[Published originally in the January 2008 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 20/No. 1]
Defense Research Sciences Will See Gains in FY 08
Research programs at the Department of Defense will see some increases in funding, thanks to final passage of the FY 2008 Defense Appropriations bill (H.R. 434), but some programs of interest to the computing research community will lose funding, largely because the agency responsible—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—was too slow to spend it.
On November 13, 2007, President Bush signed the final conference agreement for H.R. 434, making the bill the first of the twelve FY 08 appropriations bills necessary to fund the continued operations of government to grind its way through to passage (P.L. 110-116). The Defense bill contains more than $77 billion in funding for Defense Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation (RDT&E), an increase of 2.0 percent over FY 07 and 2.9 percent above the President’s budget request for FY 08. Included in that RDT&E account are healthy increases over the President’s request for basic and applied research efforts in the service labs (Army, Navy, and Air Force). At the same time, overall funding for DARPA will see a decline of 4.3 percent compared to FY 07—3.4 percent lower than the President’s request.
In general, a review of the funding levels in the bill (see chart) shows that many research programs of note in the service labs received more in the final appropriations than they requested in their FY 08 budgets. At the same time, the “Defense-wide” accounts (primarily DARPA), did not fare quite as well.
Two accounts that do not seem to do particularly well in the bill are DARPA computing accounts—the Defense-wide Information and Communications Technology (ICT) program and the Cognitive Computing program. ICT will see a decrease of 1.3 percent, or about $3 million (to $232 million), compared to its FY 07 level. Cognitive Computing will see a decrease of 2.7 percent, or $4.9 million (to $176 million), compared to FY 07. When compared to the President’s budget request for FY 08, the accounts appear to do a little better, with ICT slated to exceed the budget request by 0.9 percent (or $2.1 million) and Cognitive Computing declining only 2.2 percent (or $3.9 million) in FY 08.
Congressional appropriators attributed the decrease in funding to an “execution adjustment” to those programs. Apparently they were not spending the funding they had been appropriated in a timely fashion, so the appropriators “reclaimed” the unspent funds in order to pay for increases to other accounts within the bill. This is the same reason given for much of the overall cut to DARPA in the bill. DARPA will see a decrease of $135 million compared to FY 07, or about 4.3 percent less. When compared to the agency’s request for FY 08, the cut is $106 million, or 3.4 percent, less.
The appropriators and the DARPA leadership cite differing reasons for the slow spend-out rate for some DARPA programs. DARPA contends that its slow spending rate is a reflection of its good stewardship of taxpayer dollars—that it is only paying its contract awardees when it is convinced that contract milestones have been (or will be) met. However, congressional appropriators (and some on the Armed Services Committees as well) contend that what is really happening is a bottleneck in the DARPA Director’s office—that micromanagement of programs is slowing their execution. In either case, the fact remains that DARPA is not spending all the funds it has been appropriated, and so the appropriators—who control the agency’s purse strings—have adjusted DARPA’s budget accordingly.
The accompanying chart also shows some other budget maneuvering between the Administration and the Congress. In general, research programs received more than they asked for in FY 08, but less than they received in FY 07. In most cases, this result is more reflective of the continuing push and pull between the Administration and the Congress over budget earmarks. Typically, as the Administration prepares its budget request to Congress, it strips out funding increases provided by Congress the previous year that exceeded the President’s request for that budget year. The Administration considers most of those increases “congressionally-directed earmarks”—especially if they were targeted to very specific programs or performers. Because the Administration attempts to purge these “earmarked” funds from its request, the funding levels in the President’s budget often look like a cut in funding for many programs. But, as the request works its way through the appropriations process, much of that funding will be added back in by Congress, making it appear that there are increases in those accounts. And indeed there are—though it is possible (even probable) that many of those increases are simply earmarks.
While the increases in this appropriation look reasonably healthy when compared to the President’s budget, the science advocacy community still has concerns about the nature of the increases approved. Ideally, the community would argue, those increases ought to be in the form of additional money for competitive, merit-based research funding. But at this point, it is not clear how much of the increases included in this appropriations bill—particularly for the applied research accounts (6.2)—fit that description. In the basic research accounts (6.1), it is probably reasonable to assume that much of the increases found in the bill represent additional competitive funding.
One change to the appropriations bills this year has made it easier to see who to credit for some of the increases to defense basic research accounts. New rules on transparency in the Senate mean that every change to the budget estimate called for in the bill is credited to the Senator who requested it. [Note: You can see these credits in the Senate Appropriations Committee report accompanying the Senate version of the FY 2008 Defense Appropriations bill, found at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/R?cp110:FLD010:@1(sr155)]. As a result, it is possible to know that the reason for the increases to the competitive funding in the Defense University Research Initiatives in the bill is the result of the work of Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), John Kerry (D-MA), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Thanks have been extended to all of these Senators on behalf of the science advocacy community.
With the Defense bill finished (as this goes to press), Congress is left with 11 bills to complete before closing the book on FY 08. Only one other bill, the FY 08 Labor/Health and Human Services/Education Appropriations, has been sent to the President—and it was promptly vetoed (a veto subsequently upheld, narrowly, in the House). The Labor/HHS/Ed bill, which includes funding for the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Education, came in about $9.8 billion over the President’s desired “cap” for the bill, earning his veto. Congressional Democrats were not able to entice enough Republican members to vote to override (they fell two votes short in the House). The Democratic leadership plans to attempt to meet the President “halfway” with an omnibus package of unfinished appropriations bills that split the difference between the President’s cap and the Democratic alternatives, but it is unclear whether they will get sufficient Republican support to force a compromise. It is also unclear what a “halfway” package might mean for the hard-won gains for science contained in some of the unfinished bills, including the Commerce, Science Justice bill.
For those details, and all the latest, most up-to-date analysis of how science is faring in the appropriations process, be sure to check CRA’s Computing Research Policy Blog (http://cra.org/blog), which will keep a steady eye on developments as Congress tries to bring the FY 2008 appropriations cycle to a close.