Bill Introduced to Establish Office of Air Force Research "Today, the Air Force S&T program is a shadow of what it once was," Rep. Tony P. Hall (D-Ohio) told his colleagues when he introduced H.R. 5490, the "Air Force Science and Technology for the 21st Century Act." Although it is too late in the session for the House Armed Services Committee to consider this legislation, Hall will reintroduce this bill when Congress convenes next year.
Concern about Air Force spending on science and technology has been expressed in several public forums this year. In early February, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Science and Technology) Delores Etter told a National Research Council panel that Air Force R&D is too often a "bill payer" for other programs. She said that in final Pentagon budget meetings, "when really tough decisions are made," there are no senior officials with extensive S&T experience. Etter spoke of the importance of funding stability, a comment later repeated by a representative of the Air Force's Space Platforms Defense Technology Area Plan Panel. In March, at House Armed Services subcommittee hearings, similar concerns were expressed about Air Force spending on S&T being too low. "Obviously a big part of the problem is money," one committee member stated. The Air Force Association also weighed in on this issue, citing a "pattern of decline" and stating in a report that "the Air Force needs to strengthen institutionally the role of technology advocacy within the service."
According to Hall, Air Force S&T (6.1, 6.2, and 6.3) spending, in adjusted figures, totaled $2.7 billion in 1989. This dropped by 55% to $1.2 billion in 2000. For another perspective, in FY 2000, the Air Force allocation for S&T was 1.4% of its total budget, compared to 1.9% for the Army and 1.7% for the Navy.
Air Force budgets for the current fiscal year improved over last year in most cases. Air Force Basic Research funding is unchanged from last year, while Applied Research funding increased by 11.1% and Air Force Advanced Technology Development increased by 2.6%.
Hall's bill is intended to strengthening the support that S&T would have within the Air Force. In introducing H.R. 5490, he declared, "we cannot fix the basic problem through the annual funding process. Since the problem has its roots in legislative and administrative organizational action, I am proposing a series of organizational changes to correct it."
There are three major components in H.R. 5490. The first would establish an Office of Air Force Research, whose Director would have the grade of major general. This office would be within the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, and, as described by Hall, "will give a clear line of responsibility for the development and implementation of Air Force science policy and ensure that the S&T program has visibility at the level of the Secretary of the Air Force." The bill states that among this office's duties would be "the encouragement, promotion, planning, initiation, and coordination of Air Force research." In addition, the new Director "shall ensure that the management and conduct of the science and technology programs of the Air Force are carried out in a manner that will foster the transition of science and technology to higher levels of research, development, test and evaluation."
The bill would also establish an Air Force Science and Technology Policy Council that would be chaired by the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force. The Council, according to language in the bill, would advise the Secretary "on matters of broad policy and budget relating to the Air Force science and technology program," setting priorities and determining the balance between programs. It would also "identify, set priorities among, and endorse planning and budgeting for the transition of science and technology to higher levels of research, development, test and evaluation." It is envisioned that this function would provide an S&T advocate in those final budget deliberations that Deputy Under Secretary Etter alluded to.
Finally, H.R. 5490 calls for up to 15 civilian scientists to be appointed by the Secretary to an Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. Hall said "this provision is intended to strengthen the board's independence and tie in directly to the Air Force Secretary and the Director of Air Force Research."
Rep. Hall's district contains Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which is the headquarters of the Air Force Research Laboratory. According to congressional sources, the bill was introduced this year to give it a head start in the next session of Congress, and to create awareness, feedback, and support for the legislation. Congressional supporters also hope that H.R. 5490 will prompt a response from the Air Force. Hall introduced legislation taking a different approach two years ago that was not acted upon by the House Armed Services Committee. His current bill has ten bipartisan cosponsors, one of whom is a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Richard M. Jones