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