’s suggestion of 24 percent.
  • Basic science funding would reach 15.9 percent of S&T: a slight increase from omnibus levels but below its 16.4 percent share in FY 2017.

Basic Science. DOD basic research program funding would drop by $45 million in FY 2019 under the House bill with funding from all three military branches trimmed, but with Army facing the steepest cuts at 5.9 percent. In the aggregate, DOD university partnerships and instrumentation programs would be reduced by $22 million or 5.8 percent, about half the reduction sought by the Pentagon. Appropriators would also cut back funding for the National Defense Education Program by 16.8 percent or $17 million.

Appropriators did add funding back on top of the request to keep the FY 2019 budget for programs at historically black colleges and other minority-serving institutions roughly flat, and provided the Minerva social science initiative with a 25 percent increase to nearly $13 million total.

Defense Health Research. As is customary, House legislators added substantial funding – $732.6 million  in this year’s bill – for assorted peer-reviewed medical research and other programs, including $130 million for breast cancer, $125 million for traumatic brain injury, and $100 million for prostate cancer research. Even so, total Defense Health Program research spending would drop to $1.4 billion, a 29.2 percent decline from omnibus levels.

Other Notes.

  • DARPA nearly matched what was a generous Pentagon request, rising by 10.3 percent above FY 2018 to $3.4 billion total. Appropriators directed DARPA to come up with $50 million savings in whatever way the agency sees fit. DARPA had requested increased investment in advanced electronics, biodefense, aerospace technology, and several other areas.
  • Total funding for the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx), an Obama-era creation intended to serve as a bridge between DOD and innovators in Silicon Valley, Austin, and elsewhere, continued its post-Obama funding swoon. Funding for the office would decline to $24 million, 33 percent below FY 2018.
  • DOD’s manufacturing science & technology program would drop by 38 percent as requested, to $115 million total. This includes continuing, but reduced, support for DOD’s eight manufacturing innovation institutes
  • Appropriators also added $250 million for DOD’s Rapid Innovation Fund, continuing their support from recent years.

Senate appropriators are expected to unveil their own version of the bill in the coming weeks.