Senior Pentagon officials appeared before House and Senate Armed Services subcommittees to discuss the FY 2015 request for the science and technology programs of the Department of Defense. There were few if any expressed differences between the subcommittee members.
“In short, the Department and Nation are at a strategic crossroads -- the funds available to the Department (and national security infrastructure in general) are decreasing, while the complexity and depth of the national security challenges are growing. The world we live in is an uncertain place.” So testified Alan Shaffer, Principal Deputy, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Defense Research and Engineering, at two recent hearings on the DOD FY 2015 S&T program request. Shaffer continued, “Secretary Hagel said it best in his recent roll out of the FY 2015 budget: ‘The development and proliferation of more advanced military technologies by other nations that means that we are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies, and in space can no longer be taken for granted.’”
The House Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities held its hearing on March 26; the Senate Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities held a similar hearing on April 8. Joining Shaffer at both hearings were senior S&T program officials from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
There was much similarity in the views of the members of both subcommittees, with the chairs and ranking members working harmoniously in addressing questions to the witnesses. The work of these subcommittees will result in the FY 2015 Department of Defense authorization bill that historically aligns with the appropriations bill.
A common thread at both hearings was, not surprisingly, money. “The current fiscal environment presents significant challenges to the DoD budget. The Department is in the third year of a protracted overall topline and RDT&E budget drawdown,” said Shaffer. “The last several budgets have been characterized by instability and rapid decline of the modernization accounts,” he cautioned. Sequestration and other budget constraints in the three S&T programs (6.1 basic research, 6.2 applied research, and 6.3 advanced technology development) have resulted in DOD having $1.5 billion less for FY 2013 to FY 2015 than planned.
House and Senate subcommittee members asked Shaffer about the requested decrease in 6.1 basic research funding for FY 2015. While funding would decline for all three programs, the percentage reduction in 6.1 funding is significantly higher. “We love university research” Shaffer told Senate appropriators, while explaining that it was necessary to move money into the advanced technology development program to offset cuts made in previous years. He expects 1,500 fewer basic research grants to be made because of the proposed reduction, and warned that the 6.1 funding will be under similar stress in fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018 because of overall constraints imposed by the Budget Control Act. This funding reduction and similar reductions in the 6.2 and 6.3 programs are likely to result in significantly longer times to develop and deploy new systems. There was agreement at both hearings about the need to control research and development costs and the affordability of new systems.
Receiving much attention at both hearings were two new weapons systems. The first was an electromagnetic rail gun, the second the Joint High Power Solid State Laser. Both were cited as innovative, game-changing technologies developed under the defense science and technology programs. Other weapons systems were also discussed.
Another concern discussed at the hearings was the current and future workforce which Shaffer mentioned early in his testimony:
“I am proud to be here representing the roughly 100,000 scientists and engineers in the science and engineering (S&E) workforce, a workforce that has had remarkable achievements in the past, but is now a workforce showing the early stages of stress due to downsizing and the budget challenges of the last year. This past year has been unlike previous years in our community; the collective impact of the sequester-forced civilian furlough and program curtailment, the October 2013 government shutdown, and the indirect impacts of the sequester, such as restrictions on our young scientists and engineers attending technical conferences, has impacted the health of our workforce and the programs they execute in ways that we are just beginning to understand. We have begun to address these challenges but they remain a concern for us.”
A wide range of other issues were raised at the hearings: international challenges to U.S. dominance, the importance of STEM education, programs to reduce duplication in research programs, changes in R&D models, acquisition reform, weighing risk and rewards, and workforce diversification.
Shaffer concluded his written testimony asking for congressional approval of the use of “developmental and operational prototyping in lieu of formal acquisition programs.” His first priority was the enactment of the FY 2015 RDT&E budget as submitted, saying “we spent a lot of time to balance the program to best meet DoD priorities.”