The Senate Armed Services Committee, in its FY 2005 Defense Authorization bill (S. 2400), has proposed a program to enhance the Defense Department's ability to recruit and retain technically-skilled workers. The bill would authorize $10.0 million for a three-year pilot program to provide scholarships to U.S. citizens in return for service to the Department.
According to the bill, the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Defense Scholarship Pilot Program would provide financial assistance for undergraduate or graduate "education in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology skills and disciplines that...are critical to the national security functions of the Department," in return for a period of employment by DOD. The financial assistance would cover normal educational expenses including tuition, fees, cost of books, laboratory expenses, and room and board. The period of service required in return would be at least as long as the time covered by the scholarship.
Relevant language on the SMART Defense Scholarship Pilot Program from the committee report (S. Rept. 108-260) follows; the bill and report text can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov.
"The committee recommends a provision that would establish a pilot program within the Department of Defense to provide targeted educational assistance to individuals seeking a baccalaureate or an advanced degree in science and engineering disciplines that are critical to national security. This provision would allow individuals to acquire such education in exchange for a period of employment with the Department of Defense in the areas specified. The committee recommends that the Director, Defense Research and Engineering be designated to manage the program.
"The Committee remains concerned with the aging technical workforce and statistics which point to a growing deficiency in the right mix of scientists and engineers to support our national security workforce needs. Testimony to the committee over the last few years further emphasizes the science and engineering workforce challenge for the Department that this section is designed to address. The Department has implemented a series of successful programs to increase the number of students pursuing degrees in selected fields, but has not been as successful in recruiting and retaining scientists and engineers for positions in its laboratories, service components, and defense agencies.
"A rapid, well managed infusion of a new generation of defense science and engineering personnel who are experts in the 21st century defense-related critical skills is needed to maintain U.S. defense technology dominance. As a means of increasing the number of U.S. citizens trained in disciplines of science and engineering of military importance, the committee authorizes $10.0 million to carry out this pilot program."
S. 2400 is still under consideration in the Senate. The House bill, H.R. 4200, passed in May, does not include a similar provision. Keep in mind that, even if this provision is retained in the conference report and signed into law, it would only authorize funding for such a program, not provide the actual money.