Proposal by Co-Chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Cites R&D Funding, NASA Commercial Spaceflight Program, and Defense RDT&E Funding

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Publication date: 
11 November 2010

Yesterday  the Co-Chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform  released two documents as a starting point for what will be an undoubtedly  contentious discussion about the steps the federal government could take to  reduce the growing federal budget deficit.   The bipartisan Commission, co-chaired by Erskine Bowles, former White  House chief of staff for President Clinton, and former Senator Alan Simpson  (R-WY), is to report to President Obama by December


The  fifty-page Co-Chairs’ draft Proposal and a supplementary document discuss  R&D, a NASA program, and Defense RDT&E.   Predicting the federal government “could spend $1 trillion a year in  interest alone by 2020”, the co-chairs set forth their ten “Guiding Principles  and Values.”  Of note, the sixth  principle states:

Cut  and Invest to Promote Economic Growth and Keep America Competitive

  • Cut  red tape and inefficient spending that puts a drag on the economy and job  creation.
  • Invest  in education, infrastructure, and high value R&D.”

Later  in the proposal, under a section entitled “Discretionary Spending Caps” it  provides “recommendations on how to apply the caps,” including:

“Establish  bipartisan Cut-and-Invest Committee to de-authorize outdated, low-priority and  inefficient programs and recommend high priority long-term investments.”

On  the following page is a list of three priorities.  It is notable that the third priority states:

“Protect  key investments in infrastructure, education, R&D”

More  specificity is provided in a second draft document  entitled “$200 Billion In Illustrative Savings” that is almost evenly divided  between domestic and defense savings.   Among the 58 items, under a heading entitled “Secure  A Better Return on Taxpayer Investment” is:

Eliminate  funding for commercial spaceflight.  The  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to spend $6 billion  over the next five years to spur the development of American commercial  spaceflight.  This subsidy to the private  sector is   costly,  and while commercial spaceflight is a worthy goal, it is unclear why the  federal government should be subsidizing the training of the potential crews of  such flights. Eliminating this program would save $1.2 billion in 2015.”

Under  another heading, “Creating a Leaner, More Efficient Defense Department” is:

Reduce  spending on Research, Development, Test and Evaluation by 10 percent.  This option would reduce the Defense  Department’s Research, Development, Test and Evaluation budget by 10 percent,  saving $7 billion in 2015. The currently high level of RDT&E does not  appear to be consistent with proposals by Secretary Gates to re-orient DOD  modernization to counter-insurgency warfare with, for example, an emphasis on  sensing devices and intelligence gathering to counter home-made improvised  explosive devices (IEDs), which would be expected to be less expensive than  developing follow-on systems for major weapon systems. This would still leave  DOD with a level above the peak of the Reagan years in real systems (adjusted  for inflation). RDT&E spending could be reduced by slowing ongoing projects  and cancelling particular projects such as those associated with marginal  procurement programs identified above such as the Marine Corps version of the  F-35 ($135 million in FY2015, $1.6 billion for FY2012-FY2015), the Joint Light  Tactical Vehicle ($128 million in FY2015, $1.1 billion from FY2012-FY2015),  Joint Tactical Radio ($177 million in FY2015, $1.7 billion from FY2012-FY2015),  as well as cancelling funding for upgrades of newly-deployed systems such as  the F-22 fighter aircraft ($106 million in FY2015 and $828 million for  FY2012-FY2015), and the Air Force F-35 ($54 million in FY2012 and $354 million  in FY2012-FY2015).”

(The  Department of Defense’s science and technology programs are funded through this  category.  Total FY 2010 RDT&E  funding was $80,915.7 million.  6.1 Basic  Research totaled $2,165.2 million; 6.2 Applied Research, $5,038.3 million; and  6.3 Advanced Technology Development, $6,544.2 million.)

A  change in discretionary spending is one of five steps the Commission’s  co-chairs recommend to reduce the deficit.   The plan that will be sent to President Obama on December 1 must have  the approval of fourteen of the eighteen Commission members.  Initial reaction from these members to the  co-chairs’ proposal was very mixed, and assembling the required fourteen votes  is viewed by many as unlikely.   Commenting on this proposal, a White House spokesperson said: “The  President will wait until the bipartisan fiscal commission finishes its work  before commenting. He respects the challenging task that the Co-Chairs and the  Commissioners are undertaking and wants to give them space to work on it. These  ideas, however, are only a step in the process towards coming up with a set of  recommendations and the President looks forward to reviewing their final  product early next month.”

In  October, the Task Force on American Innovation sent a letter to the Commission regarding  funding for science and technology.  The  American Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society are among the  42 members of the Task Force.  This  letter  states:

“Members  of the Task Force on American Innovation believe that our government, even as  it takes necessary steps to reduce deficits, must continue to make investments  that will strengthen our economic competitiveness by spurring scientific  advancement and improving the quality of our technological workforce.  Specifically, our government must provide robust support for basic research,  particularly in the physical sciences and engineering, and for STEM (science,  technology, engineering, mathematics) education.”

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