Senate National Defense Authorization Act: Selections from Committee Report on R&D

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Publication date: 
7 July 2015
Number: 
94

The Senate passed S. 1376, the National Defense Authorization Act in mid-June.  Accompanying this bill is a 552-page report providing important program policy guidance.  There is extensive report language in Title II, Research, Development, Test and Evaluation in Senate Committee Report 114-49, starting on page 43, pertaining to the conduct of research programs.  Selections from this report regarding conference travel restrictions, basic research funding, a new centers program, high energy lasers, acoustics, foreign participation in the SMART program, and other programs are below.  Note that actual program funding is provided by the annual Defense Appropriations Act.

Centers for science, technology, and engineering partnership (page 43)

“The committee recommends a provision . . . to authorize a program that would enhance the Department of Defense laboratories with innovative academic and industry partners in research and development activities. The provision would enable more effective transfer of laboratory-generated innovations to small businesses and other industry partners to promote their transition into military systems or for development into commercial technologies. The provision would also improve the overall quality of research efforts, while reducing the costs of ownership and maintenance of world-class research infrastructure, and enhance the return on taxpayer investment in facilities and personnel at the laboratories.  . . .  A recent report by the Institute for Defense Analyses indicates that mutually beneficial partnerships between Department of Defense laboratories and academia ‘are not as abundant as those in the intramural research programs at the Department of Energy.’ The committee believes that this provision would support the enhancement of beneficial activities with both academia and the private sector.”

Department of Defense technology offset program to build and maintain the military technological superiority of the United States (page 44)

“The committee notes with concern that the United States has not faced a more diverse and complex array of crises since the end of World War II, and that taken together, they constitute the greatest challenge in a generation to the integrity of the liberal world order, which has consistently been underwritten by U.S. military technological superiority. At the same time, the committee is alarmed by the apparent erosion in recent years of this technological advantage, which is in danger of disappearing altogether. To prevent such a scenario and to maintain the country’s global military technological edge, the committee recommends a provision that would establish a new $400.0 million initiative. . . . “

“[T]he committee recommends a provision that would establish an initiative within the Department of Defense to maintain and enhance the military technological superiority of the United States. The provision would establish a program to accelerate the fielding of offset technologies, including, but not limited to, directed energy, low-cost high-speed munitions, autonomous systems, undersea warfare, cyber technology, and intelligence data analytics, developed by the department and to accelerate the commercialization of such technologies. As part of this program, the committee expects that the Secretary of Defense would also establish updated policies and new acquisition and management practices that would speed the delivery of offset technologies into operational use.

“The provision would authorize $400.0 million for fiscal year 2016 for the initiative, of which $200.0 million would be authorized specifically for directed energy technology. Accordingly, the provision would mandate the Secretary to develop a directed energy strategy to ensure that appropriate technologies are developed and deployed at an accelerated pace, and update it every 2 years. The committee expects that this strategy would include a recommendation on rationalizing the roles and authorities of the Joint Technology Office for High Energy Lasers. . . .”

Expansion of eligibility for financial assistance under Department of Defense science, mathematics, and research for transformation program to include citizens of countries participating in the technical cooperation program (page 48)

“The committee recommends a provision . . .  to expand the Department of Defense’s Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) program, which awards service-based scholarships to students studying in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, to include students from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The selection of these countries is based on those which are currently parties to the Technical Cooperation Program Memorandum of Understanding of October 24, 1995.

“Current authority for the program limits scholarship awards to only U.S. citizens. However, National Science Foundation data indicate that over 50 percent of engineering doctorates are granted to foreign graduate students, with the percentage growing annually.  By removing this restriction, the Department can recruit foreign nationals from these four countries to participate in the program, with the goal of bringing on the best and brightest students to defense laboratories. The limited easing of this restriction would serve as a pilot project for assessing potential future expansion of this authority to other friendly countries.”

Army defense research sciences (page 54)

“The budget request included $239.1 million in PE 61102A for defense research sciences. The committee notes that the budget request for Army basic research has been reduced across the board by almost 8 percent relative to the amount enacted in fiscal year 2015. Such reductions would likely have a significant negative impact on the Department of Defense’s ability to advance technology development.

“The committee notes that basic research activities focused in technical areas of interest to Department missions lay the foundation upon which other technology development and new defense systems are built. These programs fund efforts at universities, small businesses, and government laboratories. These investments also serve to help train the next generation of scientists and engineers who may work on defense technology problems in government, industry, and academia.

“To help address the significant reduction in basic research funding, the committee recommends an increase of $40.0 million in PE 61102A. The committee directs that these funds be awarded through well-established and competitive processes that already exist for defense research sciences.”

Navy defense research sciences (page 57)

“The budget request included $451.6 million in PE 61153N for defense research sciences. The committee notes that the budget request for Navy basic research has been reduced across the board by almost 10 percent relative to the amount enacted in fiscal year 2015. Such reductions would likely have a significant negative impact on the department’s ability to advance technology development.

“The committee notes that basic research activities focused in technical areas of interest to Department of Defense missions lay the foundation upon which other technology development and new defense systems are built. These programs fund efforts at universities, small businesses, and government laboratories. These investments also serve to help train the next generation of scientists and engineers who may work on defense technology problems in government, industry, and academia.

“To help address the significant reduction in basic research funding, the committee recommends an increase of $55.0 million in PE 61153N. The committee directs that these funds be awarded through well-established and competitive processes that already exist for defense research sciences.”

Air Force defense research sciences (page 60)

“The budget request included $329.7 million in PE 61102F for defense research sciences. The committee notes that the budget request for Air Force basic research has been reduced across the board by almost 12 percent relative to the amount enacted in fiscal year 2015. Such reductions would likely have a significant negative impact on the department’s ability to advance technology development.

“The committee notes that basic research activities focused in technical areas of interest to Department of Defense missions lay the foundation upon which other technology development and new defense systems are built. These programs fund efforts at universities, small businesses, and government laboratories. These investments also serve to help train the next generation of scientists and engineers who may work on defense technology problems in government, industry, and academia.

“To help address the significant reduction in basic research funding, the committee recommends an increase of $45.0 million in PE 61102F. The committee directs that these funds be awarded through well-established and competitive processes that already exist in defense research sciences.”

Undersea warfare applied research (page 58)

“The budget request included $123.8 million in PE 62747N for research, development, test, and evaluation of undersea warfare applied research. The committee notes the promise of developing systems in the following areas: remote detection of ocean acoustic fields using light detection and ranging (LIDAR), upper ocean acoustic structure, high strain materials for sonar applications, surface decluttering, and novel anti-submarine warfare detection methods. As a result, the committee recommends an increase of $18.6 million to this program.”

Nanostructured and biological materials (page 60)

“The budget request included $125.2 million in PE 62102F for materials, of which $8.7 million was requested for nanostructured and biological materials, and $16.5 million for sensing technologies. The committee believes that while such work is of scientific importance, these are areas in which significant savings could be gained through closer collaboration and interaction with the private sector and other government agencies. Particularly during a time of constrained budgets and vigilance for overlapping efforts, the committee believes that such work can be coordinated more fully to reduce costs. Accordingly, the committee recommends a decrease of $10.0 million in PE 62102F for nanostructured and biological materials and for sensing technologies.”

Applied research for the advancement of science and technology Priorities (page 62)

“The budget request included $48.2 million in PE 62251D8Z for applied research for the advancement of science and technology priorities.  The committee appreciates the need for this program and the importance of creating communities of interest to identify gaps in collaborative funding. However, the committee notes that only 24 percent of the enacted funds for fiscal year 2014 have thus far been expended, and none of the enacted funds for fiscal year 2015, calling into question the efficiency of the activities under this program.  Accordingly, the committee is concerned that the program will be unable to incorporate the large increase in funds requested for fiscal year 2016. Consequently, the committee recommends a general program decrease of $15.0 million for PE 62251D8Z. Furthermore, the committee recommends that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering continue to focus on existing activities to demonstrate the effectiveness of this program.”

Entrepreneurial sabbatical for Department of Defense laboratory scientists (page 69)

“The Committee directs the Department of Defense to expand an authorized program for government scientists, specifically scientists at defense laboratories, to take an ‘entrepreneurial sabbatical’ to work for a private sector firm. The committee notes that the department’s Developmental Opportunities Program (DOP) currently allows scientists to pursue further education by attending business school or a war college, for example, but does not explicitly allow for pursuing opportunities in the private sector. The committee also notes that the Air Force Research Laboratory is implementing guidance for its entrepreneurial leave program, which may be a good model for an expanded program across the defense research enterprise. . . .”

Expedited approval for attendance at conferences in support of science and innovation activities of Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration (page 70; complete text follows)

“The committee directs the Secretaries of Defense and Energy to establish respective expedited approval processes for scientists and engineers to attend science and technology conferences. The committee notes with concern that since the two departments implemented updated conference policies, in response to requirements from the Office of Management and Budget, attendance at such conferences by department personnel has reduced dramatically. According to a report from the Government Accountability Office in March 2015, conference attendance from the Army Research Laboratory declined from about 1300 attendees in 2011 to about 100 attendees in 2013. A similar drop in attendance was reported from Sandia National Laboratories. The report highlights that such a drop in attendance risks a decline in the quality of scientific research, difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified scientists and engineers, and a diminished leadership role for the two departments within the global science and technology community. The report also notes that the new departmental policies are not meeting the needs of personnel requesting approval to travel to conferences.

“Given the importance of conference attendance for an active exchange of scientific information and for recruiting and retaining high-quality technical talent, the committee is concerned that the conference attendance approval policies are undermining the science and technology missions of both departments and undermining the ability of personnel to engage in cutting-edge research, development, testing, and evaluation. The committee believes that technical conference participation is especially important to keep program managers aware of new trends in technology, so that they may make better informed decisions on behalf of taxpayers.

“To maintain global technology awareness and to support retention of technical staff, the committee believes that the Departments should strive to follow the best practices of innovative private and academic institutions in developing management and oversight practices for conference participation. The committee is concerned that in specific technical fields of interest to defense, such as hypersonics and cybersecurity, the lack of participation in conferences is ceding U.S. leadership to competitor nations.

“In response to these findings and concerns, the committee directs the Secretaries of Defense and Energy to establish processes within the Department of Defense and National Nuclear Security Administration, respectively, whereby requests for scientific conference attendance are adjudicated within 1 month, and approvals are granted as appropriate within 1 month. Further, the committee directs the Secretaries of Defense and Energy to ensure that any decisions to disapprove conference attendance through these processes are made if and only if the appropriate officials determine that the disapproval would have a net positive impact on research and development and on program management quality, and not simply default disapprovals necessitated by a bureaucratic inability to make a timely decision. In addition, the committee directs that these approval processes be implemented no later than 90 days after the enactment of this act.

“The committee recommends that, as part of these new approval processes, laboratory and test center directors be given the authority to approve conference attendance, provided that the attendance would meet the mission of the laboratory or test center and that sufficient laboratory or test center funds are available.  The committee directs the Secretaries of Defense and Energy each to report to the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee with an assessment of the expedited process and its benefits and drawbacks, along with a recommendation on continuing their use. The committee further directs that this report be submitted no later than 1 year after the establishment of the approval process.”

 

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