A March 9 hearing by the Senate Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities demonstrated the great potential of the Department of Defense's science and technology programs, while highlighting some of the current and future limitations under which these programs could operate.
The subcommittee is chaired by John Cornyn (R-TX) who is serving his first term in the Senate. The chairman's opening remarks touched on the inherent difficulty of allocating resources between current requirements, which are intensified because of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and future needs. Cornyn cited decades of investment in basic research at laboratories and universities resulting in technologies, such as advanced materials, that have saved lives on the battlefield. The chairman outlined his concerns about ensuring a scientifically and technically trained workforce to support future defense programs. Cornyn also wanted to know what was the strategy behind the FY 2006 request since it fell short of the 3% goal for defense S&T funding.
Cornyn and Ranking Minority Member Jack Reed (D-RI) both referred to the goal stated in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review that 3% of total defense spending should be allocated to the 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3 programs. Said Reed, reiterating Cornyn's point: "I hope the witnesses can explain how it was decided to reduce investments in science and technology, especially at a time when the benefits of those investments are becoming so easy to see." The Administration requested a cut of almost $3 billion for science and technology programs in FY 2006 as compared to the current year (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/018.html.)
Reed told Ronald Sega, Director of Defense Research and Engineering, that the "budget is not keeping up." The senator wanted to know if there was a plan to increase the request to 3% for the three defense S&T programs in the FY 2007 budget request. (The current fiscal year's comparable figure is 2.6%; the FY 2006 request would reduce this figure to 2.5%.) Sega acknowledged the 3% figure as a goal, said a balanced investment is required across all components of DOD's budget, and then summed up in nine words the predicament that the Administration and Congress face: we are "in a time of a lot of competing demands."
Also discussed during this hearing, in response to a question from Senator John Corzine (D-NJ), were possible shortfalls in the future defense S&T workforce. The witnesses lauded a pilot program authorized by Congress last year. Known as the SMART (Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation) program, the Administration has requested that the program be expanded and made permanent in FY 2006. Twenty-five students, selected from 600 applicants, will enter the two-year program this fall.
Corzine, like Cornyn and Reed, was interested in knowing what was the overall defense S&T investment strategy. Both Corzine and Reed asked for a written list of unfunded science and technology opportunities that were left out of the FY 2006 request. During his round of questions, Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) spoke about the importance of the EPSCoR program to Nebraskan researchers, and was critical of the requested 30% reduction in FY 2006 funding for the program.
The written testimony of the five senior officials from the Department of Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency outlines overall defense S&T objectives and programs in the proposed FY 2006 budget. Readers interested in specific details of the various requests can read the testimony at http://armed-services.senate.gov/e_witnesslist.cfm?id=1408 .