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FYI Number 75: June 18, 2001

Senior Pentagon Official Calls for Increase in Defense S&T Spending

Although he had been on the job for only fifteen days, the new Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics told a Senate subcommittee that defense S&T spending was too low, and then recommended a constant percentage target for future spending. "Bless your heart, I am so glad to hear you say that," subcommittee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) told new undersecretary Edward Aldridge. Aldridge wants to stop the practice of using the defense S&T budget as a "bill payer" for other programs, and supports the allocation of a fixed percentage of the defense budget for science and technology.

Aldridge recommends that 2.5% to 3% of the total budget be used to fund defense S&T programs. The Pentagon's total FY 2002 request, when it is submitted, should be in the range of $330 to $340 billion. Under this formula, the S&T budget could be as high as $10.2 billion. The "placeholder" S&T budget request for the next fiscal year is $9.2 billion. This number is expected to increase when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld submits his budget request later this summer after a series of reviews is completed. The current defense S&T budget is $9.0 billion.

Committee chairmen have tried, without much success, to extract firm numbers from administration officials this year about their recommendations for S&T spending. Officials have been understandably reluctant to quote a figure that varies from the administration request, no matter how artfully or persistently questions are asked by the Member. Aldridge's forthright reply was notable.

This June 5 hearing by the Senate Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee was chaired by Roberts, who was soon to relinquish his title to Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). "Our general philosophy is not going to change," Landrieu declared, saying that the subcommittee would work to ensure that the budget numbers support pronouncements about the importance of S&T. The hearing was convened to receive testimony from defense and service representatives. Among those testifying was Delores Etter, deputy undersecretary for science and technology. Roberts noted that Etter would soon be leaving the Defense Department for a position at the Naval Academy, and he expressed his subcommittee's great appreciation for Etter's contributions during her tenure at the Pentagon.

Aldridge's 2.5% to 3% target was the source of much discussion by the witnesses and senators. In response to Landrieu's question about how that figure was determined, Etter cited a 1998 finding by a Defense Science Board task force recommending a level in this "ballpark" (see FYI #44, 1999). Landrieu replied that she hoped that the subcommittee would embrace this level of spending and advocate for it with the public. It would, she said, probably require two or three years for this goal to be realized.

At the outset of the hearing, Aldridge told the subcommittee that he had made a series of recommendations to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld about bringing the S&T budget "back up." As of the hearing, Rumsfeld had not signaled what his intentions were in the yet-to-be released FY 2002 defense budget request.

Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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