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House Defense Bill Adopts Flat Research Funding, War Spending to Skirt Caps

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Today the House Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2016 Defense appropriations bill on a voice vote, sending it to the House floor. In terms of overall spending, the bill grants $579 billion to the Department of Defense (DOD), only about $1 billion above the President's request. But the bill has stirred controversy by building up the overseas war budget for extra spending, as laid out in the Congressional budget resolution passed earlier this year. The President had sought $51 billion for DOD war funding, which is not subject to the caps; appropriators added $37 billion on top of this request, while keeping the base budget significantly below the request, thereby getting around the caps without sacrificing actual funding levels. Shaun Donovan, the President's budget director, has criticized House appropriators for this step. 

According to current AAAS estimates, DOD R&D would rise to $70.6 billion in FY 2016 under the House bill, a 6.8 percent increase above FY 2015 levels (see chart at right). Again, this increase is owed partly to the fact that appropriators were able to shift some limited R&D spending out of the base budget and into the war budget (referred to as the Overseas Contingency Operations or OCO budget). The President had called for nearly $69.8 billion in research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) funding in the DOD base budget, plus $191 million more in the OCO account. Appropriators have trimmed base budget RDT&E down to $66.2 billion, but shifted more than $1.5 billion into the war budget, mostly for classified RDT&E programs. See Figure 1 below.

It should also be noted that these maneuverings didn't have much apparent increasing on the research and advanced technology accounts, which are mostly housed in the base budget either way. These three combined accounts — basic research, applied research, and advanced technology development — would be boosted by $376 million or 3.1 percent above FY 2015 levels and $362 million above the President's request, as shown in the above table (see also this breakdown by military department). These increases are largely driven by boosts for applied research and technology programs, while basic research programs would mostly be reduced from FY 2015 levels as requested, especially within the military branches. Minority-serving institutions of higher education received an extra $10 million above the request from the committee, otherwise few basic research accounts would escape cuts.

On the applied research and technology front, the committee did make some limited changes to the Administration's request, including extra funding for assorted programs in materials research, medical technology, advanced computing, and unmanned aerial systems. The committee granted the full request for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), but then added an undefined $100 million reduction, thus reducing the DARPA appropriation by 1.5 percent below FY 2015 levels.

The bill is bound for the House floor next.